Damiskos has enjoyed his long break in Boukos with Varazda and his adopted family. He and Varazda haven’t actually discussed their future as of yet, but Dami fits naturally into the quirky, loving household and he has no desire to leave. Fate has its own plans though and Dami finds himself dragged back into the chaos of his old life in Pheme. Aside from dealing with his father’s dangerous gambling habits and the reappearance of an old flame, Dami finds himself charged with the murder of a familiar foe.
Isolated and beset by enemies of one form or another, Dami is adrift until Varazda makes a grand entrance. As Dami struggles to manage the legalities of his situation, Varazda hunts for the real killer. Only once Dami is found not guilty and truly freed from Pheme, can Varazda and Dami finally begin their life together.
Strong Wine is the third in the Sword Dance series and these books must be read in order to fully appreciate the developing relationship between Dami and Varazda. They remain one of my favorite fictional couples because of the honest acceptance of love and the level of communication that exists between them. They aren’t perfect, of course, but they are the reason this series works as well as it does.
As with the other two books in the series, the actual mystery/plot line is perfectly average, but doesn’t wow me. We revisit a few characters from the first book, Sword Dance, and I felt the like the overall resolution was fine, though not exactly compelling. There was a fair amount of family drama in Strong Wine and there were times it felt a bit more like a soap opera than a mystery. I found that a bit frustrating, but this series has never been about the plot, but rather the characters.
Despite the circumstances we find them in, Dami and Varazda seem as in tune with one another as always. There are questions to be answered about their future, but there is a natural ebb and flow to their relationship that makes sense on multiple levels. We don’t get the chance to see them spending quite as much time one on one, but that doesn’t lessen the connection between them. They seem to understand what the other needs and to offer it, free of judgment or awkwardness. And when Dami finds himself in need of help, it’s Varazda who is by his side, doing the sleuthing that Dami can’t. They just work as a couple and have since the series began and it’s because of their journey that I’ve so enjoyed these books.
Strong Wine was another important entry in the evolution of Dami and Varazda’s journey together. The background mystery isn’t the strongest, though that doesn’t dampen the overall story too much. This is supposedly the final book in the series, but I hope we haven’t seen the last of this pairing. For now, Strong Wine will be an enjoyable read for established fans.