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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 VI · 2:39pm Sep 10th, 2015

As of this review post, we are into the big stories. I have a lot of review sessions coming up with stories going beyond 100,000 or even 200,000 words, and it's getting harder and harder to keep up as a result. I'm still several weeks ahead of schedule, but if I keep getting these big stories I may lose my lead. In summation, there may come a time within a month or two where I'm forced to only release reviews as the sets are completed, rather than weekly. Here's hoping that doesn't happen, because I like being able to say that I update regularly.

But enough of that gloom, I've got reviews to offer! And we've got a pretty good selection overall this week.

Stories for This Week:

Arthurian—The Black King by Wellspring
The Dusk Guard: Rise by Viking ZX
Coming Home by Dash the Stampede (Requested by Dash the Stampede)
You Got Me by Tramper (Re-Read)
Goodbye, Boneless by scoots2 (Prequel to Good Morning, Beautiful)

Rating System

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

What tales do we conjure with our imaginations, that so many great beings are made whole and beloved in spite of their treachery?

Arthurian—The Black King is a recreation of an Equestrian novelette written by a collector of stories named Whisperwind. The story, written in a form of English representative of medieval tales, is that of Sir Sombra de Onyx; his birth, his life and his downfall. Few figures in Equestrian lore have been written about more than King Sombra, whose history has been recounted over and over again by many an author with many different interpretations. It would be safe to say that the concept is tired.

This story gives it new life.

Written in a semi-historical context, Arthurian—The Black King combines court intrigue, a star-crossed love affair, lives of chivalry and fantastical imagery inspired by the myths of many lands. It is, in a word, brilliant. From Sombra’s birth by the world-serpent Ouroboros, his travels to defeat the Quetzalcotl, his quest to battle the Sphinx to his first meeting with Celestia and Luna, this is a story rife with imagination and flare. Wellspring has created in Sombra a hero cursed by his birth, damned by his sense of chivalry and beloved in his tragedy.

And let us not forget the writing style, which is at once unusual and profoundly appropriate. At first I thought I was seeing typos and mistakes from an author whose native language isn’t English. As time went on – and I read the afterword – I realized that what I was seeing didn’t include mistakes. Or, perhaps more accurate, what I saw was intentional mistakes. Wellspring writes the story in a fashion to suggest that it was penned (quilled?) by a pony living in an age where the language was slightly different from what we know. This suspicion is maintained by the regularity of the supposed errors and their use, which instead speaks of a slight shift in grammar. Seeing this as a nod to potential Equestrian history, I am impressed both by the idea and the fact that the author managed to maintain the formatting throughout the entire story.

Even the plot errors are commendable. Even though there are a number of curious plot holes, these are treated not as mistakes by the author but as mistakes in the history. Some of the plot holes are even directly addressed by the pony author Whisperwind on the odd nature of the story, and later targeted by the last pony to have the story published, Twilight Sparkle. It is then that you realize that the odd quirks of the story are not author mistakes, but intentionally put in to be representative of real-world mythologies and legends that so often skip details or simply leave events unexplained.

This story is thorough, evocative and downright brilliant. It now holds the reins as one of the best stories I have ever read on this site, perhaps the best. For your own sake, read it. I couldn’t possibly recommend it more.

Bookshelf: Why Haven’t You Read These Yet?

This story required a whole two weeks to get through.

I don’t mind at all.

The Dusk Guard: Rise is the very first story Viking ZX offers the FIMFiction community, and if it’s a sign of things to come then consider me interested. The story takes on one of the more common premises in MLP fanfiction: a new team of ponies, all OCs, are formed to confront whatever evil forces the Mane Six and the other guards can’t. I’m sure most writers get this idea in their heads at some point or another; even I wrote a four-book story centered on the concept. But if the concept in general isn’t original, the delivery of this story is rock solid.

To begin with, the characters are genuinely interesting. All of them. Some aren’t as eye-catching as others – poor Dawn Triage in particular could use some growth – but as a whole the personalities are interesting and likeable. This is one of those stories where you have grown attached to the characters before you’re even halfway through and genuinely worried about their plight. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish, but Viking ZX pulled it off. Almost every character has a visible growth, plotline and goal that makes them worth investing in.

Now let’s take a look at one of the most underused skills in writing: the plot clue. By the end of the first part of the story, we have a mystery begging to be solved. About halfway through the second part of the story (at the diplomatic dinner), I thought I knew who was responsible, if not why. By Chapter 8 of the third book, I knew my theory had been proven correct and wanted to slap Hunter over the head for not seeing what was right in front of him.

I believe that reading is just as much a skill as writing, and I also believe that writers should attempt to make the reader exercise that skill. Viking ZX did that in spades by offering a constant stream of clues, some extremely subtle, others in-your-face, leading the reader directly to the appropriate conclusion even as it leads the characters on. I figured it out just a little earlier than our heroes, but I gather that the truth surprised some people. This is precisely why I would recommend the story to people: if you don’t figure it out before the cast, you need to brush up on your reading skills, and if people are always correctly guessing your plot, you need this to brush up on how to lead the reader on. Either way, I give it a high score in a department where most writers either fail horribly or don’t even bother to try.

And on a similar note, the plot development is spot on. Every chapter gives something interesting and new to keep you focused on the story, even if it is something small. Be it dealing with Nova Beam’s secret fears, Steel’s ineptitude towards relationships or Hunter’s constant struggle to solve the mystery, I never grew bored. Indeed, some chapters are genuinely exciting as the stakes stack up and the threats build. Combine this with some pitch-perfect worldbuilding, particularly towards Griffon culture, and you’ve got some stellar plot.

And let us not forget the action. Writing combat for ponies (and other races) when the mind is so heavily accustomed to human anatomy is no small ordeal. Some people try it and fail horribly, whereas others can pull it off without a hitch. In my case, I tend to avoid the details to spare myself the embarrassment. Viking ZX chose to go the detailed route, and does so with great skill. Most of the actions are clear and effective, and I only got confused on a few occasions. The fighting can sometimes be intense – in some cases even a little unbelievable – but they are a delightful romp compared to what normally appears. The closest thing I can compare it to is the awesome combat scenes of DSNesmith’s timeless epic The Age of Wings and Steel. Wings is superior in this area, but the comparison feels good to me and, frankly, I can think of no finer way to compliment a story’s combat scenes.

Now despite how great this story is, no story is perfect. The Dusk Guard: Rise suffers from a lack of editing, with an unpleasantly large number of incomplete sentences, typos, awkward sentence structure and generally bad grammar. I don’t know how many times I saw a sentence with a period where a comma was supposed to be. which was really annoying. Another element that caused trouble was that Viking ZX chose to write the story in the highly explanatory style. I like the style in general – despite the naysayers – but Viking ZX falls into some common traps as a result. Sometimes he’ll repeat the same information we just read a chapter or even a few paragraphs ago, or he’ll go into describing something that the attentive reader already knows. One of the more common traps is repetitive word choice, where the writer ends up using the same word two or three times in a paragraph-long description because, after a while, it becomes hard to find new words to say the same thing.

In other words, Viking ZX needs to refine his style to avoid its common problems and get a proper pre-reader/editor.

Despite these issues, The Dusk Guard: Rise is a story worthy of high praise. Even if the writing isn’t the best it could be, this story is still as great as anyone can ask for. I enjoyed it from beginning to end and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great adventure.

Bookshelf: Why Haven’t you Read These Yet?

A friend of mine, Dash the Stampede has edited a few stories for me and is usually quite helpful. I was more than happy to review one of his stories, even if I was wary. Coming Home was Dash’s entry to a Writeoff competition with the prompt “Closing Time,” and it made 13th in the contest (out of 36). Told from the perspective of Smarty Pants, it tells the story of a doll that has waited an eternity to fulfill its life destiny.

This story is, for the most part, really good. Dash really drags out Smarty Pant’s situation with vivid descriptions and emotional pacing, giving us a nice image of not only the doll, but of the doll’s creator. Smarty Pant’s hope and repeated disappointment as child after child ignores it is clear and impactful. And of course, the arrival of Twilight is a joy to read.

There are a couple catches to this. First, the opening felt a bit long-winded. I felt as if the first few paragraphs were just repeating the same thing two or three times, which left for a poor first impression. Second, this story is not for those who like heavy details. Even so, for the length and the overall quality, this is a pretty good piece.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good

You Got Me

By Tramper
Previous Rating: Pretty Good

Ah, this story. I remembered it well, and that should be all you need to know. But in case it isn’t…

You Got Me features Gilda reflecting on her lost friendship with Rainbow Dash. Gilda’s fate is a common topic for writers, and this story takes on a lot of common ideas: Gilda being nobility, her attempts to reconnect with her friend, her reasons for why she was such a prick, even her ultimate career in the military (and that should be all you need to know where this is going).

My first impression with the story is annoyance. I read about Gilda reflecting on everything and get frustrated because the whole thing is one massive monologue. I don’t like monologuing stories, they just aren’t realistic. Am I really supposed to believe that Rainbow had absolutely nothing to say this entire time? Maybe she didn’t – maybe she just let Gilda get it out – but without being able to see her and her reactions I have no way to ascertain this, and so I end up assuming the worst.

Despite that, this is still a powerful piece. Learning who Gilda is, what Rainbow Dash has always been to her, and the history leading up to the moment of this story is a treat. Put on top of that some great worldbuilding and you’ve got a story that’s more than worth your time. It doesn’t really pick up until about halfway through, but when it does it does it right.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good

After Good Morning, Beautiful ended feeling incomplete, I decided it would be best to examine the other stories in the small series. That started with the original, Goodbye, Boneless, a story in which, immediately after the defeat of Tirek, Cheese gets a letter from Pinkie revealing the loss of Boneless. Cheese then spends the entire story contemplating not only the loss of his childhood friend, but also reflecting upon his relationship with Pinkie Pie. His conclusion? He loves her.

This story is… well, an odd duck. Or perhaps an odd rubber chicken? Regardless, it doesn’t have much in the way of flow, due to a lot of scene breaks of questionable value and Cheese’s meandering thoughts. He feels less grounded as a character in this story than he did in Good Morning, Beautiful. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but it does make the story a little tricky to read.

It’s hard to peg down my thoughts with this particular story. Is it great, or is it just so-so? On the one hand, I enjoyed the overall characterization of Cheese and the continuous notes on his (and Pinkie’s) abilities. On the other, the copious number of small segments really hurts the story’s readability and pushes in more confusion than comprehension. Had scoots2 wrote this as one long segment instead of a bunch of little parts then the story would have been loads better, or so I feel.

Given my uncertainty, but knowing where this story leads in the sequel, I think I’m okay with it in the overall. As a standalone, however, I think it could have been better.

Bookshelf: Worth It

Stories for Next Week:

The Ghosts of Harmony by Forthwith
Letters from a Friend at the End of the World by alexmagnet
The Night Guard – Night Mares by Georg (Requested by Georg)
Ciphers by Grand_Moff_Pony (Patreon Accelerated Review!)
First by Winston (Sequel to Born in Equestria)

Liked these reviews? Check out some others:

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
Paul's Thursday Reviews The Ist!
Paul's Thursday Reviews II
Paul's Thursday Reviews III
Paul's Thursday Reviews IV
Paul's Belated Thursday Reviews I
Paul's Thurday Reviews V

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Comments ( 12 )

I'm guessing you already have a big 'ol list of stories to read, but if you'd consider a suggestion, you could do worse that reading Another Day, by wYvern.

I'd be very interested to see what works for you and what doesn't.

You're right, my story list is pretty big, on the order of hundreds. However, I do have a system that bumps requests into their own special list to hurry them along, and that's where Another Day is going to go. That still means the review won't pop up until November 12th, but that's months (if not years) ahead of where it would be otherwise.

3382438 Cool beans. I like it when a reviewer has solid opinions – or perhaps I should say clearly reasoned ones – and it's always fun to see said opinions collide with something I'm interested in. And of course, I wouldn't suggest anything I didn't think you'd get something out of :)


I know you wouldn't. I must admit, it'll be interesting to get your reaction to whatever my opinion of the story ends up being. I shall look forward to this.

Author Interviewer

The poor editing in Dusk Guard is not, for the record, my fault! I only read the first three chapters. :V

To be honest, I didn't realize you had helped in any capacity. I didn't even check to see if the story had editors/pre-readers in the first place.

Author Interviewer

It's the story that caused me to retire an EQD pre-reader handle! :D

It wasn't a good experience. :/

I literally just finished The Black King the day before you posted this, and I agree it was absolutely wonderful. I really wish the editing had been a bit better, though--when a story has a bunch of unintentional errors, it makes it hard for the deliberate ones to really pop.

Still, it's the kind of story that's right up my alley, and the edition notes at the end made for a beautiful meta-denouement.

Hmmm. Well looks like I got a couple more for the ole RiL. I'm very behind on my reading. :twilightblush:

Thanks for that review, always glad to get some opinions on my stuff. It makes me happy to know that it was memorable.

Alas, I know where you're coming from with the monologue-style being a problem. I got inspired by Dimfann's picture and it felt appropriate to write it in such a manner, but that isn't all that good. It's too long for a dying monologue and it might actually be too coherent considering the speaker is probably choking up some blood.

I remember that during my writing of it I wondered whether I should make Rainbow Dash appear at all. I figured that giving her the final scene would alleviate some of the problems with her lacking presence throughout the rest of the piece.

My main intention, though, was too get as much world-building and emotion done in one session as possible, which I guess worked out. I'm actually rather proud of the history presented in it, despite the griffons having ended up vastly different on the show than what I imagined. Eh, the perks of fanfiction I guess.

When I find the time, I might check up on the other stories, epecially Black King looks intriguing.

Thanks for taking a look at Rise!

And someday I'll get around to that revision. Or at least some grammatical editing. At this rate, probably shortly before I'm dead.

Thanks for the review on Arthurian–The Black King! :twilightsmile:

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