Monday, 18 August 2014

Book review: Rarity and the Curious Case of Charity (G. M. Berrow)

Rarity and the Curious Case of Charity (G. M. Berrow) front cover
"This woman's writing is like a pony's walking on her hind legs: awesome"
It's been much too long since I've reviewed one of G. M. Berrow's My Little Pony chapter books – and as she's a VIP at BUCK this year, it's about time I did something about that. So, here we go with the fourth in the series, starring everyone's favourite drama queen and fashionista extraordinaire, Rarity. The cover design is pretty much in the mould of the others in the series: rainbow, stock vector, metallic bit, blah blah blah. Let's see what's inside!

Berrow was going to have a hard act to follow matching the excellent Rainbow Dash and the Daring Do Double Dare, but I think she may just have succeeded. This is a really nice story, which plays to Rarity's strengths while acknowledging some of her weaknesses. It certainly reads like a book written by a fairly committed Rarity fan. Of course, the usual stuff about the importance of friendship is present and correct, and quite right too! (The puzzles at the back and the big trading card are there, too.)

Okay, before we go any further, it's elephant in the room time. Charity. Charity. Where have we seen that name before? Right: in Twilight's appalling fanfic in "Read It and Sleep", the second episode of Friendship is Witchcraft. Did Berrow know this? I have no idea, but whether she did or not, it's somehow deeply amusing to me. This probably counts as a spoiler, but I'll shatter your dreams anyway: no, there is nopony named Applesack in this book. A missed opportunity or a dodged bullet? I'll leave you to decide.

Rarity and the Curious Case of Charity (G. M. Berrow) back cover
I guess that S in a triangle means "Smashing", Rarity
The basic plot of the book is fairly straightforward, which is unsurprising given its target audience. Rarity has taken on an apprentice, and at first the two of them get on like a house on fire. However, after a while, Charity takes her admiration that bit too far and it starts to spill over into obsessiveness. This development is nicely paced, and I was pleased to find that the story didn't feel rushed at the end, something I was a little concerned about before reading.

What's great about Curious Case (beyond the superb characterisation) is that it's such fun to read, and you get the feeling that Berrow found it fun to write, too. It's written with considerable verve, and you don't go many pages at a time without finding something to smile, chuckle or – as the story moves along – wince at. Charity is a good character, and one who's well drawn. I could easily see her being brought back (if only in a cameo) in a future story.

Some of the puns are truly cringeworthy, which is how all puns should be. First prize here has to go to the fashion magazine, Mare Éclair. (Presumably guest edited by Pinkie.) There's also an off-screen pony called Coco Cheval; I wonder if she's old enough for Coco Pommel to have been named after her? Later on, there's a truly stupendous pun on the words of a well-known Elton John song. Oh, and guess which member of the Mane Six owns a pair of pinking shears? Yup.

Rarity and the Curious Case of Charity (G. M. Berrow) inside
I want some lavender rose chocolate bubble scent, right now.
Berrow is well versed in the bizarre ways of our curious fandom, and that fact is made pretty obvious in this book. There's even a joke about how Rarity can't remember the mailmare's name, nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more. (Talking of which... Honey Flanks? By 'eck, you're a brave woman, G. M.!) There are also references to several show episodes and even the IDW comics, but I will love this book forever for its nod to Mary Jane Begin's beautiful Under the Sparkling Sea.

There's very little to complain about, which is fantastic. I did notice that the name of the shop Sack's was spelt with an apostrophe on one page and without one on the next. Those blasted vectors really, really need to be updated. And, though this one is presumably Hasbro diktat, I'll never quite get used to seeing "Unicorn" etc capitalised. But Rarity and the Curious Case of Charity is so enjoyable to read that none of this really matters. Recommended? Oh yes. This book is The. Best. Possible. Thing.

  • Hugely enjoyable throughout
  • Outstanding characterisation, especially of Rarity herself
  • Some of the references are extremely funny
  • A really nice nod to Under the Sparkling Sea
  • A pretty solid, satisfying ending
  • That little bonus, intentional or not, for FiW fans
  • A very few minor typos
  • Celestia, those vectors are getting old now

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