RogerBW's Blog

The Pyramid Waltz, Barbara Ann Wright 19 July 2020

2012 fantasy, first of a tetralogy. As far as the court is concerned, Princess Katya spends her time at (both sorts of) venery; in fact she leads a secret band that hunts magic-using enemies of the king. Starbride is a foreigner sent to court to snare a rich lover, but she'd much rather spend her time studying law…

So this is a fantasy romance, but the two halves don't quite marry up. The romance works well: both the principals, for different reasons, have no real interest in the dance-of-manners that is court life, but have to spend time there anyway. There's very little of the failure to communicate that's often thrown in as a cheap way of slowing the progress of a romance; I found myself believing in the relationship. And these interactions link well to Katya's life and her other friends (Starbride has no confidant at first except her servant). There's good material here that I've rarely seen handled this well.

They rendezvoused with Averie late in the afternoon. She had a brace of geese and a small pig waiting for them. Katya made a face as Averie slung both across her horse, the birds in front of the saddle, the pig behind.

"Lovely," Katya said.

Averie tsked. "My skills are unappreciated in my time."

"Forgive me, jewel of my heart. What I meant to say was that poets will sing your praises until the flame of time has burned to an ember."

"I'd settle for a thank-you."

"I'm royalty. We don't thank anyone."

But the fantasy side is much more generic. Yes, the magic is based on the enchantment of crystal pyramids, but they're still there to provide flash bombs, incendiary grenades, convenient mind reading, all the usual pragmatic un-magical fantasy magic. Someone will turn out to have an unsuspected talent for this magic. The royal family has a dark magical secret of its own. It's well enough handled but it feels like rote. (A point handled well here that doesn't come up often enough: there's a limit to how much they can mind-read out of people, both because the pawns haven't been told much and because if important people are forcibly mind-read the nobles will turn against the royal family.)

And the protagonists come over as unusually stupid in that they never think of the specific solution to the core problem ("who is the magically-competent traitor?") that Wright seems to be at pains to foreshadow.

I do find the people interesting, even the ones who are only treated superficially, and I'll probably read more. But I could wish there'd been less of the fantasy trappings and more of the people.

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Series: Katya and Starbride | Next in series: For Want of a Fiend

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