It is a truth universally acknowledged that a queer woman in possession of a few dollars (or an equal amount of Amazon credits) must be in want of a novel about a swashbuckling lesbian of color and her adventure-seeking pals. Unfortunately, well-written fantasy stories featuring female protagonists (especially queer ones) have always been rarer than a house-trained Hungarian Horntail — until now! Some of our favorite queer writers, including the incomparable Malinda Lo and Ellen Kushner, have teamed up with Serial Box Publishing to bring Kushner’s beloved Riverside world to life in a new series called Tremontaine.
Well, kind of new. Serial Box Publishing kicked off an old idea in a new way a couple of months ago.
Serial Box brings everything that’s awesome about TV (easily digestible episodes, team written, new content every week) to what was already cool about books (well-crafted stories, talented authors, enjoyable anywhere).
Like TV, we release a new episode of our serials every week and serials typically run for seasons of 10-16 weeks. Easy to pick up, episodes are enjoyable on their own but build over the course of the season to tell a bigger story. Each episode is available in ebook and audio and takes about 40 minutes to enjoy.
Tremontaine has released 11 of its 13 season one episodes, and let me tell you, it is the gayest thing I have ever read in my life (and I one time read The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories, okay; I know a thing or two about gay books). The story exists as a kind of prequel to Kushner’s Swordspoint, the first book in her Riverside series, and follows its cast of characters through internal and external struggles that push them closer and closer together until their individual threads are so tangled up it’s impossible to tell where one stops and another one starts.
There’s Diane, Duchess Tremontaine (whom you know well if you’ve read Swordspoint), a Machiavellian mastermind of social graces and local politics, trying to keep the Tremontaine fortune in tact. There’s Ixkaab Balam, first daughter of a first daughter of the Kinwiinik, our aforementioned lesbian swashbuckler, come to Riverside to escape her hotheaded mistakes in her homeland and to regain her family’s trust. There’s Micah Heslop, a brilliant farmer-turned-mathematician, who lets everyone assume she’s a boy so she can learn at the University. And Tess, a talented Riveride forger who catches Kaab’s eye the moment she swaggers into town. There’s also a swordsman and a duke and a scholar and a gentleman robber.
And at the center of it all: Chocolate. Chocolate as a discourse on imperialism. Chocolate as a metaphor for sex. Chocolate magnifying the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation. Chocolate as currency. Chocolate as power. Oh, Tremontaine is an adventure, and at least two love stories, too — but it’s also a savvy commentary on the economics and ethics of cultural exchange. Kaab is a woman of color, hailing from a people of color, from a land far away, where chocolate is crafted and exported to a nation of people the color of ant-eggs who bastardize the Kinwiinik’s sacred preparation and consider their sugared up, creamed up version of the drink the height of sophistication. It’s not just an entertaining series; it’s an incisive cultural critique.
Well, and the gayness: One thing most of these writers of have in common is that their previously published works all give prominence to queer characters in worlds where being queer is a non-issue. The same is true of Tremontaine, where every love story is between men who love men, or women who love women, or men and women who love both men and women. The sex is good fun, but the romance is deliriously well-written. Such aching and longing and pining and promises (amid cups and cups of chocolate!).
Perhaps the thing I love most about Tremontanie, though, is how it lays waste to the back-patting television networks engage in when they achieve the bare minimum of diversity on their shows. Strong Female Characters is a phrase I am deathly sick of hearing. Week after week, Tremontaine proves that what the world really needs is complex, well-rounded, authentic female characters. Good women who do bad things and bad women who do good things and women who live in that field beyond commonly accepted ideas of right and wrong. Women who make hard decisions for organic reasons, like real life! This series doesn’t just have one of those women; it has four of them. It hurdles the Bechdel Test like a balance beam on a preschool playground.
Each episode of Tremontaine costs $1.49 (if you buy it from Serial Box, or $1.99 if you buy it from Amazon), and the first episode is completely free! If you subscribe to the series, new episodes are delivered to you each Wednesday morning, bright and early, so you can read them before you get out of bed or on the train or at your lunch hour. They’re available in every ebook format or you can just read them in your browser.
You should hurry and get caught up. Malinda Lo wrote this week’s penultimate episode she promises it’s a doozy!
(Next week is #Tremontaine episode 12, my FAVORITE of the episodes I wrote, so you have to prepare by reading this week’s! YOU HAVE TO.)