Damiskos is a retired army officer working for the quartermaster corps, since his parents spent the family fortune and the army doesn’t pay much in the way of retirement. He’s been sent to a seaside villa to negotiate the purchase of fish sauce from the owner, who happens to be an old friend from the capital city. It’s supposed to be a bit of a vacation, but on arrival he finds the house filled with philosophy students, and a businessman from a neighboring island-state who also has a captivating eunuch slave, Varazda. It soon becomes clear that there’s a lot more going on than a weekend house party, and Damiskos doesn’t like being in the middle of it.
“Sword Dance” is set in a fantasy world loosely based on ancient Greece, with island states that share a common culture upholding Hellenic ideals, and with an uneasy relationship with a very different culture on the far off mainland, called Zash. Damiskos served in Zash and knows the country where slaves such as Varazda are still common well. While fascinated by the young slave’s beauty, Damiskos can’t help being repulsed by what was done to him in the name of providing pleasure to the elite.
The story is told through Damiskos' point of view, so we get to know Varazda through him. The eunuch doesn’t act like a slave, and both he and his master are clearly hiding secrets. As everything starts to unravel, Damiskos becomes more and more attracted to Varazda, and it becomes increasingly clear that they will have to work together to get out of the situation they find themselves in.
I suppose one could compare this story to the classic Mary Renault book The Persian Boy, but the story line is entirely different. However, if you’re familiar with the setting of the old book, then the culture in which this book is set will be very familiar. Varazda, with henna tattoos and colorful clothes, is definitely very Persian-like. He is, perhaps, the most interesting character of the book. Realistically depicting someone in his position in historical settings without sounding too anachronistic is quite difficult, but I think it’s pulled off really well. There are some interesting points raised about the position of someone who is no longer really male, yet not female, that are very relevant today. I’m definitely looking forward to finding out more about Varazda in later books of this series.
Damiskos is an interesting character in his own right, but in many ways he’s more of a foil for the other characters. The ex soldier is the solid dependable everyman who has seen a lot of the world compared to the exotic Varazda, the ivory tower philosopher, and the volatile students. Damiskos is very earnest, as observed by many of the other characters, and his treatment of Varazda as he comes to terms with his attraction to the eunuch is very interesting to watch. While romance of a sort does blossom, this is very much not a romance story, where the relationship will go is left up in the air at the end of this book.
“Sword Dance” is available from Amazon.