"If it would help," said Varazda, deadpan, "I'd be happy to pose as a bizarre girlfriend. I didn't bring any of my gowns with me, but I can always get something ready-made in the market." [loc. 1453]
Third in the series that started with Sword Dance and continued with Saffron Alley: the setting is reminiscent of the classical Mediterranean, though with the names changed, and the protagonists are Damiskos (military veteran) and Varazda (eunuch dancer and spy).
I think I enjoyed Strong Wine even more than the previous two instalments. Damiskos, who has been living with Varazda for a month and rather hoping that he can stay forever (but is it too early to ask?) is summoned 'home' to Pheme to encounter old enemies, his ex-fiancee, and -- worst of all -- his feckless parents. He despairs: but he should have more faith in Varazda, who is not prepared to simply let his beloved be drawn back into a life he no longer wants.
Hilarious, poignant, and triumphant, Strong Wine features a murder mystery, some splendid women (including Aradne and Nione, first encountered in Sword Dance, as well as Ino the silversmith and Dami's mother Myrto, who refuses to misgender Varazda), just deserts for the malfeasant and happy endings for the (mostly) deserving, including Dami's horse Xanthe. I was especially cheered by the ways in which the characters look after one another, and by Varazda's sheer competence: he's not just a pretty face. (I was also, perversely, cheered that neither Varazda nor Dami were prepared to tolerate misgendering, homophobia or generic insults. It's one thing to know that they originate from prejudice and ignorance, quite another to endure the constant grind.)
I received a review copy from the lovely author, in exchange for this honest review, which I'm publishing out of sequence in honour of Publication Day!