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REVIEW: Strong Wine – A.J. Demas

Strong Wine - A.J. Demas

Genre: Alternate History, Fantasy

LGBTQ+ Category: M/NB, Gender Fluid, Non-Binary, Gay, Pan

Reviewer: Dan

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About The Book

Retired soldier Damiskos and his lover Varazda have been living together in Boukos for a month, and their future is beginning to look bright. Then Damiskos receives a letter summoning him home to Pheme—where his parents are deeply in debt, his brother is being hunted by loan sharks, and an unwanted arranged marriage looms.

And that’s before Damiskos is charged with murder.

Fortunately, he’s not alone. Old friends are back in Pheme. And Varazda—eunuch, sword-dancer, and spy—has solved mysteries before. But saving his lover from execution and from marriage will take time, and with only days until Dami’s trial, time is running out.

Strong Wine is the third book in the Sword Dance trilogy, the conclusion of Dami and Varazda’s story from Sword Dance and Saffron Alley. This time with fake fortunetellers, real courtroom drama, and … fertilizer?

The Review

Once again, Demas knocks it out of the park with this book, right after designing and building the whole park and inventing the game. I’ve honestly never read anything like Demas’ work before, from the ancient world of her creation to the way she writes settings, characters, and dialogue. She has created a rich, interesting world that still has mysteries giving it a realism that a lot of world builders miss. She gave us characters that are deep and genuine, flawed and complex and beautifully human.

The conclusion of the trilogy doesn’t start off easy for any of the characters. Dami and Varazda have not yet managed to have an open, honest discussion about their future – they both know what they want, and badly, but struggle to express that to their partner. They are both overcoming nuanced and complicated traumas over their own and navigating the unique place of their relationship in the world.

Things are cut short as Dami is called back to his home, where things get even messier. For the first time, we see Dami’s family and understand the messy but still somehow caring relationship he has with them.

In Saffron Alley we got to meet a whole cast of new characters, with a few call backs from Demas’ other works, and in Strong Wine we get to revisit a few familiar faces from Sword Dance. It’s interesting to see how things play out for the antagonists and side-characters from the first novel and gives a sense of completeness to the trilogy. Dami and Varazda have finally wrapped up the conflict that brought them together and can start to move past where they were and the vulnerable places they were when they met and start to think about who they’ll be going forward, together and separately, both more confident and with their feet more firmly under them.

Of course, things get complicated and worrisome for all parties involved, but it all builds to the happily ever after that is exactly what Varazda and Dami deserve.

Again, I cannot recommend this book and the series and all the other words by Demas enough. She has a beautiful way of creating worlds and characters that make the reader melt. Demas has a gift and anyone who picks up one of her books will be thrilled.

Once again, I have to emphasize how wonderful it is to see a queer couple not comprised strictly of the top/bottom, femme/masc, very cis-hetero pattern that so many m/m books tend to fall into.

In Demas’ writing, I see characters that I can relate to, I can see parts of myself. And that’s a rare thing.

The Reviewer

Dan Ackerman is a writer and educator who has lived in Connecticut for their entire life. They received their BSED from CCSU in 2013 and wrote their Master’s thesis on representations of women in same-sex relationships in contemporary Spanish literature and cinema. Currently, Dan is studying for a second MA in ABA and works in a center school for students with a variety of intellectual, developmental, or multiple disabilities. In their spare time, Dan continues to read and write, supplemented with a healthy amount of movie marathons and gaming. 

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