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Sword Dance - A.J. Demas

Title: Sword Dance

Series: Sword Dance Trilogy Book One

Author: A.J. Demas

Genre: Historical, Alt History

LGBTQ+ Category: MM, Non-Binary

Publisher: Sexton’s Cottage

Pages: 265

Reviewer: Dan

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About The Book

Five years ago, Damiskos’s brilliant military career was cut short, leaving him with a permanent disability and scars that are not all physical. Adrift and still grieving, he tries to find meaning in an unsatisfying job.

Work takes him to the remote seaside villa of an old friend, where, among an odd assortment of guests, he meets the eunuch sword-dancer Varazda. Enigmatic and beautiful but distinctly prickly, Varazda is the antithesis of the straightforward and serious Damiskos. Yet as they keep getting in each other’s way at the villa, their mutual dislike is complicated by a spark of undeniable attraction.

Then the villa’s guests begin to reveal their true characters and motives—no one here is what they seem—and Damiskos finds himself at the centre of a bizarre web of espionage, theft, and assassination. Varazda may need Damiskos’s help, but not as much as Damiskos, finally awakening to a new sense of life and purpose, needs Varazda.

Sword Dance is the first book in the Sword Dance trilogy, an m/m romance set in an imaginary ancient world, with murderous philosophy students, sex acts named after fruit, and love blossoming in the midst of mayhem. 

The Review

I grabbed Sword Dance on a whim after seeing it advertised on Facebook. I’ve always had a desperate weak spot for the Ancient Mediterranean World and an alt-history version of it with romance and intrigue thrown in called to me. Sometimes my whims lead me in terrible directions, but with Sword Dance, my intuition didn’t fail me. I loved basically every word of this book. It was sweet, intriguing, well-paced, and also surprisingly funny. 

The main characters were unique and well-written, never falling too firmly into any archetype. The two of them played off each other and the action around them well, never failing to entertain. Sometimes Damiskos is a little too infatuated with Varazda, dwelling on the dancer’s beauty and unique appearance; it’s not unbelievable that he feels so strongly, but I do feel the reader accesses those feelings a little too often. 

Sometimes, Damiskos’s attraction to him leans into Varazda’s exoticness more than I’d like; the book even acknowledges that on some level. It never turns into flat out fetishism or othering of the character, though, and I hope it never does. It’s refreshing to see a character like Varazda have a purpose and a personality. The author also gets major points for having characters who discuss their sexual likes and dislikes with partners who actually respect those boundaries.

This book is a romance, but it didn’t isolate itself to that genre. This book also tackles political intrigue, espionage, foreign relations, and civil rights, sometimes subtle, sometimes less so.

The plot of Sword Dance moved at a quick clip, taking place over a short (though not very relaxing) vacation at a seaside villa. As the world around them falls into chaos and bloated political idealism, Damiskos and Varazda scheme to keep themselves and each other above the rising tide of danger. The supporting characters, though not always likable, are mostly fleshed out, although some of them, especially the philosophy students, do come across as caricatures. The book also has an expansive cast of supporting and background characters, so it’s understandable that not all of them are fully developed.

The ending is not a happily-ever-after, which is to be expected, as there are other books due out in the series, but it does leave room for one someday, somewhere down the road. I’m really hoping these two find their way to it. I can’t say too much without giving away the plot, but Varazda proves so much more complex and unique than his initial introduction suggests. I’m already awaiting the second installment.

The Reviewer

is 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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