Damiskos needs a vacation, but he isn’t likely to get one on his current assignment. He’s been sent to negotiate a supply contract with an old friend. Instead of a peaceful seaside villa, however, Damiskos finds that his friend, Nione, is playing host to a troupe of quarrelsome philosophy students. And an apparent spy. Damiskos, an ex-soldier, knows trouble when he sees it and over the course of several days, he finds himself in the confidence of the enigmatic Varazda.
Varazda is a dancer. At least that’s one of his skills. Once a slave, he is now a citizen of Boukos, serving as a spy when needed. At first, Varazda finds Damiskos to be a hindrance to his work, but both men, wounded by the past, find a deeper connection in the most unexpected of places. But when their situation turns deadly, Damiskos and Varazda must use all their wits to outthink a zealous enemy and win the fight of their lives.
I loved Sword Dance. It’s not a perfect novel, but the characters are endearing and so well constructed that I didn’t care about a few imperfections. Damiskos and Varazda are something of an odd couple and for the first half of the book, they tend to spar with one another more often than not. The romance comes later and works because of exactly who these characters are and the absolute acceptance they have for one another. Varazda was gelded as a slave and, as a result, he is considered inferior or unnatural by many. But Damiskos sees his beauty, his grace, and his intelligence and loves Varazda for himself. It’s a balanced and comfortable relationship and while it evolves quickly, it reads as believable. These two do have the tendency to constantly apologize to one another and over explain the intention behind their words, which is a bit annoying, but doesn’t cripple the relationship. The setting to Sword Dance is fictional, but it echoes Greco-Roman influences so it almost feels historical, which I rather enjoyed.
The overall story is a bit bonkers and, at times, it reads more like a mad camp romp than a serious mystery. I was never quite sure why Nione didn’t take control of her own household or why some sort of law enforcement wasn’t summoned. But the underlying themes of bigotry, violence for the sake of racial purity, and twisting knowledge for evil, are all rather relevant given the things happening here in the US. This allowed Sword Dance to make an impact despite its fictional and historical setting.
I truly enjoyed Sword Dance and am eagerly awaiting the next in the series. It’s described as a trilogy, so I’m hoping we get to see more of Varazda and Damiskos as their relationship evolves. There are some mild annoyances about the book and the plot wasn’t always consistent, but the writing is generally strong and I think anyone who enjoys strong characters and a compelling romance will appreciate Sword Dance.