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.)
— Malinda Lo (@malindalo) January 13, 2016
I will get on this as soon as I’ve had some chocolate.
Chocolate, or “chocolate”?
Por que no los dos? :D
The delectable kind.:-)
P.S.: You had me at “Swashbuckling Lesbian”.
Omg how did I not know about this??? This is SO MANY of my favorite things! THANK YOU HEATHER
Well, this is intriguing… It’s been a while since I’ve read fantasy (other than Harry Potter fanfiction) in great quantities, at least compared to all the academic books and 15th-17th century Spanish literature I’ve been devouring for graduate school. Moreover, placing chocolate at the center of both personal relations and cultural or imperial critiques sounds quite fitting.
Also, the idea that current ways of reading could be inspiring a (digital) return to earlier modes of serialized publication is fascinating to the book history nerd in me. Do you know if there are many other serialized novels out there at the moment?
Serial Box has two so far (Tremontaine and Bookburners), and a third (The Witch Who Came In From the Cold) on the way. And it’s really more like fanasty-lite. No real magic or anything like that. No dragons.
Other small publishers have done serialized digital novels in the past (Candlemark & Gleam comes to mind: http://www.candlemarkandgleam.com/about/faqs/#serial ), but I’m not aware of any running at present with new/first-run publication. (The Pigeonhole serializes classics and previously-published books and markets it as book-club-like; Plympton has their DailyLit app that does the same, marketed as “15 minutes of fiction a day” for commutes or breaks.)
Seanan McGuire puts her Indexing series out as a serial. The second story in the series just wrapped up so notes a good time to check it out.
Tremontaine has me swooning week after week. I’m the first to admit I get wrapped up in stories, but it’s usually just hyperactive chattering about whatever story has caught my fancy. This… well, I finally understand those ladies in romance novels. This shit is SUMPTUOUS.
I literally, like literally literally, fanned myself as I was listening to the audio version when Tess and Kaab made chocolate together, if you know what I mean… ;)
I haven’t read Swordspoint but I’m going to have to when this is through. Obviously I’ve already read everything Malinda Lo has ever written.
I completely forgot that subscribing on their website nets you the audio version too! Downloading them RIGHT NOW.
I’ll also be picking up Swordspoint when this is all over. If it’s even half as good as Tremontaine…
Tremontaine is like the best worst. The best, because of everything this article says. The worst, because waiting each week for a new installment is agonizing and after next week it’ll all be over and I don’t know how I am going to cope. I keep clinging to the fact that the authors have referred to this as Season 1 multiple times, so that must mean there’s going to be another season or seasons down the line, right??
Also worth noting that the series has been praised for its portrayal of autism.
I have mostly positive feelings about Micah as a representation of an austistic person. Her experiences are so incredibly like my own in a lot of ways and it’s really wonderful to see her handled with respect and not just boiled down to that one facet of her personality. I also LOVE that a female character is autistic and I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a fictional autistic person who was female.
My only qualm is that Micah clearly qualifies as a savant… and while a good number of autistic people are savants, it’s not even close to the majority. I guess I don’t even have a problem with her portrayal in and of itself. I’m just personally fatigued of autistic savants in fiction and it detracts a smidgen from my otherwise enthusiastic response to the character.
Good to know – thanks for adding your perspective :-)
Thank you for the love!
Yes, we’re having our writers retreat for S2 early in Feb! (I’m the producer/ on the writing team). You will be getting a second season.
Ugh I think I replied in the wrong place but thank you for your Micah thoughts too — we had a lot of writers room discussion about this I hope to write up at some point!
Day: Made. Thank you!
Ahhh, Season 2 is a lock! I AM EXCITED, PERHAPS UNREASONABLY SO! Thank you! I hope you all are having as much fun writing the series as the rest of us are reading it :-)
YES I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS. I *loved* Katherine and Artemisia in “Privilege of the Sword,” and hoped/wished they’d end up together. Semi off-topic, there’s actually an amazing fanfic about two girls finding their letters years later, and it feels like Ellen Kushner wrote it, it is that good. It’s called Correspondence by Ankaret, and it’s on ao3. My phone won’t let me post the link.
I love Tremontaine SO MUCH. I can’t get over how good it is each week.
I need a season 2! But since it’s a prequel maybe that is complicated?
Is Rafe in Swordspoint or does he get killed before it begins? Asking for a friend.
I loved the SerialBox concept, so I signed up for Bookburners and Tremontaine.
Bookburners was fun, it was nice to have a thing to read once a week and the story was action-packed and all that. But I didn’t love it and haven’t decided on buying Season 2. Probably I would have liked it better if I finished it before Tremontaine because once I started reading a story where everyone is queer I was even more bored with the under-developped overly angsty relationship in Bookburners.
The Privilege of the Sword is one of my favorite books, so I’m gonna be on this. (Also, I JUST reconnected with one of the authors, who I used to be LJ friends with and turns out to be a buddy of my best dude friend because the world is teeny tiny.)
Oh, and I also read The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories and what stuck with me was 1. the one that worked a horse into the Stonewall Riots and 2. the one where the love interest’s last lover died in the shigella outbreak at Michigan (which really happened, but no fatalities.)
Oh my, I’ve never met anyone else who’s read that book! It’s actually really weirdly good!
I actually really love the one author’s pulp pastiches (Maxine Mainwright, Lesbian Dilettante; Dolly Dingle, Lesbian Landlady). She’s fun and the tone is spot on but hilarious.
I’ll check those out!
I didn’t know this type of media existed. Now I think it’ll be my favorite! Thanks Heather! Always making the world a better place to exist.
Autostraddle is really good for my brain but bad for my wallet. Mey already gave me a Lumberjanes addiction and now I’ll probably end up with a serial book addiction :-)
Same in regards to lumberjanes and Autostraddle causing a hole in my wallet. Also about probably addicted to these. Samesies in total actually.
How did I not know this was a thing?! Swordspoint was one of the first queers books I ever read and is still one of my favs. I’ve also always been a big fan of Malinda Lo so I can’t wait to check this out.
I literally have Swordspoint beside me to read next. But should I read it or these first??
I’ve been reading this on my way to work every morning and I am totally hooked, it’s so great. Thanks for the rec!