- Sword Dance, by A.J. Demas
Sword Dance, by A.J. Demas
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 story begins with Damiskos, and his arrival at the villa of a friend, Nione. His insecurities and past as a soldier, the mental and physical scars left over from those days, and even his current task of a working holiday, are all nicely explored in the first few chapters. It does make the story start a little slowly, and I did wonder where it was going, what the friendly atmosphere and strangers-get-together would unfold into.
I equally loved that both characters got to show their personalities throughout the story. Damiskos' military bearing and knowledge is utilised throughout the investigation, allowing him to shine in a job that he's no-longer physically fit for. Varazda is both politically/socially capable and has swift feet and a quick mind that allow him to help Damiskos without being a burden. Seeing them work together, I never felt that one out-shone the other, or that one held back the other. They both brought different skills, different abilities, and various insights to every step of the investigation.
For me, I felt the world-building wasn't intense enough. It was good, and I felt immersed in the world, but...some vital information was missing, that would have made it easier and more natural for me to slip into the story, from page one. It took me a few chapters to feel comfortable, because these parts were missing.
Secondly, the world-building lacked explanations. I spent the entire book without ever understanding what the Maidens were, what the Goddess Anaxe's purpose was or what her religion was; the importance of the Maiden's. I never understood what the Ideal Republic was – was it a religious movement, a political party, or an ideal thought similar to Hitler's Aryan master race? I was never entirely sure what it stood for, and how the Phemian purity fit into that. Whether they meant tightening border control, to keep out “foreigners” or whether it meant a complete annihilation of other races, leaving Phemian's without contact with other races/countries, and no marriage/sex between them. It was left unclear.
Because these aspects were pivotal to the plot, and to the world-building, they had more importance – and a deeper need to be explained – than anything that is already familiar to the reader. It should have been easy to figure out what it meant, through reading the story, but there were a few times when I thought I understood only to be confused again. Perhaps clarity, through the students arguments could have been a good place to put this, as they argued amongst themselves what exactly the terms stood for.