Book: The Pyramid Waltz
Author: Barbara Ann Wright
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Every family has a dirty little secret…
When I was in college, I had a roommate who had been adopted by a wonderful older couple right after she was born. She had only a passing curiosity to learn who her birth parents were, and never spent a single minute looking for them. Of course, her world was rocked when, at the ripe old age of 20, she wandered into her parent’s kitchen on Christmas morning for a cup of coffee only to overhear an uncle exclaim over a platter of bear claws and cheese Danish that the couple who lived directly across the street for her entire life was her birth parents.
In my family, though, the secrets weren’t quite as dramatic—Great Uncle Paul was “queer as a three-dollar bill,” Aunt Tootsie was bald as a coot, and wore a wig (she wasn’t a natural blonde either), and my mother swears that Grandma could heal burns through touch, but that was uttered after a second glass of my dad’s “homemade” wine.
There were also hints and allegations that Cousin Stevie had a love child with his high school geography teacher, but if you ever met Cousin Stevie, you’d realize it was considerably more likely that he had a love child with his high school geography textbook.
Family secrets take center stage in Barbara Ann Wright’s debut novel, The Pyramid Waltz. Princess Katya Nar Umbriel of Farraday is seen by most as a self-centered, uninspired playgirl. However, out of the public eye, she and a select group of specialists comprise the super secret Order of Vestra, a group tasked with running down traitors to the crown, protecting the monarchy from unseen dangers, and ensuring that no one in the Kingdom learns that the Royal Family are part Fiend. Enter the smart and saucy Allusian courtier, Starbride, who has come to the Court to study Farradain law in order to help her people level the fair trade playing field.
The two women meet, and sparks fly as they jest and joust their way about the castle and the countryside. When a day on the town goes horribly awry, and Katya’s fiend is released by those seeking to overthrow the Royal Family, Starbride begins to learn the many secrets of the Umbriels. But love, umbrage, and a pushy attitude prevail, and Starbride finds a way to prove herself worthy of the Princess and the Order of Vestra. Everything is falling into place for the young lovers until traitors within the Royal Family unveil an insidious plan to unleash the supreme Fiend, Yanchasa the Mighty, and destroy the Umbriels and the kingdom once and for all.
To most modern fiction readers, romance rules the day. However, fantasy stories involving magic, gods, heroes, adventures, monsters, and epic themes have existed in spoken forms since the very dawning of language. In fact, it can be argued that Homer's The Odyssey, which was composed near the end of the 8th century B.C., satisfies the very definition of the fantasy genre.
Fair enough, what is this great definition of the fantasy genre?
Well, every great fantasy piece has a formula that is manipulated to create its one-of-a-kind whimsy, imagination, and spirit—the list includes things like supernatural creatures, magic, a unique setting and a distinctive language, a special weapon, a grandiose battle, a sweet love story, and a really nasty Big Bad.
And, how does The Pyramid Waltz stack up?
Barbara Ann Wright is a master when it comes to crafting a solid and entertaining fantasy novel. It’s hard to get more supernatural than rampaging bloodthirsty fiends with curly horns, oily black wings, razor like claws, and sharp, pointy teeth in the presence of lowly, whimpering humans—all of which creates a delicious dynamic between the real and surreal.
Next, the metaphorical landscape of Farraday is littered with a plethora of good and evil "pyradistés," all manipulating their magic pyramids, disintegrating opponents, opening and closing minds, shooting fireballs, erasing memories, and blinding bad guys with flash bombs. Most notable in The Pyramid Waltz is that one of our heroines unknowingly, at least initially, possesses a very strong magical ability.
The Farradain Kingdom, with its capitol of Marienne, is home to the Royal Palace, Pyradisté Academy, towers, turrets, and numerous chapterhouses with tolling bells and carved façades to their patron saints. Outside the city walls, Farraday is dotted with thriving towns, taverns, manors, homesteads, fields, forests, rivers, and rolling hills. In the "far away" lies the exotic land of Allusia, with its dark-skinned, horse-riding, trouser-wearing peoples. Allusia is home to the mountains where the pyramid crystal is mined by the pale-skinned Farradain outlanders. Ms. Wright takes modern day language and gently manipulates its vernacular, making it playful yet slightly antiquated. This linguistic construction heightens the reader’s ability to transport themselves into the fantasy world of The Pyramid Waltz.
Okay, setting and language: check.
Within the pages of this novel, no one single character wields the special weapon. This is because the weapon is in fact many weapons—the pyramids. Pyramids are used by pyradistés to sift through and erase memories, create light sources, to disintegrate people and things, to protect areas and people, to cause general mayhem, death, and destruction, and to protect the Royal Family by keeping their inner Fiends at bay. The pyradistés are both good and evil, and have very different skill sets. Starbride learns that she has the inherent gift to use pyramid magic, and becomes an apprentice to the King’s Pyradisté, allowing her to deepen her relationship with Princess Katya.
Special Weapon: check.
Without an epic battle in which the heroines are nearly defeated, ultimate victory would not be so sweet. Enter Yanchasa the Mighty, evil pyradistés, walking dead, bastard cousins with a grudge, traitorous in-laws, sucking chest wounds, and multi-speed swordplay, and you have one helluva royal smackdown.
Grandiose battle: check.
Since no fantasy novel is complete without a sweet and simple love story between two dissimilar characters, The Pyramid Waltz offers up love-a-plenty. Katya and Starbride are a heady mix of light and dark, royal and courtier, butch and soft femme, rapier-wielding rogue and law-studying magician. Their attraction is immediate, but the flirtation is slow and rich. They become lovers and confidents, yet misunderstand each other and make invalid assumptions. Their romance warms the cockles of the heart, and makes the reader want them to live happily ever after.
Sweet love story: check.
And lastly, the Big Bad Villain must be extraordinary and not easily defeated, and he or she cannot be revealed until the end of the story, in order to create the most impact. And, while The Pyramid Waltz’s Big Bad was telegraphed throughout the story, Ms. Wright threw in more than a handful of surprises to turbo-boost the shock-and-awe of the epic battle, and leave the reader as bruised and bloody as our heroines.
And, a really nasty Big Bad to tie it all together: checkmate.
The world of lesbian literature has a small handful of high-quality fantasy authors, and Barbara Ann Wright is well on her way to joining the likes of Jane Fletcher, Cate Culpepper, and Andi Marquette.
The Pyramid Waltz is equal parts romance and adventure, with a hefty dose of wry humor and memorable sidekicks thrown in for good measure. Lovers of the fantasy and futuristic genre will likely adore this novel, and adventurous romance fans should find plenty to sink their teeth into.
I’m giving it a hale and hearty 5.1 out of 6.0 on the Rainbow Scale.