A Free Dreamer Review: Sword Dance (Sword Dance #1) by A.J. Demas

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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.

I honestly can’t remember why I asked for this book. The blurb doesn’t sound like something I’d normally be interested in. But “Sword Dance” turned out to be a very pleasant surprise, so I’m glad I decided to give it a try.

The setting was quite interesting. It was well fleshed out and I got a real sense of place from it. Sometimes the many country and city names were a little confusing though and I found it a bit hard to remember them and their significance to the story. A map would have been a huge help. A.J. Demas clearly put some serious work into this world and I was very impressed by all the cultural  details.

The romance part takes a while to get started and I liked how well it fit in with the rest of the plot. It’s not an easy relationship between Damiskos and Varazda, considering their past experiences. And it was great to watch them work it out.

Damiskos is a former soldier,  who’s feeling a little lost now that he can no longer fight. I liked him from the start. He’s a very level-headed, reliable man, who might have some difficulties in the romance department. I also liked that the author decided to make him bisexual and gave him an important relationship with a woman, where the woman didn’t turn out to be a horrible person.

Varazda was quite the surprise. Let’s just say he has some very surprising secrets. And he’s just plain gorgeous. I think he’s the first eunuch MC I’ve read about and I would’ve loved some scenes form his POV. And I must admit I would have liked some more anatomical details. I wanted to know exactly what was done to him and how it was functioning now.

The plot itself was certainly unusual. You don’t often see a bunch of murderous philosophy students trying to overthrow the country to create the Ideal Republic. I’ve never heard any intelligent person spout so much nonsense. It’s a clear sign that intelligence doesn’t prevent you from being stupid.

I liked the ending. It’s obvious this is only part one of a new trilogy, because there are most definitely some loose ends. But it wasn’t a horrible cliffhanger and the story was wrapped up neatly. Plus, it just generally fit the tone of the whole book.

Overall, “Sword Dance” was a great read. It took me a bit of time to really get into it, but once I did, I couldn’t stop. I definitely want to find out what happens next and I’ll also take a look at the author’s other books, some of which are set in the same world as this one.

Cover art: Aud Koch, Cover design by Lennan Adams. I know I said I didn’t remember why I wanted this book. But I have a strong suspicion it was probably due to that utterly gorgeous cover. It’s so different and kind of reminds me of a painting on an ancient vase. The perfect cover for this book!

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Universal Link

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 265 pages
Published July 31st 2019 by Sexton’s Cottage
Edition Language English
Series Sword Dance #1

By Scattered Thoughts

At over 50, I am ruled by my terriers, my gardens, and my projects. A knack for grubbing about in the woods, making mud pies, and tending to the injured worms, bugs, and occasional bird and turtle growing up eventually led me to working for the Parks. I was a park Naturalist for over 20 years, and observing Nature and her cycles still occupy my hours. From the arrival of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the Spring to the first call of the Snow Geese heading south in the Fall, I am entranced by the seasons. For more about me see my bio on my blog.

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