Darkstarling’s “Tartarus Island”



Break out from the ordinary with today’s story.

Tartarus Island
[Equestria Girls] • 2,904 words

Once the heir to a Mafia family, now imprisoned for the murder of his brother, Tirek is held on Tartarus Island: the most secure prison in the world. He isn’t concerned. Soon he will escape, and nothing will stand in his way.

FROM THE CURATORS: “One of my favorite moments in fanfiction,” AugieDog said as we discussed this story, “is when I see a story description, smack myself in the forehead, and say, ‘Of course!’ And when the writer turns that terrific idea into a good story, it’s an even better moment.”

And while the central idea here leaps off the page, what elevated this story to a feature — and third place in the Villain Exchange Program contest — went far deeper.  “This fic is a blast, pure and simple, a great send-up to prison escape stories, but also more than that,” Soge said in his nomination.  “It is one those stories which is not afraid to wear its influences on its sleeves — the real-life Alcatraz escape and The Shawshank Redemption being the most obvious ones. But it is through its characterizations, particularly the way it manages to transport Tirek to EQD-land, that it manages to differentiate itself.”

Other curators quickly agreed.  “The transition between its use of historical fact and original fantasy is seamless, which speaks well of both halves,” Horizon said.  Present Perfect went further: “Casting Tirek as a disgraced mob boss is really original. It merges both settings in a natural way. On top of that, the characterization is excellent, not just for our narrator, but for the two main OCs who help plan his escape.”

Along the way, it defied our expectations.  “There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes, and the final conclusion is as well-executed and surprising as it is expected,” Soge said, while AugieDog quipped, “I think this story might contain the best use of an accordion that I’ve yet seen in a pony fic.”  The overall effect, as Present Perfect said, was captivating: “This one hits the nail on the head.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Darkstarling discusses stick villains, pedestrian parallels, and airborne murmurations.
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“Ponyfic: There Can Be Only One” winner: Monochromatic’s “The Enchanted Library”


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You won’t want to leave today’s story.

The Enchanted Library
[Romance] [Adventure] [Alt. Universe] • 339,524 words

Everypony enjoys myths and ponytales, even if they know such things aren’t real. Alicorns fighting against a spirit of chaos? An ancient princess trapped in a library under a tree, waiting to be found? Quite enchanting and fantastic tales yes, but nonetheless as fictional as Daring Do and other such stories. At least, that’s what Rarity used to think.

She doesn’t anymore.

FROM THE CURATORS: When we last featured this week’s author, we spotlighted one of her short, high-impact stories while merely name-dropping the longer work which put her on the map.  But readers loved The Enchanted Library so much that they voted it into the running for our effort to find The Fandom’s Best Fanfic™ — and after a tense battle full of upsets and narrow wins, this epic adventure-romance novel emerged victorious.

It was easy to see why it inspired such dedication.  “It is a literary chrysanthemum opening layer upon layer of secrets, inventive worldbuilding, Monochromatic’s signature heartfelt emotional and romantic development, and Rarity being unable to actually tell the truth even if her life depends on it,” FanOfMostEverything said when introducing it to our panel audience.  “It is not just a romance, it’s a romance that shows its work, and a great AU to boot.”  Horizon agreed: “Rarity and Twilight start out as complete strangers, and we get a full-length novel’s worth of words in which they slowly become friends before either one even starts wrestling with deeper feelings.  I honestly don’t think any story has ever sold me on a ship the way that TEL did, and the dynamic between the partners is a source of both joy and tension throughout.”

If all the story did right was that perfectly-paced and grippingly compelling romance, it still would have been deserving of a feature — but top-notch writing in multiple areas elevated it to a story worthy of being called The Best™.  “The characters are worth mentioning for their color,” Horizon said. “Rarity is a fascinating study in contrast that gets her canon complexity across well. We get to see her flaws front and center, but it never stopped me from caring about her and her quest.”  AugieDog agreed: “The Discord here is a master class in how to write a villain, as is pretty much everything about the adventure, the character building, and the romance.”

And several of us commented on its raw power.  “There are multiple scenes in the story that just ring as perfectly as crystal bells, and there are several scenes where the author types a paragraph that tears down everything that’s come before and kicks it flailing off a cliff she’s quietly and calmly been building in plain sight,” AugieDog said. The fic kept those standards high to the very last word (and its in-progress sequel).  “TEL throws a succession of finely crafted punches, and man, the ending just wrecked me,” Horizon said.  “Wrecked.”

Read on for our (all new!) author interview, in which Monochromatic discusses brain HDMI, Disney destinies, and the good kind of selling out.
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scifipony’s “To Bring Light to Eternal Darkness”


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Today’s story will offer a little “light” reading.

To Bring Light to Eternal Darkness
[Adventure] [Drama] • 34,992 words

In the days before Equestria was even a dream and mares are second-class citizens, a pony with a solar cutie mark, Sunny Daze, decides to help her brother become a mage. She doesn’t realize that she and the sun have an appointment with destiny.

FROM THE CURATORS: Sometimes, it’s impressive how much difference a change of scenery can make.  “In many senses, this is something I read a dozen times before — young Celly is in a bad situation, then she learns how to raise the sun,” Soge said as we discussed this week’s feature.  “But just by replacing the more typical western European fantasy background, with a modern Saudi/Wahhabi inspired one? Bam, so much potential is unlocked.”  And what we found as we dug into our reading was a story which capitalized on that potential tremendously.  “I was blown away by this story from the word go,” Present Perfect said. “This is a really powerful work, a must-read for everyone.”  FanOfMostEverything’s nomination said the story stood out on numerous levels: “It’s not just the characters and world that feel real, but also the society. scifipony presents a strongly regimented culture that provides a fascinating case of an ‘It’s terrible, but it’s mine’-style mental dissonance that resonates throughout Celestia-to-be’s actions.”

We found ourselves repeatedly praising the exemplary handling and realism of the deeper themes the story built up around that society.  “The writing is exceptional, the origin story and world-building are strong and unique, and most important, the message is never lost in minutiae,” Present Perfect said.  “Many writers would, for instance, have told the story of Sunny Daze breaking out from her patriarchial oppression the moment she met a mare from Unicornia, which doesn’t suffer under the propoli and mare-cloaks. And while that story would have cathartic value, it would feel cheap because it would ignore the realities of growing up under a stringent society divided along gender lines.”  Soge agreed: “I don’t feel bad in saying that most explicitly political fiction is garbage — it creates politically-themed obstacles for the characters, leaving them as just a backdrop to the message, and in the process manages to dehumanize all involved on the ‘other side’. ‘To Bring Light…’, instead, belongs to that rare breed that takes inspiration from real-world issues, but keeps the focus tight on the characters, leading to this lived-in world full of interesting scenarios, but without ever making the backdrop the most important thing in the story.”

And the characters were vivid enough to sustain that focus.  “This also got major points from me for its strong portrayal of autism in Summer Daze, especially in the way his sister understands and dotes on him,” Present Perfect said.  “She’s proud of him for being able to interact with others to the extent that he does, she gets his tics, and she doesn’t begrudge him being unable to express himself the way other ponies do.”  That was merely one of the factors which added up to a top-tier story.  “I could go on and on,” Soge said, “about how great the supporting cast is, how good an antagonist Umbra was, or the great world-building and magic system.  This fic is a pure delight.”

Read on for our author interview, in which scifipony discusses good gibberish, hayburger messes, and bounty-hunting mothers.
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“Ponyfic: There Can Be Only One” wrap-up

We’re still recovering this week from the fandom’s final Bronycon.  (In some cases literally — a con-crud-ridden Horizon is dragging himself out of bed to write this.)  So in lieu of a Bronycon-week feature, we’d like to talk a little bit about the panel we hosted to find THE FANDOM’S BEST FANFIC™.

We’ve got a full writeup on our royalcanterlotlibrary.net website — including the complete bracket of 16 fics in contention for the title; shout-outs to great fics which we couldn’t fit on the shortlist; and the full results of audience and curator voting.

Our hearty congratulations to Monochromatic’s “The Enchanted Library” for taking the BEST FANFIC title in an upset victory over our #1 seed!  We’ll be running an interview with Monochromatic as soon as possible.

Come see us at Bronycon!


The run-up to Bronycon has been a mad whirlwind of RCL activity!  Five curators are attending (two for the first time!), and one of us is an official community guest. Several of us are participating in the Golden Oaks Bookstore (as author, author and publisher).  And we’re even running a panel!

Come join the Royal Canterlot Library in the Hall of the Moon from 11:15 AM-12:15 PM Saturday, Aug. 3 for “Ponyfic: There Can Be Only One”! We’ve selected 16 stories from among the fandom’s best of the best — a combination of curators’ favorites and crowd favorites from our community voting — and are going to introduce them to our audience and pit them against each other in a voting bracket to discover MLP’S BEST FANFIC™.  (It’s all in good fun; there’s no way to be objective about a task this big, but it’s an excuse to talk about some really awesome stories.)  Join us and help us determine which author takes home the bragging rights!

Here’s a sneak preview of our bracket — half of our sixteen contenders:

Eakin’s “Hard Reset
shortskirtsandexplosions’ “Background Pony
Monochromatic’s “The Enchanted Library
Horse Voice’s “The Writing on the Wall
Dromicosuchus’s “Mendacity
GaPJaxie’s “Around the World in 81 Days (And Other Problems Caused by Leap Years)
PatchworkPoltergeist’s “The Silver Standard
GhostOfHeraclitus’ “Whom the Princesses Would Destroy…

Look forward to seeing you there!

Eakin’s “The Mare Behind The Mare”



There’s some impressive work behind today’s story.

The Mare Behind the Mare
[Slice of Life] • 9,688 words

What sort of mare would turn down the chance to help a friend? Twilight’s been there for me so many times in the past, but now she’s a princess with all the new obligations and duties that come with that. The transition… hasn’t been an entirely smooth one. Who better to lend her a helping hoof and show her how one deals with nobles, courts, and politics than moi?

I only hope it doesn’t end up costing one of us our sanity along the way.

FROM THE CURATORS: There are some stories so powerful that it’s always a little shocking to see their author featured for anything else. Hard Reset — one of FIMFiction’s top-10 upvoted stories, and a contender in our upcoming “Ponyfic: There Can Be Only One” Bronycon panel — is one of those. But it’s ineligible for RCL refeature due to its Pony Fiction Vault interview, and Eakin has written no shortage of other strong contenders.

What caught our eye about The Mare Behind The Mare was how effortlessly it demonstrated strength in a very different genre from Eakin’s biggest hit. “It is this delightful mix of comedy and political intrigue, with the kind of sharp-witted prose that really manages to elevate the whole thing,” Soge said.  It even sparked favorable comparisons to an acknowledged master of that genre: “This was supremely funny,” Present Perfect said, “in precisely the way GhostOfHeraclitus’ Civil Service stories are.”  AugieDog felt similarly in his nomination. “It starts from a premise that I’m sure I’ve seen before in Ponyfic: Rarity tutors the new Princess Twilight in the ways of the Royal Court,” he said.  “But even though it doesn’t have a Comedy tag on it, its second chapter takes it off in a a delightfully devious little ‘comedy of manners’ direction that’s reminiscent of GhostOfHeraclitus’ Civil Service stories. (Dotted Line even makes a Ghost-approved off-stage cameo.)”

That cameo was virtually the only character not singled out for praise. “It’s a pure pleasure to watch Rarity work here,” AugieDog said. “Twilight’s written a bit naïvely throughout, but she steps up at the end to put together all the pieces Rarity’s laid out for her.”  Soge admired the princesses: “It is propped up by some amazing characterization for all involved (I particularly like Celestia hamming it up for the benefit of the court), and a vision of a might-have-been for Twilight getting used to power. Great work all around.” And Present Perfect’s protagonist praise was part of a broader compliment: “Every time I think I fully understand the concept of ‘show, don’t tell,’ a good author like Eakin comes along and shows me how to step up my game,” he said.  “The scene with Rarity talking to the disinterested reporter, turning an off-handed comment into an Equestria-wide panic, was a marvelous linchpin for the entire thing.”

But even more than that, we appreciated the tale’s balancing acts.  “Stories like this need a very delicate balance of idealism and cynicism, and Eakin pulls it off exactly right,” AugieDog said.  Horizon cited another: “The first and second chapters are fantastic in very different ways. While the plotting is indeed tightly written and gorgeous to watch, the extended tea metaphor in Chapter 1 is exquisitely balanced — strong enough to carry the story, but not so strong it drowns out the nuances of the surrounding writing.”  Ultimately, all those factors led to no shortage of enthusiasm for the feature. “This was a very good fic,” Present Perfect said.  “I love watching a plan come together, and I will heartily support the nomination.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Eakin discusses Platonic alicorns, cooking chickens, and butchered quotes.
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Vivid Syntax’s “Not In Bluff Nor Bravado Nor Loneliness”



(RCL NOTE: We’re attempting the hopeless task of choosing the fandom’s Single Best Story™ at a special panel at Bronycon.  Help us pick the competitors!  Details here.  Voting is open until July 13.)

If your reading is stale, TRY TODAY’S TALE!

Not In Bluff Nor Bravado Nor Loneliness
[Slice of Life] • 7,389 words

Ponies? Yeah, you hear a lot about them growing up in the minotaur homelands, and it isn’t all positive. Actually, almost none of it is positive. They’re different. They’ve got those weird pictures on their flanks and those little prayers they mumble to their princesses. Ponies are gentle, passive. They’re not like us.

See, a minotaur is supposed to act a certain way. You bulk up. You get aggressive. You don’t let anyone else push you around, and you don’t associate with ponies. I’ve heard the same thing my whole life, ever since I was young.

FROM THE CURATORS: Like last week’s feature, this started with an examination of stories we’d overlooked earlier in the fandom — and once it was brought up, we immediately wondered how.  “I saw the thread title,” Present Perfect said, “and went, ‘Didn’t I nominate that years ago?’ I guess I didn’t!”  AugieDog similarly had fond memories: “I was one of maybe eight or nine judges in the contest where this story got an Honorable Mention. That’s why this seems familiar!”  But there was more than nostalgia in FanOfMostEverything’s nomination: “This is an especially interesting story, tackling similar themes on a lot of different levels. It’s about the knee-jerk mainstream reaction to ponies. It’s about toxic masculinity. It’s about stereotypes and prejudice. And the use of Iron Will as a perspective character makes the whole thing work.”

Our praise on that framing was unanimous.  “The decision to approach toxic masculinity along species lines was a good one,” Present Perfect said.  “It makes the topic more approachable and easier to deal with.” AugieDog agreed: “It’s a nicely nuanced view of Iron Will.  Growing up, he feels a kinship with the ponies at school, but since he’s told he shouldn’t, he makes it his life’s mission to change ponies into people that he can feel kinship with.  The only acceptable way for him to be more like ponies is if ponies become more like him, and this inherent paradox drives the story right through to the end.”  And Horizon was impressed by how much was communicated via showing and structure: “With nothing more than a few conversations with authority figures, we’re shown the ways that a bad system harms both its victims and its beneficiaries, and how it can make even well-meaning people excuse its harm.”

If we had one disappointment, it was that later show canon didn’t back up the story’s sympathetic view of one of the show’s antagonists.  “I found Iron Will inherently relatable, and this is a really strong possible backstory for him … before ‘Once Upon a Zeppelin,’ of course,” Present Perfect said.  But even though the show hasn’t been kind to the premise here, we found the writing strong enough to carry this on its own merits.  As FanOfMostEverything said: “The story is meticulously constructed, every moment coming together in the greater scope.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Vivid Syntax discusses Gandhi quotes, goat symbolism, and parental ponycons.
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Thanqol’s “Do Not Serve These Ponies”



(RCL NOTE: We’re attempting the hopeless task of choosing the fandom’s Single Best Story™ at a special panel at Bronycon.  Help us pick the competitors!  Details here.  Voting is open until July 13.)

Do not skip today’s story.

Do Not Serve These Ponies
[Comedy] • 21,083 words

Lyra knows the truth. Lyra knows that a shadowy conspiracy dating back to the very dawn of Equestria is responsible for manipulating every major event for the past two thousand years. And Lyra does not care how many museums she has to destroy or how many transdimensional rifts she has to open in her quest to inform the public.

FROM THE CURATORS: Today’s feature is a bit unusual — it’s the first which has gone through two separate rounds of RCL consideration.  “I laugh more when reading Thanqol’s stories than almost any other author’s,” Chris said in his original nomination in 2013. “Thanqol has a real knack for understatement, and for finding a straight pony for every situation. This is my favorite of his that isn’t ineligible.”  At the time, Do Not Serve failed to get through our voting process — but after several years and near-total RCL turnover, it was one of the stories which inspired a debate over how to fairly revisit decisions which new curators disagreed with.  Ultimately, once everyone had weighed in, we added up both old and new scores, and discovered that it had won majority approval.

Primarily, that was because — with the benefit of hindsight — the story’s hilarity survived the test of time.  “I still look back on this story fondly as a mile-a-minute comedy that never wears out its welcome,” Present Perfect said. FanOfMostEverything agreed: “Like Lyra, it throws itself into every insane moment of escalation and has a wonderful time while doing so. It’s just pure fun.”  But, importantly, it also didn’t lack in depth. “It is centered on a very real core of the friendship between Lyra and Bon-Bon, which leaves it grounded just enough to not let the random aspect of the fics simply take over,” Soge said.  It also played with early-season fanon in ways that now seem fascinating.  “There’s a section where Bon-Bon wonders whether Lyra is a secret agent, which is an interesting foreshadowing of Season 5,” Horizon noted, “and some clever extrapolation is made from Lyra’s background in Canterlot.”

No matter how wide-ranging our praise got, however, the story never stopped being funny and quotable.  “It’s peppered with laugh-out-loud lines, imagery, and running gags — the Cone of Shame deserves special mention,” Horizon said.  RBDash47 agreed, while also comparing the prose to one of the great comedic masters: “It seems like every other line has me cracking up (‘Hello,’ said Rainbow Dash. / ‘Ah. And the oppressor shows her true colours. And it’s all of them’). The humor and style strikes me as being Adamsian without actually being a straight lift from Douglas Adams’ work — it’s got that same sense of wry wordplay and expectation subversion.” Ultimately, as Present Perfect said, that made it stand out despite competition from tales both old and new: “This story proves that well-worn fandom tropes like ‘Lyra’s obsessed with humans’ can still be used in original and highly entertaining ways.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Thanqol discusses Shakespeare horror, collateral happiness, and Closing Statement.
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JumpingShinyFrogs’ “School Tour”


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(RCL NOTE: We’re attempting the hopeless task of choosing the fandom’s Single Best Story™ at a special panel at Bronycon.  Help us pick the competitors!  Details here.  Voting is open until July 13.)

Today’s story comes out of the dark into the spotlight.

School Tour
[Dark] [Human] • 6,481 words

I was looking forward to the school tour for a really long time! We were going to the beach, and I love the beach. I love the bus trip as well, singing and talking with my friends. But then we drove into a tunnel. I’ve never really liked tunnels, but it’s always been fine because my friends were there. We always try to hold our breath the whole way through the tunnel, which is a lot of fun.

Today, we couldn’t hold our breath the whole way through, because the bus never came out of the tunnel.

FROM THE CURATORS: Fanfiction, by definition, is authors getting inspired by the settings and characters of others’ works.  So it shouldn’t be a surprise that sometimes quality fanfiction spawns fanfiction of its own.  “Since we’ve featured The Last Pony on Earth, I’ve been going through some of the side stories it spawned, and I feel confident in nominating them on their own merits,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “This is many things. A story about survival and holding out hope against certain death. An excellent example of journalfic written in a nine-year-old’s voice. And a really good application of the setting and timeframe of the Ponies After People universe.”  Soge quickly added that this tale of a bus full of children turning into ponies worked as a standalone: “I only noticed it was related to Last Pony on Earth when it was explicitly mentioned near the end.  That didn’t actually impact my enjoyment of the story.”

One of the factors driving that enjoyment was the story’s tight and careful focus.  “It’s a very claustrophobic story, with essentially one location until the end,” Present Perfect said, “but the strength of the writer’s voice and the sheer desperation of their situation, on top of the fact that these are mostly kids, is what really sells this.” FanOfMostEverything agreed: “The story does a brilliant job of using the limited space and information given to the protagonist to drive home the claustrophobic atmosphere. The pacing is one of the best parts, gradually ramping up the dread as all the easy solutions fail and the situation worsens.”  And Soge appreciated the nuance that provided: “The limited perspective and understanding of Clara is used very well here, the child narrator being the best possible PoV to sell the bleakness of the situation, without actually falling into melodrama.”

But we also praised factors such as the efficient prose.  “There are tons of neat details peppered around, and in a very short amount of time it sells the reader very well on the characters, the world, and their predicament,” Soge said.  That was even more impressive considering the way the story was framed.  “The sheer innocence of the narrative voice is almost painful at times, when the reader sees the severity of Clara’s predicament so much more clearly than she does,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “Overall, this was some excellent suspense.”

Read on for our author interview, in which JumpingShinyFrogs discusses sneaky principals, acceptable birds, and story graveyards.
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miss-cyan’s “Now Hiring”



We’re grateful our job brings us to gems like today’s story.

Now Hiring
[Sad] • 3,602 words

Pear Butter and Bright McIntosh have recently passed. What remains of the Apple Family find themselves in the care of their newest family member. But they can’t do everything to provide for the new foal on their own.

An ad is placed.

A position is filled.

But loss is a thing that affects each individual differently. And new faces can be both a curse and a blessing.

FROM THE CURATORS: There are certain story ideas which just hit you right between the eyes.  “This has about the most perfect set-up of any story I’ve read recently,” AugieDog said in our discussion thread.  “I mean, of course the Apples would need a wet nurse for Apple Bloom! Why has it taken all these years for someone to realize that?”  And it’s always a joy to find a story which capitalizes on an idea so strong.  “This is fantastic, a vivid tale of broken people fixing their lives by coming together at the worst of times,” Soge said in his nomination.  “It really puts all the characters through quite the ordeal, but never stretching credibility, leading to a well-earned ending.”

But even beyond the premise, we found much to impress us — chiefly, the exemplary balancing act the story pulled with its Sad tag.  “The emotional tone here is very carefully handled,” FanOfMostEverything said. “It lets us feel the characters’ despair without making us wallow in it.  There’s enough diversity in the mood to keep it from becoming a slog, whether it’s the attempts at normalcy that feel very true for a mourning family, or intriguing hints of things to come like Rosemary’s first reaction to seeing Apple Bloom.”  Present Perfect agreed.  “The emotional drain of the situation comes through in the writing; never is it forced, and that alone would make this worth reading,” he said.  “But taking the Apples’ greatest loss and turning it into an opportunity to bond with another pony suffering her own loss is a fantastic idea.  We get to see grief from multiple sides, and how it can bring people closer together.”

And that wasn’t all that curators praised.  “It is backed by some wonderful characterization, powerful drama, and very interesting tidbits of worldbuilding which really help elevate the story,” Soge said.  AugieDog, not normally a fan of perspective leaps, was even impressed by that: “Given the subject matter, I find the uncertain and wandering perspective very effective,” he said.  “The way we don’t get a single character name till we’re a dozen paragraphs into the story makes the opening very distancing, and it just plain fits.  Later, when the POV hops, it’s like the story’s opening up along with the characters. And having the last section be from Apple Bloom’s POV? Just right.”  All in all, as Present Perfect said, “this is a really good use of the show characters, not to mention the Sad tag.”

Read on for our author interview, in which miss-cyan discusses dog yards, Equestrian ladies, and yan seeing.
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