Review Detail

Saffron Alley, by A.J. Demas
Books EW Elaine White February 16, 2021 301
Charming Adventure/Romance
 POV: 3rd person, one character POV

 Saffron Alley is Book 2 in the charming Sword Dance series. It continues the story of Damiskos and Varazda, one month on from the events of Book 1, during the agreed-on visit to Varazda's home. Where Book 1 took place in Damiskos' comfort zone – both in terms of location, acquaintances, and his military experience – Saffron Alley is, as the title suggests, entirely in Varazda's wheelhouse. Saffron Alley is, afterall, Varazda's home street.

 Throughout the story, I loved watching Varazda and Damiskos grow, both together as a couple and as individuals. Their problems from one hadn't miraculously disappeared, or become unimportant. Damiskos' leg injury was still a factor, still a recurring, prominent issue. Varazda's non-binary duality of male/female while being a eunuch, dancer, ex-pleasure slave, and discovering his limitations in the bedroom, were as important and sensitively explored as before. Both showed growth, and shared equal importance in the story, though Book 1 was told in Damiskos' POV and this one gave Varazda his POV.

 Honestly, I began by reading Book 1.5, a free short on the author's website, and while it recapped the events of Book1 in Varazda's POV, I really wanted more from him. I wanted more of his experiences, more of his POV, and I was relieved when Book 2 gave me all of that and more.

 As for secondary characters, I enjoyed getting to know Varazda's family. Remi was wild and cute and annoying, as all fictional children should be, constantly interrupting important conversations, running wild into scenes to ruin the moment. She was a delight. Ariston was stupidly adorable, in the way only foolish teenage boys mooning over an impossible love can be (though he's not a teenager). And Yazata was sweet, a gentle giant, a cuddly teddy bear, and heartbreakingly innocent and anxious. I warmed to all of them very quickly.

 In terms of the story, I enjoyed that this was more of a domestic situation rather than a real military crime, though the plot had continuation elements of the previous book that kept it not only logical but within the realm of possibility. I liked that previous events had relevance, that nothing was cleanly swept under the rug or perfectly resolved. I liked that politics had its place, that decisions weren't always under Varazda or Damiskos' control, despite their positions of power and authority.

 It felt more realistic to know that some things were ignored, overlooked, missed, or unexplored due to life getting in the way, or not appearing important at the time. It was also refreshing to see them working as a team without hesitation, both with Damiskos' setting aside his military persona to become soft and flirty with Varazda, while Varazda recalled their military expedition from the previous book and became more comfortable around Damiskos. They both opened up a lot and shared more, in this book, which was nice, because it was realistic for two people who really hadn't spent a lot of time together and were still learning about each other.

 I absolutely fell in love with the awkwardly adorable scenes, where Damiskos and Varazda were struggling to find their groove, after a month apart and only a week or two of knowing each other. I equally loved those moments where they accidentally fell into complete comfort and familiarity, when they turned to each other for the familiar and a moment of comfort and found each other right where they expected them to be.

 The earrings and “future wife” moment was charming and adorable. It was so nice to see a budding relationship that managed to have the charm and open honesty of a long-term relationship. Both wanted permanence and made allowances for the odd behaviour of their families to make it work, fighting through ordinary, everyday struggles to keep holding onto each other. But, Damiskos was also aware of Varazda's past and put the brakes on when Varazda's was too drunk to care about boundaries. While Varazda was considerate of Damiskos' injury and needs, often silently accommodating him without admitting it.

 The down sides? It was a little confusing, at first. I found the beginning of the story dragged a little, in the same way Book 1 did. It took a while to get to the point and get started, with Damiskos not appearing until 6%. Small, silly things were left confusing and unclear, such as Selene being a pet but not clarifying what kind, waiting until Damiskos arrived to clarify relationships and connections between people. And, after taking about 2-3 weeks between reading Book 1 for the first time, it was jarring to read a “historical” story with modern speech and slang, like “babe” and “that won't wash”. Sometimes the speech was entirely fitting with a historical story, and at others phrasing like this would slip in and jar. Though, despite being jarring, it was consistent with its use in Book 1.

 Overall, I really enjoyed the story. It's got a quiet, subtle charm to it that makes me smile throughout, connecting and loving the characters, always eager to see what kind of chaos they'll fall into next. It's not a rollercoaster of emotion, or full of intense edge-of-your-seat thrills, but it's a family-sage style of cosy mystery that really appeals to me. It's sweet at times, hot at others, fast-paced and exciting in between, keeping a good balance between all three. It manages to be sweet, funny, and lovely all at once. I'll happily read more in this series and world, for however the author wishes to write the stories. And I'll be adding them to my paperback list.


 Favourite Quotes

 “I’ve never had a lover I’d have been ashamed to kiss in the street. I don’t now.” He looked Varazda in the eye. “Want me to prove it?”
Varazda’s hand flew to his mouth. “Oh, God,” he said from behind it, “no, I don’t. I—I’m sorry, but no.”
Dami laughed that growly, pit-of-the-stomach laugh. “Let me know, any time you change your mind. And,” he added more seriously, “if you don’t, that’s absolutely fine too. The street isn’t my favourite place to kiss.”
Varazda felt it was safe to take his hand away from his mouth. “Should I ask … what is?”
“Nah. I’d just have to say something dirty, and you’d start blushing again, and it would become a whole situation.”
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