Coming up next on Problematic Reviews

Coming up next on Problematic Reviews

Monday, June 23, 2014

FiM Fiction Review: The Equestrian Origins Trilogy (Part 2): Keeper of the Crystal Heart

couldn't help but notice the streak of negative reviews I've been handing down recently. Like I've said many times in the past, giving out low scores is not something I'm particularly proud of, even if it is in the job description. Nevertheless, I marched forward through Cerulean Voice’s Keeper of the Crystal Heart desperately hoping this story would break this trend. To put it bluntly: it doesn’t. Keeper of the Crystal Heart has many glaring issues which make the whole thing come off as weak and sloppy. More tragically, many of these problems lie at the core of the story. With its bland characters, convoluted conflicts, and poor pacing; I can't say I would recommend it. Head below the break for the full review of Keeper of the Crystal Heart by Cerulean Voice.

=== === ===

Keeper of the Crystal Heart by Cerulean Voice
Complete! (Completed on 27th Nov 2013)

In the aftermath of the first Hearth's Warming Day, harmony between each pony tribe has been newly re-established. Yet upon the dawning of Hearts And Hooves Day a teacher, student, cloud-controller and farmer will accidentally unearth a nefarious plot to destabilize harmony once more. What they discover along the way about their history, their futures and the implications of power will shake the foundations of Equestria.

The price of such power is indeed steep...

Read it here.

Tags: Adventure - Rating: Teen (for mild violence)
Word Count: 66,872 words total - The Equestrian Origins Trilogy

=== === ===

If you read my review of the prequel to Keeper of the Crystal Heart, These Flowers Never Bloom, what I have to say on Keeper’s characters might sound awfully familiar to you. The small cast of three (???) main characters are one-dimensional and badly personified. I question exactly how many main characters there are because the point of view is so broad it’s hard to pinpoint exactly who leads the plot. We open with Celestia and Luna then move on to the separate plot lines of Cirrus, Aura, and Valencia. The story has five characters to develop and bring together just in the opening chapter! Readers, this fic is about 190 pages (depending on your page and font size); not nearly long enough to fully develop five main characters. Unfortunately, this resulted in the leading characters being too weak to carry the story forward. Mid-way through the story, when the characters and plot lines finally have come together, we have three interchangeable characters diving head-long into the climax. What I'm trying to say is: instead of trying to bring five plot lines together in way that comes off feeling contrived, the author should’ve streamlined the whole thing to focus instead on one or two characters. Hold on to my thoughts about the plot for moment because we still have to talk about dialogue (I promise it won't be as long).

When you take into the account the sub-par characters, the dialogue isn't all that rough. It flows naturally and feels organic for the most part. My only complaint is that some lines feel ill-timed in which they don’t match the tone that felt appropriate for the scene. Others feel out of place and interrupt the flow of the scene writing, particularly in the more action-centered set pieces. Let’s talk about action scenes for a moment. If you think about what characterizes an intense action scene in writing, would a lot of dialogue fit into that? This is, again, where the issues with the dialogue become most apparent. While a few, short lines don’t interrupt so boldly, Keeper of the Crystal Heart often has long conversations carry out in the middle of climatic set pieces.

While they might feel dulled by the lengthy dialogue, the action had a few things right. Mainly, the scene visualization was well done and reminded me of a more streamlined, conservative version of These Flower Never Bloom; which I complimented for having imaginative and extensive scene visualization but was also hard to read at times. Even during scenes where the protagonists are going through complex puzzles, the scene visualization rarely falters and gives the reader a clear picture of the complex scene without being hard to follow. So, credit where it’s due: Nicely done, Cerulean Voice.

A less noticeable issue would be Keeper’s pacing mechanics. While I say it’s decent enough in the first half, there are points where the story gets rather confusing and messy due to pacing that could use some polish. Other moments feel like they've been built up too much only to stand as a minor plot point. Thirdly, going back to the action set pieces, many action scenes drag out for too long towards the end and, combined with the dialogue, make these scenes feel dragged out and dull. Quite honestly, Keeper of the Crystal Heart fails to build up suspense or builds up too much suspense. I will elaborate on this and discuss some plot holes with spoilers after the break. If you rather avoid spoilers, go ahead and skip the next few paragraphs.

(You have been warned)
This is going to get a bit lengthy so bear with me for a second.

As mentioned, Keeper of the Crystal Heart opens with four separate plot lines. Firstly, we see Celestia and Luna awake from a twenty year long hiatus from protecting harmony. The events of Hearts Warming Eve and the reunification of the Equestria tribes transpired during these fateful twenty years. Soon thereafter, they receive a gift from the lore’s all-knowing deity, Lady Dimiourgia: The Elements of Harmony. They're then set off on a quest to ensure harmony is kept in Equestria. Moving on, Cirrus and his brother embark on a mission with the Pegasus legions to prevent a drought, Clover the Clever and her young apprentice, Aura, go on an expedition to gather ingredients for a new remedy, and Valencia is told she needs to go on vacation and relax from her farm duties. Somehow, these three quests have the ponies converge on Neighagra Falls. And this all happens in the first three chapters. Earlier in the review I mentioned how weakly founded these characters are and this is why. This situation doesn’t only feel incredibly contrived but also leaves little room to flesh out the leading roles. Like mentioned earlier, this needs to be condensed in order to develop the characters.

Exhibit B: So, we follow the adventurers on their journey to Neighagra Falls and see how the main characters meet and then…. stuff happens??? This is where I mentioned the reader gets confused. In fact, I had to reread several pages because the writing moves from an expository slow pace to a much faster paced action much too quickly. It's a minor concern but one that shouldn't be over looked.

Either way, our protagonists find themselves captured by the Changelings. Meanwhile, Celestia and Luna debate how to introduce themselves to the Equestrian populace without causing mass hysteria due to the fact that they are the only two alicorns in existence (Sorry, Cadence). Mind you, at this point I don’t have any idea how the two conflicts are related either. Ignoring that, Clover and the gang are caught running from a giant worm after escaping the Changelings. When it seems like it’s the end of the line for Clover and Aura, Clover pulls a dues ex machina but at the cost of what briefly appears to be her life. But Lady Luck smiles upon our protagonists and Luna, guided by the Element of Kindness, comes to that rescue and separates an unconscious Clover from her friends (without notifying them of course) to seek medical attention. A few things bug me here. Things like: Why would the Element of Kindness point Luna toward Clover? You could argue that saving her is a key part of restoring harmony to the world, but Clover barely does anything to resolve the conflict. Also, why does Kindness urge Luna to save Clover and not all the protagonists? They seem to be in pretty bad situation as well. Why would Aura sleep separate from Clover, especially when her beloved mentor is dying? My main concern is: Why not let Clover die? Assuming this story is about Aura coming of age and becoming the Crystal Princess, what better way to teach her she needs to stop depending on Clover than to “remove Clover from the equation?” Clover’s plot line already feels like it doesn’t need to be here even without considering the problems surrounding her revival.

So while Luna is off rescuing strangers from the clutches of death, Celestia has a run in with the Changelings herself when the king, which just so happens to be her brother, is captured by the Changeling Queen. Feeling the situation is desperate, she rescues the king and helps him hold off the coup d'etat overtaking the capital city. Meanwhile, Luna has returned to the city to seek medical attention for Clover. After Celestia herself gets captured, she warns Luna to steer clear. Then, oddly enough, Luna heads back to the newly founded Crystal Empire, again at the guidance of Kindness. I must again ask why is this sub-plot in the story other than to unite the protagonists with Luna? Clover plays no role in the plot after the giant worm chase and is of no use to the Elements. Why does Luna go out her way to help a random pony while foreign agents are staging a coup, capturing and enslaving the populace of an entire city, and while her sister is in enemy hands. She’s putting the lives of government officials, an entire city and her very own sister in jeopardy for one unicorn. You could argue that the Elements knew that Clover’s revival would lead them to the key to restoring peace, but if the Elements are this all-knowing, why let the situation get this out of hand?

Let’s step back for a moment. We have covered the first half of the story already. I didn't mention the main conflict simply because I would like to highlight the most glaring of Keeper of the Crystal Heart’s pacing issues. With things spinning out of control back in the motherland, Aura, Cirrus and Valencia are slowly traversing Equestria's equivalent to the Aperture Science Testing Facilities. Even if the answer is rather obvious, this builds suspense to the revealing of the Crystal Heart and the Crystal Empire. Besides being completely disconnected from the Changeling conflict until the contrived Clover revival, the problem with this plotline is that its conclusion, which presumptively is one of the pivotal moments in this tale, is completely downplayed by Luna’s appearance and plea for help in taking back the capitol. A deep tale about unity and a spirit’s one moment of remorse for the lives he’s ruined is cut off by the second conflict. Even then, the latter half sports a message about how forgiveness is ultimately the way to understanding love that unfortunately comes off as sudden and awkward because of its lack of buildup to Aura's ascension into alicorn status.

By the end, this plot line comes off as puzzling, contrived and overdone. The sloppy use of suspense only highlights these issues.

- End of Spoilers -

Concluding this terrifyingly long review, Keeper of the Crystal Heart often feels like it needs to go back to the drawing board and re-imagine it’s poorly characterization, weak pacing and plot, and bland climaxes. Beyond its solid writing and excellently crafted visuals, I have little reason to recommend this one. Thanks for reading and I hope you join me for my final review in the Equestrian Origins Trilogy, The Pendant and the Amulet. Until then, this has been Amy Clockwork. I'll see you next time.

This review was published with permission from the author as required by our Critique Publication Agreement. The Foal Free Network can remove publicly published materials at the author's request. 

No comments:

Post a Comment