Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Book review: Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell (G. M. Berrow)

The front cover
"Never mind that, what about the New Vector spell?"
We've had a lot of things over the life of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, but one thing we haven't seen is an officially licensed novel. That's now changed, with the release of Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell by G. M. Berrow. Although it's an American book, Amazon is kindly offering it through the company's UK store, making things much quicker and easier for us in Britain. I paid £3.93, but it's currently a whole 1p off. Hurry, hurry, hurry! The usual spoilerrific review can be found beyond the cut.

Considering its sub-£4 purchase price, I wasn't expecting a whole lot for my money, but on the whole I was pleasantly surprised. The story is fairly short, more of a novella really, at around 130 pages of fairly large print, and we learn the story of how Twilight Sparkle comes to terms with being an alicorn princess. There's a black and white picture of Twilight (in those vector poses, sigh) before each chapter. (The chapters, incidentally, have truly dreadful punning names. Which is great!)

The story is set after Twilight's ascension to princesshood, although strangely the cover goes out of its way to avoid mentioning this: Twi herself is wingless on the front, and "a royal event" is the only hint we get on the back. However, inside we do get some very interesting world-building, including the fascinating detail that it is not only unicorns who can become princesses: Cadance's backstory is given, and we learn that she started out as a pegasus.

Sample spread from inside the book
Trixie would have said "beautifuller", you know...
Unsurprisingly for the first book of its kind, all the Mane Six are present and correct, as is Spike. Actually, Rarity's character in particular is explored in surprising depth given the target age group for this book; I'd go so far as to say that she's a more interesting pony here than she was in large chunks of Season 3. Sadly, Fluttershy has the least to do of any of the principals, though hoofs crossed that one day there'll be a book focusing on her.

A whole slew of other ponies appear or are referenced as the book goes on, and even one donkey: yes, Cranky gets a name-check. Celestia and Luna don't have much to do, but as you'd expect from a book with a Crystal Empire element, Shining Armor appears alongside his wife. There are also mentions for the Cakes, Berry Punch and even Derpy — although, of course, she isn't named. (Not that Berrow had a choice, but I do wonder whether this omission might confuse young readers.)

One of the activity pages
"I'll tell everyone about your Discord fanfic!"
G. M. Berrow is very well versed in the lore of Equestria, and she's clearly done her research into our rather strange fandom as well. (And embraced it, too. See her Twitter!) You don't use phrases like "Pegasister-in-law" or "True Love and Tolerance" by accident, after all. There are some fun references to be found in the book: for example, Daring Do (who doesn't actually appear) has a mentor who rejoices in the name of AB Ravenhoof. And yes, Derpy likes muffins.

The characterisation seems pretty good on the whole, though I'm not entirely convinced that Twilight would say, "Spit it out, already!" One possible exception is in the portrayal of Gilda and Trixie, who team up at one point to cause trouble. There's no real explanation given for what those two are doing in the Ponyville area, and I'm not at all sure that the griffon would think that the unicorn was cool enough to be worth bothering with. (Aside: words like "Unicorn" are capitalised in the book.)

The one real disappointment in this book was that it ended relatively uninterestingly. For most of the first 100 or so pages, I'd worn a smile on my face and frequently stopped to giggle or been fascinated by the world-building. The last section is still enjoyable, but not quite up to that standard. The predictability doesn't matter too much: "Party of One" has an incredibly predictable ending and is still great. The tale does seem to peter out a little bit, though.

Princess Twilight Sparkle standee
"Beam me up, Luna!"
At the very end of the book, there's a short section consisting of activity pages. These include a space for you to write your own Daring Do story, as well as a word search, an invitation to make up your own cutie mark (you listening, CMC?) and so on. As promised on the front cover, there's also a "giant trading card", which turns out to be a standee of Princess Twilight Sparkle. It's by Enterplay, so it's nicely made and fits in well with the standard trading card sets.

I was pleasantly surprised by Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell. I didn't have particularly high expectations given the target age group, but this is genuinely enjoyable even for older readers. We get some solid new information about how princesses are made (which presumably has Hasbro's blessing) and we get a better portrayal of Rarity's complex character than we've seen in most other official stories. Especially at its low price, recommended.

  • A real MLP:FiM storybook at last
  • Cadance's backstory
  • Rarity's portrayal
  • So many references and puns!
  • Inexpensive
  • Slightly disappointing ending
  • Trixie and Gilda's unexplained appearance
  • Those vectors. Again


  1. OOoooh a whole penny off! I shall certainly have to give that some thinks, because it does sound like a worthy buy, for certain. It's a shame that those vectors keep turning up so often, but then the same thing happened with Transformers. There was artwork drawn for the boxes containing the toys, and they used and reused those same pictures for years, on book covers, posters, trading cards etc.

    1. I can live with the vectors, I think, given that the story is pretty decent -- and of course there's the free jumbo trading card, too!