This blog post originally appeared at Serial Box, where you can find serialized fiction released in episodes week after week. Karen Lord is one of the writers on Tremontaine season 3.
Tremontaine is the critically acclaimed prequel to Ellen Kushner’s beloved Riverside novels, which developed a cult following beginning with Swordspoint in 1987. The “Fantasy of Manners” focuses on decadent world building and interpersonal intrigue, and has been noted for its progressive expression of gender and sexuality. Team-written by some of today’s most exciting authors, Tremontaine season 3 is brought to you by Ellen Kushner, Joel Derfner, Karen Lord, Delia Sherman, Racheline Maltese, Paul Witcover, Tessa Gratton, and Liz Duffy Adams. The first episode is available for free at Serial Box and can be found here.
Being a writer is like being a director with a crowd of characters demanding ‘So, what’s my motivation?’ Like real-life actors, they don’t always listen when you tell them your plans, which is why flexible plots and rewrites are a part of my process.
It’s a process that works when I’m writing a book by myself, but a joint writing project like Tremontaine is a different beast. The world belongs to Ellen Kushner, the characters belong to Ellen and the full team of Tremontaine writers, and being on the same page is not a mere metaphor, but an absolute necessity. The Tremontaine writers are passionate about the world and the characters, and it’s been an exciting experience to work with them.
I had a few ideas about Vincent, Reza and Esha. Vincent is no longer on-screen, but his death/disappearance has left echoes, ripples and consequences. Reza is one of those most affected, as his sole reason for coming to the Land was to find Vincent. Esha is an outsider to this story, but she has a dedication to swordcraft that is like, and yet not like, the vocation of the swordsmen of the Land.
I presented my ideas to my colleagues and prepared a small essay. The following version has been edited to remove major spoilers.
Summary: In which I compare and contrast the philosophy of the sword espoused by Vincent of Riverside, Reza of Chartil, and Esha of Zeren within the context of three factors of religiosity (identity, community and transcendence) and with reference to their characters to date and the arc for Season Three.
Vincent does not only love to fight with a sword; he loves the code of honour which defines the swordsman of the Land. He is dedicated to an abstract set of rules detached from allegiance to an individual or state. No-one, no matter how beloved or how powerful, should be able to dictate his choices as a swordsman. Vincent’s identity is rooted in the ideal of this code of honour.
Reza views swordsmanship in the context of a commander with an army, a ruler with subjects. He does not only love to fight with a sword; he commands the obedience of others with swords so that together they fight with one purpose for the Beloved, their god of War. In this community, Reza finds his highest expression of what it means to be a warrior and a ruler.
Esha has used a blade to take life, but her sword dance is a prayer, an offering to the goddess. The dance separates the skill required to take a life from the act of taking a life, and the dancer is the one who surrenders (immolates?) self in the dance to the goddess. It is a self-renewing sacrifice in which the dancer both loses self and finds the highest expression of self. It requires a level of detachment from people and things, erasing dependence on both and thereby achieving a selfless love of people and non-possessive appreciation of things.
Reza could not understand why Vincent could not combine his love for Reza and his love for the sword in a perfect expression of community, however for Vincent that would have meant giving up his autonomy and the ideal of his identity. After Vincent’s ‘death’ Reza tries to understand why Vincent did not choose him.
Reza focuses on the transcendence to be found in facing death, failing to realise that this is not Vincent’s transcendence of truly embodying the swordsman’s code. When Reza meets Esha and witnesses her sword dance, for the first time he will see a commitment to swordcraft and to the divine that is not about facing actual death. He begins to rethink what it means to be dedicated to the sword.
This mini treatise (which, co-incidentally, is modeled on my PhD thesis, but that’s another story) can be extended beyond the sword to address the motivations of many other characters with their different ways of wielding skill (and/or death) in the vocations they have chosen or had thrust upon them.
Are they led by their identity, accepting a title and a role and finding honour in fulfilling it? Are they bound to their community by love or duty, for good or ill? Or is their work an opportunity to perfect both craft and self to a state of zen, flow, or transcendence? Perhaps one, perhaps all three—but you must read Tremontaine to find out for yourself.
Barbadian author and research consultant Karen Lord is known for her debut novel Redemption in Indigo, which won the 2008 Frank Collymore Literary Award, the 2010 Carl Brandon Parallax Award, the 2011 William L. Crawford Award, the 2011 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature and the 2012 Kitschies Golden Tentacle (Best Debut), and was nominated for the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. She is the author of the science fiction duology The Best of All Possible Worlds and The Galaxy Game, and the editor of the anthology New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean.
You can read Tremontaine here.