This episode is brought to us by Alaya Dawn Johnson, and you know what that means, right? BEST KAAB YET.
Or at least in my case, the most thought-provoking Kaab yet. You’ll see what I mean soon enough…
Let’s talk about Tremontaine! (With spoilers!)
There’s more to this episode than just Kaab’s latest adventures and romantic mis-steps, of course. Rafe is still committed to his search for Will, though his own willpower where his vow of chastity is concerned looks like it’s failing him, thanks to Arthur Chel and his own loneliness. Poor Rafe. Though I’ve got to say it: I’m still inclined to think Rafe is better off moving on romantically, whether or not he manages to thwart Diane here. Call that my personal hindsight talking, but for all his flaws I do like Rafe, and I don’t want to see him end up throwing everything away over this.
And speaking of Diane, her play for power is continuing apace. This week she’s got Lord Karleigh in her sights, and her efforts to convince him to vote in her favour with the Council involve using Karleigh’s xenophobia against him. Would he rather see a woman inherit the full power of a duchy, or a commoner’s son with no nobility in his blood – which is surely what Diane’s grandson will be thanks to her daughter’s choice of husband?
I never expected to find Karleigh’s despicableness amusing, but I can’t help feeling pretty viciously satisfied to see Diane’s con pay off here. Karleigh might never understand what he’s actually done here – and Diane’s long-term goals depend on no one ever achieving that understanding – but he’s played right into her hands all the same, and it serves him right.
Cleverly, and because this is Diane de Tremontaine we’re talking about and her spider’s web has snares within snares, she plays her trick on Karleigh while working on unravelling the secret history between Vincent and Reza. Because she’s Diane and secrets are her bread and butter, and why wouldn’t she be curious about these two? They are very very curious…
To that end, she orchestrates a duel between Reza and Vincent at the ambassador’s welcome banquet in his City home (despite her assurance to Vincent, I suspect that Diane perhaps did NOT correct Reza’s assumption that Vincent is in her employ as a house swordsman…). Diane knows something once went on between them, and she sees that secret past as her key to gaining an advantage over both men. Because, as I said, she’s Diane. Of course she does.
She gets her way with Karleigh, and the duel serves mostly to make me even more insanely curious about Vincent and Reza after they exchange brief but deliciously intriguing words during the duel, which Reza concedes in rather dramatic fashion. Vincent takes this as a show of forgiveness for whatever happened way back when, and as an unspoken understanding on Reza’s part that Vincent needs the victory (and the money) more than he does. It keeps this wildly mysterious thread of the story alive and kicking, and dear god will the questions ever be answered?!
I MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENED.
And now let’s leave all of that alone for a bit, because it’s time to talk about Kaab.
“Well,” Kaab said, “I don’t think age has taught me any, so I suppose we’ll just have to wait for responsibility to weigh down my shoulders someday. Hopefully a long time from now!”
This is Kaab’s answer when her uncle asks, exasperated and rightly so, if she’ll ever learn caution.
It’s not just caution. Kaab has so much to learn that I’m honestly starting to believe the only way she’ll do so is with a harsher lesson than she’s ever been taught before, and I’m kind of afraid that it’s going to come along at the expense of someone she claims to care so much about. SOMEONE GET TESS TO A BUNKER PLEASE.
This is what the seed planted by Vincent’s surprise departure has grown into, and I’m betting it’s not done yet, is what I’m saying.
I just. Kaab infuriates me, not because I don’t like her – she is dedicated to her job and to her family, and these things are admirable. She’s clearly homesick thanks to what that job is currently demanding of her, and I’m not heartless. I do sympathise with her. But this whole thing with Tess is where she’s likeliest to screw up, because for all of her good qualities and for all that she’s a sympathetic character, her view of the world is terribly self-centred and gods help her, she simply does not understand how healthy relationships work.
The thing is, Kaab herself hits the nail on the head in her POV scenes this week. She is not a patient person, and she is aware of this. And it’s her patience, if not her willingness (or lack of it) to compromise in order to actually make Tess happy, that’s going to tear her relationship apart. We see the cracks in that foundation getting wider this week, because for some reason Tess can’t keep simply brushing off Kaab’s attitude in favour of a quickie to settle things down for five minutes. Tess IS making the reasons for her unhappiness clear; Kaab simply isn’t really listening, and Tess – until now – hasn’t tried as hard as she could to make her points stick. Even this week, things unravel between them when she chooses to vent her frustrations to Micah instead, and Kaab overhears. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, and definitely not the best way for such things to finally come out in the open, but it is about time Kaab realised what Vincent once told her right at the start: that being a good lover isn’t enough. She has to learn how to be a good partner. So far, she hasn’t tried hard enough.
So, time for harder lessons? Probably. Do I want that for either of them? No. But something has to give, and despite all her pretty words and poetic declarations of love, it doesn’t look as though it’s going to be Kaab.
Something else that’s been bothering me about Kaab lately is something that a friend (@misforawesome, hi M!) pointed out to me that I hadn’t even considered before: for all that she frustrates me, and I’ve admitted she does, I’ve sort of given Kaab a pass on having truly crossed any lines already with Tess because of her gender. When you go back and look at their ‘courtship’ and consider how it might seem if Kaab was a man, it kind of changes everything.
If Kaab were male and was putting her own needs ahead of Tess’s; if she thought her own culture, tastes and circumstances deserved more consideration than Tess’s do; if she was incapable of understanding that not everything good about a relationship has to involve sex … If she did all of that while being male, I would have called her an asshole long before now. And the thing is, men are called out for doing those things all the time. It isn’t acceptable behaviour, and I know that. It has frustrated me, but part of me still wanted to see them work it out and be happy – and this is despite my own personal experiences of these things telling me that it’s very likely that it won’t work out.
So why did I give her that pass?
One thing’s for sure now – I’m going to be looking at that relationship in an entirely different light. I may not enjoy it as much, but that won’t exactly be new. It’ll just have been driven home harder. And seeing it in a different light certainly doesn’t mean I think it’s badly written. I think the fact that it’s giving me this much to think about means it’s incredibly well written. Any feelings provoked at all is an achievement, and goodness knows Tremontaine gives me ALL the feelings.
So well done, Alaya. Keep doing what you’re doing, Tremontaine writers! I’ll keep reading, I promise.