Note: The author kindly offered an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a review.
A month has passed since the events recounted in Sword Dance. Damiskos has returned to Pheme while Varazda has come back to Boukos, but now Damiskos is coming for a visit and Varazda wonders what the ex-soldier will make of the odd little family he has created over the years living in Saffron Alley. More importantly, will the feelings for each other they barely got to explore remain the same, or will time have dulled them. Of course, as in the first book, things don't go exactly as planned.
As this book is a direct sequel to the first volume of the series, you'll want to have read that book first before reading this one. Where “Sword Dance” was told from Damiskos’ point of view, we now have this story from Varazda’s. The eunuch is still a little closed off about their past, with obvious good reason. It's interesting to see them wrestle with the unexpected feelings of being in love with someone, maybe. In this installment of the series, it gets further driven home that Varazda is, in modern terms, non-binary. Not completely fitting in entirely as a male, but not a female either. I also find it an interesting question as to how much of Varazda's identity is due to what was done to him, and how much was his own nature.
This book introduces us to the sort-of family Varazda has cobbled together, including a “daughter”, brother and a friend who manages the house while Varazda dances, gives lessons, and spies. All these new characters are very well described as unique personalities, although their actual backgrounds and how they came to live in Varazda's house is left mostly a mystery.
Damiskos remains the level-headed army veteran that nothing seems to fluster. His determination to make things work with Varazda is quite interesting. Of course, this story is still not really a romance, but the two do get a few more chances to be together, although they don't quite always go as planned.
As with the first book, intrigue provides the main dramatic driver of this story, as Damiskos and Varazda get pulled into an possible murder plot against a local sculptor with political ambitions, and a relationship with a curious courtesan. This time, the two are working together from the start, and they make quite a team.
“Saffron Alley” is available from Amazon.