FimFiction Link - Short ID: 230072/twilight-sparkle-of-the-royal-guard
Published: Dec '14 — Mar '15
Twilight Sparkle of the Royal Guard appeals by knowing exactly what it wants to be and using this knowledge to maintain a tight narrative that wouldn't be out of place on a bookshelf. An adventure-romance, we watch as an alternate Twilight Sparkle, better socialized by her time in the guard, develops feelings for a well-meaning but naive Cadance while accompanying her on an unexpected and unusual diplomatic trip to Saddle Arabia right before the 1000th Summer Sun Celebration. The imagery of princesses and personal guards, airships above foreign lands and foreboding events evokes a strong sense of classic adventure stories that make itself feel like an instant member of that category. The writing is clear and the characters are all engaging, at no point do either detract from the simple but solid plot.
Aside from the admirable prudence demonstrated, the story does well by capturing a facet of African culture in a way that neither caricaturizes nor fellates. Drawing upon Egyptian, West African, and Arabic aspects to give a fantastic but still recognizable setting. It is sad how few stories draw honestly from the rich and varied cultures of that continent.
Despite my admiration, the story is far from perfect. Most crucially, the dogged adherence to the plot stymied the potential emotional impact of a lot of scenes. While a solid plothook is presented, the tidiness of the narrative and lack of the emotional impact leaves the reader without much to ruminate on. In a way, it turns from instant classic to forgettable by the end. I also found it disconcerting how Basenji inexplicably became very good at Equish after starting out so poorly, and how many heroic second winds Twilight ended up having in the same night.
Altogether, it's a decent read if you're looking for adventure with a touch of romance.
There’s a good chance this is the best AU fic on the site. The idea is simple – Twilight’s parents flipped a coin to determine if they should send Shining Armor to Celestia’s magic school or let him choose where he wants to go. In canon, he got to pick and became a Royal Guard. In this fic, he became Celestia’s student, and it was Twilight who joined the Guard in his stead. The fic follows Twilight during the early days of her Guard career and her first serious assignment – assisting Cadance on a diplomatic mission in Saddle Arabia.
If I had to pick one element that makes this fic so great, it’d be how on point all the characterizations are. This is an AU, but it not only avoids the common issue of essentially writing OCs with canon names, it goes several steps farther than that. Make no mistake, this Twilight is definitely the same pony we’re used to, and all the differences in her behavior and perspective can be easily attributed to the life she’s led.
While I’m on the topic of characters, the canon ones (Cadance, Celestia and Shining Armor) are also excellent, and the few OCs feel properly developed without stealing the spotlight from anypony. As for the story,
The good thing about it is that it’s really two stories in one fic. No more and no less. The author was aggressively skipping all kinds of possible filler, making the final fic a blast to read from the beginning to the very end. Whether it’s in the more SoL-ish parts or in the action-heavy Adventure, (You) won’t have any time to get bored. Furthermore, both of the main elements – Adventure and Romance – are executed well and written in an entertaining prose that’s neither bland nor flowery. Basically, it’s all great.
The bad thing about it is that it’s really two stories in one fic. It’s extremely obvious when the SoL-lite part with the Romance arc takes a break to let the Adventure plot play out. The parts logically lead into each other, but if there’s anything that disappointed me while reading, it’s this. Given how well thought-out the rest of the fic is, I think it might’ve been a deliberate decision but I didn’t like it. YMMW, of course.
So where does that leave us? I can’t say that this fic is anything but excellent. It has some minor flaws that I didn’t mention in this review, but overall it’s pretty much all great. I’d easily recommend it, both as an example of how to do AUs well and just as a really good fic. I was considering going a bit lower but ultimately it's a pretty clear 9/10 fic for me.
'Twilight Sparkle of the Royal Guard' also known as 'TwiGuard' is an eighty thousand and five hundred-word adventure fic starring the eponymous Bookhorse and Cadence on a grand AU adventure to help a mysterious wanderer.
Goodness. This story just makes me scream with joy. A commonly understood thought is that a truly good story is the harmonious cooperation of great prose and great narrative and 'TwiGuard' entirely fits this definition, with only minor blemishes. If the description of it sounds any appealing to you, I suggest just dropping the review and reading it instead. You will not regret it.
Even from a technical standpoint, the prose in this story turns me green with envy. At the same time it manages to be so light and easy to read, but it's also filled with details, evocative metaphors and other literary devices, and—last but not least—so many playful phrases and little jokes, that it alone makes the story a delight to read without even getting into the meat of the plot. What makes this even more baffling is the fact that this is achieved with no purpleness at all. Everything laid in front of the reader is done so genuinely, that at times you can almost feel yourself being there while reading.
This alone would likely grant the story a decent score, but when you consider the narrative itself, this fic truly goes on another level. In the genre of light-ish (but very much not without stakes) adventure, I think this fic comes closest to a golden standard to compare other stories similar to. The fic accomplishes it by managing to do several feats other stories either fail or don't even dare to attempt. I'll go over these briefly:
There are many-many AU stories out there and it's understandable why. It is exciting to consider "what-ifs" and to twist the canon into a form that allows for fics that the original wouldn't. Yet many of these fall into the trap of changing things so hard that it no longer feels like you're reading a pony fanfic, rather a completely separate thing that just so happens to feature characters that look and are named like the ones in FIM.
But TwiGuard isn't a story like that. The changes it makes are small in terms of scale, but incredibly impactful. It simply asks the question "What would happen if Shining Armor and Twilight swapped roles?" and it works brilliantly. Until the more mature scenes appear, much of the early fic could simply be an episode of the show. But the author's elegance doesn't stop here — after showing us that they're perfectly capable of writing a compelling display of a place and characters we're familiar with (Canterlot), he immediately thrusts the cast out into a place that the show only barely ever mentioned.
This sort of upside-down flip allowed the story a great deal of flexibility, without hurting the suspension of disbelief and I'm all for it.
What is a good story without its characters? As mentioned before the main gimmick of this fic is that Shining and Twilight got swapped and once again this is something I can't not love. I am shocked how faithful Twilight feels to her show-self, while being a clearly and strongly different character due to her different upbringing. She is far more assertive, decisive, and even violent when the situation calls for it, however, her trademark bookishness, anxiety, occasional social awkwardness, and sharp wit are all still present. I'm particularly pleased by the fact that just because she is a soldier, she is still deeply emotional, I think if she acted more 'macho' without showing how much internal turmoil she faced, her character would have lost much of its appeal.
Shining, despite appearing very little in the fic, was a fun character too, though because of his largely background role, I feel he works best a comparison to Twiggles.
The Cadence of this fic is really likeable as well. She is a subversion of the "prissy princess" trope and it works like a charm. Despite being the "damsel in distress" she takes her share of the action when needed and I really enjoyed the parallels the author draws between her and Luna.
I don't have too much to say about the OC ponies of the fic. The militaryponies were fun. Sky Chaser managed to be a character whose death felt impactful. I especially like the fact that he somehow both gave off a grizzled veteran and jovial mariner feel at the same time.
I haven't read many fics that feature Diamond Dogs as characters, let alone as allies, but Basenji is a very likeable dog. The way his culture is showcased through him felt very natural and, though the fic sadly never really delves deep into it, the concept of the Way and the drum-magic all felt very thought out. I also liked his slightly foreign speech. Without needing to resort to stuff like contracting words oddly with apostrophes or any other weird trick, the author made him 'feel' foreign.
This part is sadly the one that bars me from grating this score a 10/10. It is a pity, because even here the story does much good. I like that Twilight's youth was skipped, the story fills in the blanks through dialogue and callbacks in a far better flowing way than showing in a chapter about her training would have had. There are also great examples of very smooth timeskips that don't take out the reader from their immersion, like the ones on the airship.
And yet... Sadly the way the main arc of the story was solved is a bit too rushed. It still provides for a decent arc, but unlike the rest of the story, here it felt like the author was rushing things along and the story suffers a little for it. For a gigantic city of an ancient civilization, we see precious little of Necropolis and the characters surmise the solution to their curse in a way that feels little better than a deus-ex-machina. "Oh this random house has a jackal head inside, this curse must be the work of this one DD death god I happen to know about."
After such a slow-boiling mystery, it doesn't really feel nearly as nice to be handled the solution to us on a platter. The fight scene afterwards is great and made me amped again and so was the nightmare scene which Twilight breaks with a speech that one might consider cheesy, but because it was the emotional payoff to a very tense scene, it just gave me goosebumps instead. But what comes afterwards once again just feels a bit like an abrupt halt as Twilight leads out the half-dazed Dingo. Similarly, the last chapter has several scenes that feel out of p(l)ace.
This ties a little into the previous part. I'm really struggling where to lean on this one. On one hand, the romance between Twilight and Cadence is downright adorable and you can tell the author did their "research" in making the whole thing feel like an actual crush developing into more during the fic with little details and implications. In the last chapter, Twilight suddenly being the meek one and Cadence taking the flirting head on was very fun and sweet, and much of the last chapter could (with little changes) work like a romance oneshot. So what's the issue then? This exactly that it feels like something out a completely different fic. After so much action with tiny hints at the blossoming romance, the story swerves hard in the other direction and it isn't nearly as graceful as it was when switching from SoL to adventure.
Overall: 9/10 I'm a little pissed I'm unable to give this story a 10/10, because if there is a story I'd love to rate that high, it's this one, but sadly those wobbles around the middle and late parts prevent me from doing so. Still, I feel like it's important to reiterate: Beyond these nitpicks that in no way 'ruin' the fic while you read it, this is a near-perfect adventure fic and I can't recommend it strongly enough.