The second Choose Your Own Adventure book by anyone other than Edward Packard or R.A. Montgomery has a catchy title, a wonderful locale, a thought-provoking cover, and a lot of promise. That’s why it turns out to be such a huge bummer when you read it and find out that this book utterly sucks.
Secret of the Pyramids by Richard Brightfield (illustrated by Anthony Kramer)
Published: April 1983
Number in the CYOA Series: 19
The CYOA series ends its tumultuous teens, which lasted two years (from 1981 to 1983), with a book by a debut author for the series. Richard Brightfield, a former graphic designer, would go on to pen quite a lot of CYOA books, especially those involving martial arts which eventually became a staple of the series. Secret of the Pyramids is only the second of the first 20 books which was not written by Packard or Montgomery, the only other one being the forgettably dull By Balloon to the Sahara by D. (Douglas, I think) Terman.
Like so many of these books, this one starts with a phone call from an adventurous relative–your uncle Bruce, who wants you to come to Egypt and help him “continue his investigation” of the Pyramids. Bruce, whose specialty is never disclosed, thinks the Pyramids have some sort of effect on cosmic rays, and that it could lead to unlimited energy. You quickly hop a TWA jet (yes, this is the 80s!) and wind up in Cairo.
Okay, that’s a decent start. As soon as you get to Egypt, a stranger at the airport hands you a note reading “Beware the Sphinx.” That could mean anything. The first choice is whether you try to follow the stranger who gave you the note, or whether it’s better to continue on to your hotel.
Again, a decent start. Unfortunately both choices lead you into a thicket of jumbled plot threads, boring dilemmas and endless page-turning. You could meet Andrea, Bruce’s assistant, at the hotel (yawn) or you could follow the stranger into a cafe with belly dancers (cliche) where you get knocked out by a mickey slipped in your coffee. There are the usual twists and turns, but what’s decidedly missing is any sense of why you’re on this adventure. You’re just going through the motions. It’s not like there’s a specific plot or a MacGuffin you must find (or keep others from getting), and it’s never really clear what your motivation is or why anyone is trying to stop you from doing anything. If Brightfield thought the stakes in the story were self-evident, they’re not. I have no idea that the point of this book is.
If this was all The Secrets of the Pyramids had to offer it would just be a dull, forgettable book and not worth my time reviewing. But then Brightfield goes totally off the deep end, and introduces perhaps the single most ludicrous villain in the entire Choose Your Own Adventure series. Get ready for…wait for it…the abominable Dr. Ptah!
Yes, you read that right. Dr. Ptah! I think that’s an ancient Egyptian word but it seems more like a sound you’d make when spitting out something you’ve been choking on. I mean, you just want to spit on the floor when you say it. Ptah! Ptah! Ptah! (*wipes mouth with the back of my hand*)
To call Dr. Ptah a cardboard character is an insult to corrugated cardboard. He claims to be a “direct descendant of the Pharaohs.” (Why isn’t he running for office?) He wants to take over the world. He has a space platform and a particle beam gun. And, as depicted by first-time CYOA illustrator Anthony Kramer on page 27, he greets you with a warm smile and a costume that makes him look like either a circus freak or the manager down at Hot Dog on a Stick at the mall.
You’d think this would be good for a couple of laughs, if nothing else, but it really isn’t. Dr. Ptah! has all the toys and ambition of a James Bond supervillain, but Brightfield writes him so shallowly that he comes off as just boring. The ridiculous illustrations (Ptah! wears a giant tulip-shaped hat and a big collar) don’t help. This guy isn’t menacing at all. And, since he only appears in a very few of the various convoluted plot threads in this book, he doesn’t exactly drive a lot of conflict in the book.
You can tell I have a major problem with Dr. Ptah! I mean, you’re in freaking Egypt! You’ve got a flying saucer, a terrorist bandit and a hooded cobra on the cover! We’re dealing with particle beam guns and space platforms and flying saucers! But the major menace posed by Dr. Ptah! is evidently death by boredom.
Oh, and what is the “secret of the Pyramids?” Would you believe me if I told you it was that aliens supposedly built them? Yeah, Brightfield goes there. Not very imaginative. You can guess from looking at the cover that that’s the “secret.”
Okay. I really didn’t like this book. I’m not going to give it the worst grade I’ve ever given a CYOA book–let’s save that for the execrable Your Code Name is Jonah, which should have been called Your Code Name is Crap–but it doesn’t score much higher.
Oh, one more thing…why does Anthony Kramer draw “you” as looking like a slightly postmodern Pippi Longstocking? I have no problem with being a girl–I rather enjoyed it in Deadwood City–but do I have to wear that ridiculous red and white striped shirt all the time? If I’m a girl, can’t I have a little bit of style? I’ve spent so many books being androgynous that I really need a break.
I gotta go lie down.