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May
7th
2016

Let’s Talk about Hocus Pocus · 4:25am May 7th, 2016

Let’s Talk about Hocus Pocus by the Pegasus Rescue Brigade

Ayep. Time for another long rambling commentary/review/stream-of-consciousness/whatever-the-heck-these-things-actually-are! As with all my others, this will pretty much spoil the ENTIRE STORY FOR YOU. So if you haven't finished it, get your flank in gear, stop wasting your time in the comments and finish this epic book!

So I thoroughly enjoyed Shipping and Handling. While it may have had its faults, it was extremely entertaining. However, when I read the synopsis for Hocus Pocus, I had my doubts. After all, I wanted some more of the goofiness I got from Shipping and Handling and well...let’s just be honest...Hocus Pocus sounds like a MLP Harry Potter. Then, to be fair, ANY magic school immediately makes people think Harry Potter. Darn you JK Rowling, for being too blasted successful!

But if there’s one thing I can always respect, it’s an author who knows full well that their material is going to be compared with something else, but goes ahead and does it anyway, because that’s what the story needs to be. (It’s a Dangerous Business, Going Outside Your Door is another brilliant example of this). Let’s be honest, Hogwarts wasn’t the first magic school and it won’t be the last. Anyway, Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns is well-established in MLP canon and lore. There’s no reason not to use it. And there is absolutely no shame in building off of the framework and ideas once presented by others. After all, Isaac Newton said “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Any writer worth their salt originally started from someone else’s idea...unless you happened to have written Gilgamesh, but since I doubt any Sumerians are reading this, I don’t think that matters. (And yes, I just went Ancient Lit on you. *Mic Drop*)



Kidding aside, Hocus Pocus surprised me in how well it captured me, but even more on how quickly the story established itself as completely independent from the Harry Potter universe. Shortly after the train ride (apparently school kids are required by narrative law to make friends on trains into a new school), we quickly go off in a whole new direction. I, for one, am very grateful PRB didn’t choose to do houses of any kind. ^^; Yes, there was still a shadow of Hogwarts there, but it became crystal clear that while there were similarities, this was it’s own place entirely.

But the real breath of fresh air came from the unexpected source of Scuffle. From the first moment of giving the book back before they saw the dean to the confession that he’s being a bully since he’s desperate to avoid being bullied himself by his inner-city-raised brothers...that took some masterful character development. But even more masterful was the relationship between Scuffle and Honeydew. I loved how she wasn’t ready to let him in even after Dinky and Clarity had pretty much cleared his slate. I loved that it took the moment of incredible bravery by finally standing up to his brothers while keeping his promise to protect her--no matter the cost--to finally break down her barriers. And seriously, the smoke clearing after the final explosion, I saw it in my head as if I was sitting in a theater. Brilliant narrative choreography.

I also totally saw the crush thing coming and totally SQUEE’d over it. Shut up! I’m a romantic! Deal with it! (My one minor objection is that I did want a bit more shipping in here, but I’ll live. ;) ) But even that was a surprise by leaving that plot thread acknowledged, but unresolved. That was a stroke of genius by not forcing that relationship to bloom with everything that happened during the end. We had enough emotional, physical and mental revelation and bombshells without dealing with that one.

Yes, Scuffle was an example of character development done wonderfully. As masterfully as how they handled Diamond Tiara in my all-time favorite MLP episode, “Crusaders of the Lost Mark,” but even sweeter considering how Hocus Pocus allowed us to get the entire arc in one go.

Clarity and Honeydew were also great characters and the final revelation of Clarity’s cutie mark was a stroke of brilliance. I’ve always believed that the best self-discovery comes from events that turn out blatantly obvious in hindsight, but only in hindsight. I didn’t see that coming...but that’s what made it work. Especially that it happened in Dinky’s darkest moments...that was even more wonderful. She was a wonderful balance to the darkness that pervaded the book, especially the end of it.

Honeydew was an excellent Fluttershy in miniature, yet still very distinct. Sort of like a fusion of Fluttershy and Neville Longbottom for reasons I think are suitably apparent. Both can be a hero, both will stand up for themselves and others when pushed too far (seriously, Neville’s role in the final Harry Potter book was nothing short of epic, but even starting with the first book by telling our three pint-sized heroes not to leave again...yeah...he’s always like that). I also loved her unique magic and showed that the whole idea that not every corner of Equestria believes in the message of Hearthwarming. I like seeing Equestrian society as good, but not perfect. After all, perfection cannot develop or show improvement. Great backstory...and a great end to her arc by giving her some new ideas about how to work her talent without magic...it gave her hope in what was very much apparently a hopeless situation.

There were a couple of other stand-out characters to me, such as the character of Nester (I seriously thought it was him helping out Dinky in her dreams). I liked the idea of a friendly outcast changeling, desperate to fit in while not hiding what he was. I suspect that’s going to make him quite the mentor/friend to Dinky in the sequel to this story.

The other one that comes to mind is Sparkler. Interestingly enough, I just finished another story in which Sparkler was Dinky’s adopted sister. It was fun to see a very different Sparkler in a very different light...with very different baggage. She reminded me a bit of Percy’s character, but instead of us having to wait six or seven books for him to stop being a total prat, we get to see the real side of Sparkler far more quickly and far more honestly. She was a great lens to see our heroines in through a wholly different perspective, as the straight and narrow student seeing the chaos wrought by three first-years...and them escaping. I especially liked the bit about the enchantment she cast on the diamond pendant. For a time, I actually thought she was in league with the dark Sunbeam when I read about the purple magic bit...and considering that Sunbeam manages a direct attack on Dinky directly after. You did a great job of placing a Chekhov's gun with that little piece and it paid off beautifully. The best Chekhov's gun is one you place in plain sight and then continue to show...but manage to get the readers to totally forget about this little extra detail. Because I did. I totally did.

Sunbeam (Antares--great little astronomy reference there. Serious bonus points) was the only character I had a few reservations about. I was honestly a bit iffy on him. I wasn’t really thrilled with his reveal as a chattering voice in the bushes. The Nester subplot was a great distraction and suspicion though. Personally, I would have preferred it if he had simply shown up in the classroom one day and chatted with Dinky. While I know Bright Spark and Celestia would have recognized him, he’s sneaky enough that I think he could avoid at least Bright Spark. The whole chattering villain monologuing to himself, well, I’m not a fan of it. However, that was my only real complaint about him. He was an excellent villain. Supremely confident to the point of torturing Dinky in her sleep and showing himself to all of Dinky’s friends...not out of ego, but out of a real confidence borne out of millennia of planning. It’s easy to have a diabolical Bond-style villain who’s just evil...but to create one who actually manages to pull the hero’s strings so effectively that the hero almost entirely dances to the villain’s tune throughout half the year? That’s masterful. And the perfect part of course...is that the sacrifice Scorpio needed was a Wraith. His one mistake was a mistake that he simply saw as an impossibility: that Dinky would be able to resist long enough not to turn. Frankly, it was a logical one and even to the point where he opens the portal...he still didn’t believe it...until it was far too late. Excellent arc wrap for him. He got what he wanted...at the cost of everything.

And then...we of course have Dinky. The little unicorn who started using magic by standing up for her mother and her friends. The little unicorn who knows nothing about the history of magic...who doesn’t know any better when dealing with Sunbeam. I loved the lore you built about the idea of wraiths, the origin of dark magic and the sheer power of its corrupting influence. She cares. There’s no doubt that she cares and she’s fighting to do her best no matter the cost, begging her friends to leave her to protect them. She comes across as truly genuine in a way I can’t even really explain. Another way to put it was that she felt so real.

But more than anything, a single scene stands out in my head: Dinky’s forced transformation. As a parent myself, I have to virtually ignore Ditzy in this scene. If I put myself in her shoes, it would be sheer agonizing torment to see what she saw. Even then, I could hear the sobs in my head. I could hear the ribs cracking in her desperation...and I could imagine the utter and complete horror and disbelief (that isn’t even a strong enough word) that paralyzed her mind, even under the surface at Scorpio’s first order to the new wraith.

I never saw that transformation coming. Seriously. I was totally blindsided by it. And I was shocked to find that she actually remained that way at the end of the story. So serious congrats. Usually I’m pretty good at seeing that.

The other part that resonates with me is the mental split. Light, Dark and Neutral. Neutral was simple logic and analysis. The sheer fact that the Dark Dinky’s promises of power, money and so much more...Neutral realized that she never had that before...and she had been just as happy without it. So the arguments became irrelevant. And from everything we’ve seen from Dinky, how well we’ve come to know her...it made sense. It was logical for her to reject the siren call of power. She had been fighting for so long...because she never wanted it in the first place. She was able to identity the corrupted thoughts so quickly even when things started to get bad.

So to see her whirl around and basically punch Scorpio in the nose was a wonderful scene. Seriously, fist-pumping moment. The fact that it was her two friends who were at the shield first...that was incredibly heartwarming, though I was surprised Ditzy wasn’t there first. But I’m glad she was right there after, followed instantly by Ditzy’s Rescue Party...save for one...

As for Twilight...I’m reminded a lot of the final scenes of the “Siege of the Crystal Empire” story arc in the MLP Comics: “You did it for friendship and that’s kind of my thing.” While she isn’t quite as willing in this story as she was in “Siege,” she decided to defy her booksense and believe in a power she’s seen do far more to save Equestria than anything else...friendship. I felt like she may have shown a little too much hesitation (especially as someone who could do dark magic herself and knew that the Princess of the Sun herself could as well) to come to their aid, but in the end, she did it. And even Scorpio wasn’t ready for Twilight’s power...

And in so doing, they saved the world. With the help of a little fox named Trouble who will be chasing Scorpio for eternity through the stars. Great little touch there. ^^

I could go on forever analyzing every character in this story. Each one turned out brilliantly, had an excellent individual arc with a clear beginning, middle and an end. Bright Spark I was a bit iffy on, even after the explanation of Sunbeam (I did love Celestia completely dressing him down though). Twilight’s little fandom scene? Epic. (And I liked hearing her called “the leader of the Bearers.” Though she obviously is, I had just never heard the phrase). And of course...Ditzy. I cannot recall a more dedicated and devoted mother character than Ditzy. Forgive another Harry Potter reference, but the only person who comes close is Lily Potter, whose sacrifice destroyed Voldemort. I know without a doubt that Ditzy would have done the same thing. I’m also pretty sure that if James’s sacrifice had been enough to defeat Voldemort, Lily would have become very much like Ditzy. The simple fact that she was willing to march up to Celestia herself and beg her to reconsider...the amount of courage that would take is nothing short of staggering. Starswirl...oh Celestia that prank was pure genius. Nothing’s quite like a grand Twilight freakout (it’s one of the reasons I love her!). Starswirl felt a bit out of place (I really didn’t see him coming), but considering how he literally IS out of place, I’m willing to let that one pass. ;)

Oh I should also mention I cried my eyes out when Dinky comes across the real Sunbeam. ^^;

So as you can see, it’s abundantly clear that it’s the characters that what truly make this story magical. Some stories are driven by plot (external forces) and can end up feeling contrived (let's be honest, there’s a lot of fan fiction for every universe out there that pulls a “I want this to happen because of , so it’s going to happen no matter what!”) But Pegasus Rescue Brigade doesn’t do that. Instead, every action we see from the character is consistent with the behavior, beliefs, attitudes and morals we’ve seen from that character. That’s the true mark of a good storyteller: when the events are driven by the characters themselves and it feels wholly natural.

So I’ve rambled on long enough. This novel has definitely earned a place in my top 5 FiMFic stories of all time list. Not only is it masterful, but it also shows an amazing amount of artistic growth from Shipping and Handling (which I still adore) to Hocus Pocus. You can tell that this author takes the written word seriously. The fact that it was so much longer than Shipping and Handling yet was still masterfully pieced together from start to end, speaks volumes on PRB’s foresight and craft.

In the end, I only have two real complaints. First, the cover art is horizontal and not vertical so I can’t make a normal bookcover for it so it drives me batty when looking at it on my iPad (which is entirely my OCD speaking) and then the real serious problem...that there isn’t another one in this universe waiting for me to read!

However, In time, the second issue will correct itself, so I can wait. ;)

So, in summary, thank you for sharing your wonderful gift. You did an amazing job with something that could have ended up being very trite. Just make sure to casually mention someday when you’re selling books at the speed of Brandon Sanderson, okay? Because I want to read them! :)

Brilliant job! I can't wait to enjoy your next piece of fiction!

(Just do me a favor and have an artist do a vertical cover. Please? :D)

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