In Tremontaine, the latest in the series of fantasy novels set within the Tullan Empire, a Mayan civilization, the lives of diverse parties intersect in the city of Riverside. The characters’ paths cross over financial and love interests in thirteen “episodes” or chapters. It is a world of sumptuous feasts, luxurious clothes, and splendid furnishings. It is a place of intrigue, where many characters seem to be pansexual as well as freely adopt different genders. Kaab, a woman of a prominent trading family, is there to exchange chocolate for saffron and live out an exile due to an indiscretion back home. Farm girl and brilliant mathematician Michah wants a place at the university. Michah’s classmate, Rafe, is more interested in university life and starting his own school than in his family’s spice business. Tess the forger needs a new protector, having lost the old one when he was murdered. And reigning over them all are the Duchess and Duke of Tremontaine, who are hoping to regain financial footing after a series of setbacks.
The description of dress, food, landscape, and interiors is splendid. The imagery of the chocolate alone, the consumption of which is a large part of Riverside culture, is remarkable: liquid, usually taken in cups, with cream, sugar, or chilis. The characters are also sharply drawn, with distinctive traits, such as Kaab’s skills of observation. One of the strong points of the book is the banter and back-and-forth that raises conversation to an artform, as it was in past centuries before widespread availability of print material and other media. The women of Riverside often have equal, if unofficial and hard-won, position to men in business and society. A drawback for me was trying to keep straight the numerous characters, places, and plotlines in the story as well as make sense of the story universe. However, good fantasy/science fiction creates its own complex world and culture that devotees understand and that the newcomer must become accultured to.
Ellen Kushner, Malinda Lo, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, Patty Bryant, Paul Witcover