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  • Charming Adventure/Romance

    ** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK FOR MY READING PLEASURE ** Reviewed for Divine Magazine ~ Saffron Alley (Sword Dance, 02) by A.J. Demas ★★★★☆ 270 Pages POV: 3rd person, one character POV Content Warning: murder, non-binary slurs, disabled slurs, mild violence and murder 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,

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  • Mystery and mystique

    This book was as enjoyable as the first and we got Varazda’s point of view! Damiskos and Varazda are reunited after being a month apart and they have to weave their lives back together, including Varazda’s many family members. Demas does a fantastic job telling the tale of reconnection and blending families together despite the odds. I was fascinated by the world building and how it all connected together. The Zashians and Pseuchaians are at odds with one other despite being allies. Varazda was such a fascinating character as they are able to be whatever feels natural and Damiskos follows lovingly. I loved their relationship so so much. And it was so lovely to see what Varazda thought of Damiskos. The mystery was fascinating as was the cast of characters. Everyone was different and unique. I wanted to know them all. I hope there will be another book in the series. Highly recommend

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  • Wonderful storytelling

    A few years ago I was recommended Something Human by A.J. Demas in a Facebook-group I’m in and it was one of the best things I had read so far (and even since). It’s set in a fictitious world very reminiscent of Greek Antiquity. I went on to read the author’s other books set in the same world and found Sword Dance. It featured eunuch turned spy, Varazda and (reluctantly) semi-retired “First Spear” Damiskos who join forces to root out a plot to overturn a government in Boukos. It called for a sequel as the romance started in a very tumultuous time for the characters. The sequel is titled Saffron Alley and in it, Damiskos comes to visit Varazda in Boukos to see if what started between them can grow into something permanent. Of course, things get in the way because why should it be easy? The world Demas has created is complex and vast and altogether plausible and I want to read more stories set here.

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  • A delight from beginning to end

    A truly fantastic sequel. Instead of trying to match the stakes of the first book and risking repetition, Saffron Road tackles very real interpersonal conflict while never once losing its energy or relying on cheap drama. Cannot wait to come back to these characters in the next book.

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