The Pyramid Waltz

by Barbara Ann Wright

Cover image

Series: Katya and Starbride #1
Publisher: Bold Strokes
Copyright: September 2012
ISBN: 1-60282-792-3
Format: Kindle
Pages: 264

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Princess Katya Nar Umbriel is publicly a bored, womanizing, and difficult daughter to the rulers of Farraday. It's all an act, though, with the full knowledge of her parents. As the second child, she's the leader of the Order of Vestra: the equivalent of the Secret Service, devoted to protecting the royal family and, by extension, the kingdom, particularly against magical attacks.

Starbride is new to court and entirely out of place. From a northern neighboring country, and far more comfortable in practical clothing than the frilled court dresses that her mother wants her to wear, she has been sent to court to make contacts. Her people are getting the bad side of various trade contracts and desperately need some political maneuvering space of their own. Starbride's best hope for this is to study law in the palace library when she can manage to avoid the other courtiers. But then she and Katya stumble across each other, outside of the roles they're playing, and might have an opportunity for a deeper connection. One that neither of them want to entangle in their personal worries.

This is the last of a set of books I picked up while looking for lesbian romance with fantasy or science fiction elements. On the romance front, it's one of the better entries in that set. Both Katya and Starbride are likeable, in large part due to their mutual exasperation with the trappings of the court. (Making the protagonists more serious, thoughtful, and intelligent than the surrounding characters is an old trick, but it works.) Wright has a good ear for banter, particularly the kind when two people of good will are carefully feeling each other out. And despite Katya's need to keep a deep secret from Starbride for some of the book, The Pyramid Waltz mostly avoids irritating communication failures as a plot driver.

The fantasy portion and the plot drivers, alas, are weaker. The world building is not exactly bad, but it's just not that interesting. There are a couple of moderately good ideas, in the form of pyramid magic and secret (and dangerous) magical powers that run in the royal family, but they're not well-developed. Pyramid magic turns out to look much like any other generic fantasy magic system, with training scenes that could have come from a Valdemar or Wheel of Time novel (and without as much dramatic tension). And the royal family's secret, while better-developed and integral to the plot, still felt rather generic and one-sided.

Maybe that's something Wright develops better in future novels in this series, but that was another problem: the ending of The Pyramid Waltz was rather weak. Partly, I think, this is because the cast is too large and not well-developed. I cared about Katya and Starbird, and to a lesser extent their servants and one of the Order members. (Wright has a moderately interesting bit of worldbuilding about how servants work in Starbride's culture, which I wish we'd seen more of.) But there are a bunch of other Order of Vesta members, Katya's family, and various other bits of history and hinted world views, none of which seemed to get much depth. The ending climax involved a lot of revelations and twists that primarily concerned characters I didn't care about. It lost something in the process.

This book is clearly set up for a sequel. There is an ending, but it's not entirely satisfying. Unfortunately, despite liking Katya and Starbird a lot, the rest of the story wasn't compelling enough to make me want to buy it, particularly since the series apparently goes through another three books before reaching a real ending.

I enjoyed parts of this book, particularly Katya and Starbird feeling each other out and discovering similarities in their outlook. Katya teasing Starbird, and Starbird teasing herself, over her mother's choice of her clothing was probably the best part. It's not bad for what it's trying to do, but I think it's a bit too generic and not satisfying enough to really recommend.

Followed by For Want of a Fiend.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2015-07-31

Last modified and spun 2015-08-01