Hello! Something a bit different from my usual, today. Today, I am donning my Fan Hat. (It’s a dashing hat. Musketeer style, with a feather in it, because this is the Internet and it suits me because I say so.)
I am donning my Fan Hat to wax fanatical (that sounded better in my head) about my favourite character from Tremontaine, the fabulous serial prequel to Ellen Kushner’s Riverside series, from Serial Box. I am doing this now as part of a wonderfully fun-sounding challenge from the Serial Box team to fans of this particular serial, tagged #TremonTEAM. We are basically participating to earn points for various challenges, and points will mean prizes! And I get to be enthusiastic about one of my favourite reading experiences of recent years. It’s win-win!
Here, then, is my first answer to the very first challenge: I shall tell you all about why Micah Heslop is my favourite Tremontaine character.
First, a little background to catch us up. Micah Heslop is a humble farm girl and mathematical savant, recently arrived in the City, where a happy accident of circumstance leads to her attending the University. She makes a friend of Rafe Fenton, who has lofty scientific ambitions yet falls short when it comes to mathematical skill compared to Micah. They team up, and dramatic hijinks ensue. Over the course of Season 1, Micah stumbles onto a groundbreaking secret of astronomy, and quite possibly places herself in serious trouble by doing so.
She also has to navigate a rich and confusing world of social oddity, and being on the autistic spectrum (though, this being a secondary world, there’s no such term for it in the story) means that this is more difficult for Micah than for most people. So there are hilarious mishaps, but there’s also plenty of heartwrenching depth to the struggles she faces. She is also a perfect embodiment of the kind of social commentary I love this serial for, given that she is assumed to be a boy by those she meets, and never corrects the assumption because she was advised by her family that this would make life easier for her. It’s probably true, but I am eternally thankful that her gender never becomes the source of cheap, shocking plot development. There is no physical violence of any kind for her to deal with. Instead of being wary of such a twist, I get to be curious about what sort of reaction those close to her might have if her ‘secret’ (I put it that way because Micah doesn’t lie about being a girl; she simply never corrects the assumption that she’s male) is revealed. And this isn’t Micah being clever or coy – she genuinely doesn’t see how such things are relevant. I could hug her for this alone.
In keeping with the admirable “no cheap tricks” approach to Micah’s character development, my favourite scene with her is an early one in which we see Rafe respond to Micah having a panic attack in a University lecture hall when everyone’s attention is suddenly upon her – he stays calm, and manages to bring Micah round again by helping her to focus on what calms her: mathematics. That whole scene is precious to me because it illuminates the anxiety that Micah struggles with. As someone who suffers from social anxiety, it definitely resonates with me, and I love Micah all the more because I get to relate to her this way.
And let’s not forget her actual genius. There are plenty of stories of the great scientific discoveries in history; Copernicus, Galileo, Isaac Newton. These kinds of stories are evoked wonderfully by Micah’s own discovery (spoilers redacted!) midway through Season 1, prompted in a very “Eureka!” moment by a near-accident involving turnips.
Yes, turnips. Micah figures out a great secret that could change everyone’s understanding of how A Certain Thing about the world works, and she does it because she drops a bunch of turnips in a hilarious fashion.
I will never turn my nose up at this vegetable again.
What all of this amounts to for me is a sense that Micah has found her place in the world. It’s not a place she understands very well, and some of it is scary for her, but it’s where she belongs because it allows her to explore something she loves and learn more about it, and in turn to put that love to good use for the people who become her friends. Micah never questions that friendship because she’s never given a powerful (read: obvious) enough reason to, and it’s both sweetly endearing and nerve-wracking to witness. As a reader, I know that sooner or later her bubble might burst. As a fan who’s invested in this character so thoroughly, I can’t help hoping it never does. Let Micah have her numbers and her charts and her turnips, and let her change the world. Don’t let her gender be a factor in her validation in the process. She is the sweetest, purest cinnamon roll of a character I’ve come across in a long time, and I love her unreservedly for it. Genre fiction needs more characters like her.