Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Ponyfic Roundup 118: Spotlight on The Twilight Enigma

It's time for another Spotlight issue of PR, and this week it's the turn of the final part of iisaw's trilogy. This began very well with The Celestia Code (PR 59) but dipped slightly in The Luna Cypher (PR 72). Those stories have since been given a slight polish and brush-up, and The Luna Cypher especially benefits from it, but the changes aren't so major that you really need to re-read them. Let's turn to The Twilight Enigma itself.

The Twilight Enigma by iisaw
Twilight, Celestia, Luna and Mane Six
Adventure/Dark; 85k words; Sep 2015–May 2016; Teen
Twilight sets out to learn more of the ways of the world, and soon decides that the whole planet is disorganized, insanely dangerous, and desperately needs to be fixed. And she's just the mare to do it... with a little help from her friends.
This is fundamentally a great adventure yarn in the mould of The Celestia Code. It restores some of the swashbuckling action and fun that went missing at times in the middle book of the series, and generally does so very successfully. Airships play a big role once again, and are used excellently and excitingly, while the twin timelines are kept clear. There's plenty of world-building, mostly sketched with a light hand, and the rest of the Mane Six get plenty to do. I'm rather less fond of the occasional rather clunky intrusion of lore that didn't exist until S5/S6. Still, The Twilight Enigma is fundamentally a very satisfying adventure, and it's an easy recommendation, all the more so if you preferred the first book to the second.  ★★★★

After the break, some more detailed – and spoilery – thoughts.

Let's start with the swashbuckling airship fighting, because – quite frankly – this is everything I've wanted in this series. It's fantastic, and I'd be more than happy to read an entire story about nothing but this. Twilight makes a great pirate/privateer/whatever, and the rest of the crew pull their weight very well. I really like Fluttershy as the best airship pilot in the land, and her treatment of the Nebula as a living organism was completely believable. This also gives us one of the story's darker moments: the murder of Lee Helm. (I can't help wondering about that name. Lee Scoresby, anyone?)

And yes, that [Dark] tag is justified, not least because Twilight outright kills ponies. Not very many in the great scheme of things, and perhaps it shouldn't be so shocking given the events of the previous two books, but it still made me catch my breath. Of course, the deeper, even darker and much more unsettling stuff that goes on with the Wheel of the World and the Red Queen (and what a reveal hers was!) is even more chilling, though I'll confess that it's not my favourite part of the story, nor indeed of the trilogy as a whole. Yeah, again, I'm shallow and want more airborne piracy.

Twilight does at times exhibit what Discworld fans may think of as Granny Weatherwax Syndrome: when you get really magically powerful, it can start to become hard to tell whether you're entirely good any more. An example of this is in the scene where Twilight gives the evil Sultan the plague: apparently it's fine because he won't die, just suffer horribly for a year and a day. I'm not sure I'm really on board with a Twilight who's okay with what is basically torture, even for a nasty piece of work like the Sultan.

Thankfully, at least from my point of view, there's a lot less TwiLuna in this than there was in The Luna Cypher. Even allowing for the updating, I still find that the least interesting part of the story, no matter how significant it turns out to be to the fate of the multiverse. I've never really been on board that ship in the first place, and nothing in The Twilight Enigma makes me change my mind. I would have been fascinated to see Twilight's intricate dance with Chrysalis (who is great here, as is the good changeling Ket) turn into something more, but it wouldn't have fitted this story.

Things I don't like? Rarity occasionally seems a little bit clich├ęd in her role as a romantic fighting heroine, though the mare herself would probably disagree. As I touched on above, the inclusion of the likes of Flurry Heart and Starlight Glimmer feels a bit shoe-horned at times, probably because these things only became canon during the writing of this story. I really don't think the "RADIO" joke works: it's just too clunky (although "RAPTOR" is a clever spin), and the eye-roll-inducing "TARDIS" one near the end is frankly unworthy of a story as good as this.

The fic seems to have been pretty well proofread throughout, which is always pleasing to see. There's the very occasional typo, and the equally rare plain old mistake ("front knees"?), but nothing to interrupt the flow of the narrative. The Twilight Enigma, like its predecessors, isn't a fic that depends on textual gimmicks or distracting word choices for impact. It relies on a strong plot played out by strong characters, and in the hands of a good writer that's usually a winning formula. Despite some niggles, this is a fine, layered story.

Next time on Ponyfic Roundup: Logan considers a colourless tale.


  1. Don't you besmirch my proofreading skills! >:V

    But yeah, isn't air piracy the best? :D

    1. Hey, I can besmirch much more besmirchily than that! :P

      And yes! :D

  2. Thank you for the wonderful review! Yes, Lee Helm _is_ a nod to Lee Scoresby, as well as a nautical term. (The tendency for a ship to turn away from the wind, the opposite of a weather helm.)

    I guess I should have taken out the TARDIS gag when PP grumbled about it, but how was Twilight going to build her dimension-hopping airship without it? Tentacled pirate-things from beyond the sky ain't going to fight themselves! ;)

    1. I am ridiculously delighted by the Scoreseby reference as I loved HDM. And no problem – I had a great time reading it!

    2. I cannot be blamed for everything! >:V