To read the story, click the image or follow this linkHeh, sixty-nine.
...Okay, I've got it out of my system. Do your giggling up here, then click down below for my review of iisaw's The Celestia Code.
Impressions before reading: The description assures that this isn't a The Da Vinci Code crossover, which is good, because I have a lot of issues with Dan Brown as an author and as a person. With that out of the way, I like codes, mysteries, and the like, but get annoyed by stupid or poorly constructed codes, mysteries, and the like. Here's hoping for good stuff!
Zero-ish spoiler summary: When Twilight finds long-hidden clues to an ancient civilization, she sets out (along with an actual archaeologist) to find out who those ponies were, what happened to the previous explorers, and why they have both seemingly been scrubbed from history.
Thoughts after reading: Well, it's mostly not a Da Vinci Code crossover. iisaw does show a Brownian affinity for ending chapters on cliffhangers (a reasonably representative last two sentences: "On an impulse, I raised a shield around us, giving it about half a day of magical charge. It turned out to be a very good thing I did so"), but other than that it's a wholly separate beast. It's almost too bad; I'm kind of morbidly curious what Twilight going on an anti-Catholic screed would sound like, or how reducing every single female character to a physical description, a vague assurance of "brains," and a lust for the male lead would play in Equestria. Eh, those questions are probably better left unanswered.
What this story is is a history-delving adventure, with some touches of mystery and romance on the side. Let's address each of those three elements separately.
The adventure/worldbuilding here is excellent, striking a nice balance between action and exposition, and keeping the pace brisk while still working in a huge amount of worldbuilding (and not just historical headcanon; little touches, like the varying titles of royalty, add a nice sheen of realism without bogging down the narrative). By comparison, they mystery elements were practically a footnote,1 but that was fine; the puzzles and titular code (actually a cipher) were used as seasoning rather than primary story foci, which let the author use them in a much vaguer, less time-consuming way, with the (here desirable) effect of keeping the pace of this nearly-frenetic work from slowing.
1As an aside, I liked the way footnotes were handled in this story, coming at the end of every paragraph instead of at the end of the chapter or story, as some authors do on sites like FiMFiction where "pages" are basically theoretical. If I ever write something with footnotes, I'll definitely ape this.
The romance, on the other hand, was a letdown, primarily because of how lightning-fast and perfunctory it was. While I'll give credit to the story for dodging the obvious route, the central members of the romance (well, one particularly) move from fear to hate to lust to genuine affection with little logic behind each transition. This underlines a larger problem in the story: while excellent dialogue often serves to cover the fact, the characters here are surprisingly shallow and exaggerated. From Twilight to Crysalis to the OCs present, each is given a few defining characteristics pumped up to 11, and very little besides. While this creates some great moments, both comic and dramatic, it also means that everything from the romance to Twilight's reaction to the initial mystery which sparks the journey are abrupt, dramatic, and often hard to swallow (to be fair, the latter is lampshaded, but it's hardly the only example).
The dialogue is wonderful, though, and this makes up for a lot of shortcomings. Twilight is quick with a quip as narrator, and the vibrantly unique voices used throughout breathe life into the story that the characters actions don't always. The result is a story which is often funny, full of forward momentum, and which, after a bit of unfocused jumping in the first chapter or two, settles into an engaging mix of action and history.
This is an easy story to enjoy despite its flaws; it's accessible, funny, and has enough original ideas to keep everything fresh. The characters may be rather flat, but that's not the same as saying they're badly characterized, and the romantic angle is small enough that... well, it's definitely not ignorable, but it doesn't take over the story, either. And both are quickly forgotten when the action kicks off, or when Twilight delivers a straight line.
Recommendation: This won't appeal to readers who react strongly to shallow characters, but anyone looking for a fast-paced story that's easy to follow despite its mystery elements, and that's funny, clever, and exciting in equal measure, will want to give it a try.
Next time: Twilight’s List, by kits