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Technical Writer from the U.S.A.'s Deep South. Writes horsewords, and reviews both independently and for Seattle's Angels. New reviews posted every Thursday! Writing Motto: "Go Big or Go Home!"

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Paul's Thursday Reviews The Ist! · 11:20am Jul 30th, 2015

And so it begins! From here on in, I'm going to publish my reviews on Thursdays. I'm coming to really like Thursdays, as they are by far the easiest of my work days. Usually I'm done in 3-4 hours, and the only reason I'm not out of the office faster than that is because of a meeting we have to attend at 9:30 that takes up around an hour of our time. At any rate, Thursday is essentially my 'catch up' day, so let me get started, no?

Stories for This Week:

The Reign of Princess Dinky the Cute by Rodinga
Born in Equestria by Winston
Carol by JawJoe (Request)
A War of Words – The Opening of the Guard by Georg
Herostratic by Dark Avenger

Rating System

Why Haven't You Read These Yet?: 1
Pretty Good: 1
Worth It: 2
Not Bad: 0
None: 0

Take two parts horror, five parts adventure and three parts cuteness and you have The Brief Reign of Princess Dinky the Cute.

This is one of those stories for which I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t leave disappointed. It follows Octavia and Vinyl as they try to undo the unintentional but creepy spread of power by Dinky Doo Hooves. Dinky is in Canterlot being foalsat by a pre-coronation Twilight and, by sheer luck, gets in the way of Octavia’s audition for the next Grand Galloping Gala. Celestia attempts to comfort the foal and Dinky unknowingly casts a mental manipulation spell on her in the process. Next thing Octavia knows, all of Canterlot is bowing to “Her Adorableness” and saluting with “Adore Dinky.” Made immune by her own negative experience with the foal, Octavia rushes to find anypony who can put an end to the madness before it spreads all across Canterlot.

I’ve made no secret of my discomfort regarding mind control, and I have to admit that the first chapter was downright terrifying to me. I know that’s probably not what Rodinga was after, but to be frank, I don’t find brainwashing amusing in any form. The fact that Celestia was first to go only made the situation worse. Yet, as things moved on, the humor begins taking hold and I recognized the story for what it would be. The meta-jokes were a nice touch in every instance.

Despite my distaste for the background topic, I must acknowledge this as some pleasant, light-hearted fare. Octavia’s and Vinyl’s sensibility in a world of ignorance was fun to watch, and their occasional back-and-forth teasing made their relationship entertaining. I gave a silent cheer when Luna made her appearance (Once again proving her sister’s superior. Take that, you sun-worshipping heretics!), and although she did occasionally use the Royal Canterlot Voice it was sporadic enough to not be a big issue.

This story was well-written, amusing and fun. I highly recommend it.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good

Stories typically hold a bit of the author’s voice. Many of them do this unintentionally, but there are some that are direct and purpose-made to bring something out into the open. Born in Equestria is one of those stories. Written by Winston as a means of communicating his feelings about war, its aftermath and the difference between the civilian and the soldier, Born in Equestria is about dealing with the post-traumatic stress after coming home. Summed up simply, Rainbow Dash has spent the last three years on the front lines of a war against the griffons and, upon coming home, realizes that things will never be the same for her.

Right away, the change in Rainbow is blatant to the reader. At the same time, Winston’s writing style is also apparent; it’s the same slow, quiet contemplation that fills Seashell. The thing is, Winston’s trademark writing style doesn’t fit Rainbow Dash’s personality at all. It paints her as quiet, thoughtful and reserved – in other words, the complete opposite of how she is in the show. This will seem jarring to some until they realize that’s the whole point.

There’s no question that Rainbow’s pathetic mental state is heartbreaking; just watching her try to fit in amongst her friends is a saddening experience. In the end, the tragedy gains a bittersweet conclusion with a sign of hope, but it still left me wondering if things would ever be the same.

Yet even though the story was good, I took issue with a lot of curiosities throughout. For example, Rainbow just spent three years at war, and we are given very little information about said war. We just know that the griffons didn’t stand a chance and nopony understands what Rainbow went through. So… where did all the other soldiers go? Are we expected to believe that Rainbow is the only pony in Ponyville who went to the war?

What about the princesses? Twilight acts as if the war was a simple thing of little consequence (and let’s ignore the fact that this is fairly out of character for Twilight), but as a princess shouldn’t she have had some administrative role in the matter? Even if she wasn’t commanding soldiers or forming military strategy, the war still has to be maintained at home and there’s nopony better suited to the logistical task. Twilight’s involvement is completely ignored to such a degree that it suggests she spent all her time in Ponyville attending to the library in blissful ignorance, and I find that a hard pill to swallow. What of Celestia’s role in the war, or Luna’s, or even Cadance’s? I would have expected Rainbow to bring them up at some point in her rambling thoughts.

Then there’s the matter of Rainbow’s friends. We get a brief conversation with Pinkie and then some dealings with Rarity. There’s nothing at all from Applejack or Fluttershy; they don’t even get any dialogue. With AJ’s ‘friendly rival’ relationship to her and Fluttershy’s ‘oldest friend’ status, I think they would be the most concerned about Rainbow and the most active in trying to figure out what’s wrong – because no matter what Rainbow says, it was pretty obvious that something was wrong. Her entire personality had changed and I find it unlikely that this went unnoticed.

Then there’s Twilight. She gets the honor of being the centerpoint of the final chapter, and it is never more obvious that Winston is projecting than when she opens her mouth. Twilight outright states that griffons dying is not a bad thing, because it’s better that they die than ponies. This is horrendously out of character for her and killed the immersion instantly for me. Maybe it’s just my interpretation, but I took Twilight to be the kind that would value all lives regardless of race and circumstance. Rainbow Dash responds with appropriate outrage at the words of the doppleganger pretending to be her friend.

But let’s bypass that for a moment and focus on the organization of the story. Twilight came at the very end. It was her only appearance in the entire thing, and it proved one of the most important scenes in the story because it is Twilight’s involvement that finally gives Rainbow Dash a chance of recovery (apparently after she performs an exorcism on herself to get rid of whatever fake was controlling her). So where has Twilight been all this time? I can’t help but feel that if she was going to be the one to break through to Rainbow, she should have been talking to her all along. I get that reality doesn’t necessarily work that way, but I feel that the conclusion would have been much, much stronger if Twilight had been there from the very beginning rather than just at the last minute.

The last issue I had with the story is directly related to Winston’s style. Perhaps it’s just that I’m reading this after having developed a lot as a writer and reader, but I’m seeing a lot of things that don’t work quite as well as it seemed to in Seashell. Winston’s writing never becomes purple prose, but it skirts the line. On the one hand, a lot of the writing is evocative and interesting. On the other, there are times when I just wish he’d stop talking and move on. Some bits of information are stated two or three times, the description keeps going long after we’ve acquired the image, and there were times when I just started skimming. There is a time and a place for lengthy internal monologues; unfortunately, Winston seems to believe that includes all times and all places. It worked decently in Seashell, but for this story I think a bit more variety was in order.

It also really hurts the dialogue of the story when one character asks a question and you get two or three paragraphs of inner monologue before an answer forms. You’re going to have a very hard time convincing me that people can think about all that stuff in the second or two someone is willing to wait for a response.

Then we get the last chapter. Where Winston is pretty strong in the slow, thoughtful method of writing, the last chapter attempts to switch from first person to third and focuses more on dialogue, with unfortunate consequences. The narrative becomes telly to the extreme:

Twilight could tell what was happening. "It's alright," she said simply, and stroked Rainbow Dash's mane, trying to comfort her.

Lines like that had me cringing.

Simply put, Winston did a 180-degree turn in writing style and only proved that, in terms of a more typical third person narrative style, he’s got some practicing to do.

Having said all that, I still enjoyed the story. Rainbow’s situation felt real, and I admit to having shed a tear or two in the last couple chapters. For all its flaws, Born in Equestria is an interesting and thought-provoking read. I make no attempt to judge the story’s message or its potential interpretations; having never been in Winston’s shoes, I am in no position to comment. This is a story that will likely stick with me for a while.

It’s no Seashell, but it’s still worthy of attention.

Bookshelf: Worth It


By JawJoe

At last I’ve reached it, the last of the JawJoe stories I’ll be reading as part of his massive review request. It’s only fitting that I chose Carol for last, as it is entirely different from JJ’s usual choice of subject matter.

Carol is about the titular pony, an eternally grumpy unicorn mare whose gift involves the creation and manipulation of the cold. The story reminds me of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol with its introduction of a cranky old mare who hates everything to do with the Hearths Warming celebrations before moving into her having dreams about her past and present (but not the future, I note). The story has good intentions and is genuinely interesting; Carol is my kind of mare.

Carol is plagued with some of JawJoe’s trademark issues, but it also reveals his improvement in some areas. His sense of pacing has developed and he’s definitely getting better at channeling characters’ emotions, although that element still needs polishing. Regardless, it pleases me to see that JJ is capable of writing something that isn’t dark and brooding for a change, even if the main character is.

I did have a few plot-oriented questions, though. For example, it’s noted that Carol got expelled from Celestia’s school because she encased a large part of the school in ice during her graduation exam. This is patently ridiculous; why should she be expelled for an accident after spending years getting there? Considering it’s Celestia’s school, this would do nothing but earn her a degree and a warning to be more careful from now on. I wouldn’t rag on this so much if it didn’t define much of Carol’s life.

Although not as much as the domestic abuse did. Despite his best efforts, JawJoe couldn’t resist having just one scene where something dark and terrible happens in Carol’s life. I swear, it’s like JawJoe doesn’t believe in happy lives. Yet it was just one instance, and it’s not really a detractor to the story; it just bugs me that you can’t read a single JawJoe story without something like this happening, even the happier ones.

Overall, this story isn’t half as bad as the author insists. It has its flaws, enough to knock it down to the Worth It bookshelf, but they’re all common of JawJoe and, if anything, are evidence of his gradual improvement.

Bookshelf: Worth It

To say “This isn’t what I expected” would be a major understatement, and that’s a good thing. Far from your traditional story, The Opening of the Guard is told in snippets of information from a wide variety of sources collected by the Canterlot historian ranging from memos and personal letters to newspaper articles. Simple put, it reflects how Luna requests that mares be inducted into the Royal Guard, why, the rising conflict between her and Celestia started by the subject and, at last, the enactment of her request.

Stories told in this manner don’t come along often, and getting them done correctly isn’t easy. I’m happy to say that Georg did everything right. I wish I could offer some sort of criticism, but the fact is that this story is just plain fun from beginning to end. I suppose the only catch is that people who want to see royalty in a… err… ‘royal’ light will be disappointed, because this story takes all seriousness out of the lives of princesses. Even the hinted-at serious parts of the royal duties are shown with an amusing slant. Watching the castle staff struggle to put up with Celestia’s and Luna’s antics is always entertaining.

Really, in the end there’s not much to say. I had a lot of fun and can see nothing wrong with this story. It is definitely worth the time invested and I recommend it to anyone looking for a reason to smile.

Bookshelf: Why Haven’t You Read These Yet?

This is one interesting piece of fanfiction, but also a terribly unclear one. Herostratic goes in an entirely unconventional direction, having Octavia be a... something. Something otherworldly and beyond comprehension, if the first chapter is anything to go by. I'll be frank, by the end of that chapter I had absolutely no idea what was going on. The writing was great, the story being told fascinating, but that didn't change the fact that my image was no clearer at the end than it was at the beginning.

Then the second chapter hits, and it helps a lot. There is a corruption in the world, some monstrous being that roams from place to place carving destruction and death in its path, always while seeking out its counterpart which, as it just so happens, has taken on the image of Octavia. This corruption then seals itself as an irredeemable evil when it slowly and brutally kills Vinyl Scratch in order to take over her body – a scene that was nothing short of haunting.

So now we have a dark creature of unknown intent possessing the body of Vinyl and some unknowable entity that has come to be known as Octavia Melody, constantly orbiting one another in a dance of music and doom for some indefinable purpose. Despite my lingering confusion as to where this is going or, more importantly, who will suffer from it, I am thoroughly enjoying the premise so far.

When I saw that Herostratic was incomplete but still in my RiL, I was confused. After reading the story, I now realize that it had been labelled ‘complete’ once and was later switched to ‘incomplete’ when the author decided to continue beyond the first chapter. I’m glad he did, because the first chapter alone was too nebulous and unclear. I’m all for stories leaving questions behind, but I can’t help thinking that first chapter took it too far. With this second chapter, I am far more satisfied.

Naturally, I can’t assign a proper rating to Herostratic until Dark Avenger actually finishes it. That said, I am really looking forward to it.

Stories for Next Week:

Collaborators by Baal Bunny
Appletheosis by DuncanR
Seashell by Winston (Requested by Rayvinne)
Shipping Goggles by AbsoluteAnonymous (Re-read)
Sizable Differences by Karrakaz (Sequel – Growing Pains)

Liked these reviews? Check out some others:

Paul's Tuesday Reviews I – "I'm Not Dead" Edition
Paul's Monday Reviews XIV
Paul's Monday Reviews XV
Paul's Monday Reviews XVI
Paul's Monday Reviews XVII
Paul's Monday Reviews XVIII
Paul's tuesday Reviews II – "Where did the Time Go?" Edition
Paul's Monday Reviews XIX
Paul's Monday Reviews XX
Paul's Monday Reviews XXI – "Final" Edition

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Comments ( 8 )

Can I just say I love these reviews

I'm glad I wasn't the only one lost by Herostratic. Dash The Stampede gave me a pretty good idea of what it's about though (apparently mostly confirmed by DA himself), so if you're more curious, talk to DTS. It certainly helped me appreciate it a little more.

*Adds A War of Words to RL*

Yes, yes you can.

I am curious. Do you have any idea if Herostratic will be updating anytime in the near future? Or, Saints be praised, actually finished? Because if so I'd rather wait for the conclusion and see if I can figure it out.

Thanks for the review. I can't promise that the third chapter will bring closure, since this is technically a "side story" to a universe made up by someone else, and the entire backstory for the characters stretches way beyond what can be fit into 3 chapters.

That said, I'm glad it was an interesting experience, and I'll try to deliver the conclusion soon. :raritywink:

This story was well-written, amusing and fun. I highly recommend it.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good


Looks like a good batch of stories this time, though! Agreed wrt "A War Of Words", which is also in the Royal Canterlot Library. Will have to give "Herostratic" a look once the Writeoffs calm down.

Thanks Paul! In a fit of hopeless self-promotion, I would like to point out that War of Words was also featured in the Royal Canterlot Library. Although I was unable to write the sequel, The Night Guard - Night Mares, in the same format as this one, I think it came out fairly well too. (Although with more critics.)

I'm glad you brought Born in Equestria to my attention, I had no idea the guy who'd written Seashell had another fic. For some reason this one never registered.

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