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Tremontaine at the Midpoint

(Spoiler warning: The following review gives away a couple of events in the first quarter of the series in order to establish character conflicts. Beyond that, you won’t find any big plot revelations.) 

Tremontaine cover by Kathleen Jennings
Tremontaine cover by Kathleen Jennings

Tremontaine, Serial Box Publishing’s prequel to Ellen Kushner’s Riverside series of novels, will certainly feel familiar to Kushner fans, yet it also serves as a playful introduction for readers new to this world. Appearing in weekly installments, it features the gleefully varied sexualities and gender expressions of Kushner’s universe, along with its cross-dressing swordswomen, its arrogant scholars, its political intrigue, and its focus on manners, where much more is going on beneath the surface than the reader first expects.

The world of Riverside exists in an alternate Europe, sometime between the Renaissance and early modern periods, with a bit of 1980s New York thrown in. Firearms have yet to be invented, so conflicts are settled at the point of a sword, usually wielded by a hired duelist. Though the genre is fantasy, there are no wizards and no magic, because these have long since been purged from society, along with the corrupt kings. The city and the country go unnamed, leaving us with neighborhoods: the lumpenproletarian Riverside and the aristocratic Hill, with the University existing in a social space somewhere between the two.

And so the novels featured characters from a variety of social classes, creating a rich bed of conflict and social disdain. They also brought a welcome diversity of sexualities and gender to fantasy (beginning with Swordspoint, way back in 1987). Now Tremontaine adds racial diversity to that mix in the form of traders from far-off Kinwiinik, who supply the aristocrats on the Hill with that all-important commodity, chocolate.

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Tremontaine: Go Read It

Tremontaine Arrivals CoverWhat the title says!

If you saw my preview of Tremontaine, you know how much I love Ellen Kushner’s Riverside universe. Nearly halfway through, this prequel series is everything I wanted it to be. You can sample the first episode or subscribe to the whole thing here.

(Or you can listen to it with the wonderfully performed audio versions, which are included with the text versions.)

Insightful, charming, spoilery, episode-by-episode reviews over on OvertheEffingRainbow.

Mid-point review of the series here at the end of the week.

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Books

The Tremontaine Saga Goes Back in Time

Cover of Tremontaine
Cover of Tremontaine from its reveal on Tor.com

I’m excited for the release of Tremontaine, a serialized, 13-part prequel to Ellen Kushner’s Riverside novels. Judging by an excerpt released Monday on RT Book Reviews, it should be every bit as excellent as Swordspoint, Privilege of the Sword, and Fall of the Kings (the latter co-authored with Kushner’s partner in writing and in life, Delia Sherman). The art looks gorgeous, too. According to the cover reveal on Tor.com, there will be a different cover for each episode, so the awesomeness just increased by a factor of thirteen.

This excerpt focuses on Diane, Duchess Tremontaine,  a seemingly secondary but ultimately important character from Swordspoint. Here, she deals with imminent financial ruin and a wayward daughter who has just given birth to a son. There’s no doubt she’ll employ all the intelligence and political skill we saw in that earlier novel in order to avoid financial ruin, but if events in Swordspoint are any guide, then the situation with her daughter will prove much more intractable. [Update: Ms. Kushner pointed out that the first version of this paragraph could have been a spoiler for those who haven’t read her earlier work. I’d forgotten such readers exist, but if you’re among them, you still have time to rectify the oversight before Tremontaine comes out. Let’s just say that fans of that earlier work may find in this tale a bit of an origin story, or at least background, for one of their favorite characters.]