Review: Strong Wine by A. J. Demas


Title: Strong Wine (Sword Dance #3)
Author: A. J. Demas
Date of publication: 14 Oct 2021
Genre: Alt-history, queer romance, cozy mystery

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My rating: 3 stars


Retired soldier Damiskos and his lover Varazda have been living together in Boukos for a month, and their future is beginning to look bright. Then Damiskos receives a letter summoning him home to Pheme—where his parents are deeply in debt, his brother is being hunted by loan sharks, and an unwanted arranged marriage looms.

And that’s before Damiskos is charged with murder.

Fortunately, he’s not alone. Old friends are back in Pheme. And Varazda—eunuch, sword-dancer, and spy—has solved mysteries before. But saving his lover from execution and from marriage will take time, and with only days until Dami’s trial, time is running out.

Strong Wine is the third book in the Sword Dance trilogy, the conclusion of Dami and Varazda’s story from Sword Dance and Saffron Alley. This time with fake fortunetellers, real courtroom drama, and … fertilizer?


This is the final book in m/non-binary alt history romance series that I have greatly enjoyed. Over the books I have come to care greatly for the MCs and their loved ones and I was happy to see them happy and settled long term in the end of this book.

This story gives us a great ending to the series, though it read more like cozy mystery than proper romance to me. I felt the focus was mostly on investigation and courtroom drama with complicated family relations thrown in and the romantic relationship between Damiskos and Varazda took a back seat. This not a complaint by any means, just not what I expected initially but I adjusted quickly as I read on.

I would have liked more development of the intimacy and long term commitment and trust between the MCs. I truly believe that they are perfect for each other and wanted to see more of it on page.

That said, I did like seeing their fiends and foes getting what they deserve. I like the rich world and complex characters the author has created. It was all very engaging for me.

There is a focus on secondary f/f queer relationship and I loved seeing it. We also see a neuro-divergent secondary characters, I believe, the first one the series. I liked the representation but I am no expert so I would advise checking own-voices reviews for a better assessment.

The ending was perfect, the magical fairytale both MCs wanted with their found family.

This has been mostly a cozy, heart-warming queer romance sprinkled with some crime/murder investigation though nothing too explicit.

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