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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 VII · 6:15pm Sep 17th, 2015

Now that I'm back to reasonable hours, my fears of not keeping up with reviews have been mostly alleviated. It's so nice to know I can stop worrying about my regular schedules, no?

In similar news, my brainstorming for No Heroes: Beyond the Everfree is proceeding rapidly, and in a few days – a week tops – I intend to start going around asking for some help with the overall plot. I'm really eager to get started on this, it feels like forever since I was able to work on multiple stories! All this time I've been frustrated with my work, and at last I know why; writing on multiple stories kept each one fresh. Can't wait to get started.

But enough of that. Reviews!

Stories for This 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)

Rating System

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

I picked this one out due to simple curiosity. The idea of Twilight living past her friends is no new one, but I think this is the first story I saw in which she was being actively haunted by them. There may be others out there, but I don’t know of them. And with that alone, you already know exactly what Ghosts of Harmony is about: Twilight finds herself being haunted by the ghost of Rainbow Dash and decides to science her back into a physical form.

The first thing I note about this story is that it’s pacing is poor. The story jumps instantly into the situation and the solution at a breakneck pace. The second thing I note is a blatant overabundance of dialogue. Using dialogue to run a story is fine, but Forthwith made no attempt whatsoever to support the dialogue with narrative, which made the whole thing feel like it was moving too fast, to say nothing for the absence of emotion.

Above all else, I think the story could have been expanded. I get that Forthwith made this as a spur-of-the-moment thing, which provides some leeway, but taking a little more time to develop things would have made this far better than what it is. In its current form, Ghosts feels more like an attempt at comedy and silliness than a slice of life.

The story isn’t bad, mind you. It just… didn’t live up to my expectations. I went in thinking one thing would happen and left with something completely different. As such, my rating isn’t as high as it probably could be.

Bookshelf: Not Bad

If ever I read a story that gave me mixed results, it’s this one. There are some things that I loved about it and other things that I hated, and the distribution is about even.

Letters is told in three parts, and those three parts come at us without much direction. First, we have Trixie in the present, travelling in the frozen north with some some friends she met on her journey to find the End of the World. Then, we have Twilight, who just received Trixie’s letters about the journey a year after the fact. Not getting the full picture and worried that Trixie is doing something foolish, Twilight decides to follow in her hoofsteps. Lastly, we have the events of a year ago, in which Trixie makes the decision to begin her journey.

This formatting stinks. I think the whole thing would have been infinitely better if alexmagnet had completely skipped the flashback chapters. If he wanted us to see everything that Trixie had gone through in the past, then he should have made that into its own book. Having the past events thrown in with the current takes away all the drama and interest from those chapters because it’s already clear that Trixie will make it out of everything just fine. In addition, leaving all the past events out and letting Twilight discover things firsthand would have heightened Trixie’s image and made for a more captivating mysteriousness. These details just don’t seem necessary. In fact, I’d say the chapters focusing on past events were the part I liked least about the story, not because of their content but because they greatly reduce the overall impact of Trixie’s feats as discovered by Twilight.

Okay, got that off my chest. It’s been sitting there for a while.

Then there’s the writing style. Grammar errors and typos are abundant, with comma splices being the most egregious. Tons of highly repetitive lines, needless extra information, redundant saidisms, confusing PoV shifts. If I had to choose one word to describe all these errors combined into a single story constantly, it would be “amateur.” The good news is that I know alexmagnet has improved since writing this story, but that doesn’t make this one any easier to read.

Then we have a few weak decisions in terms of plot planning. For example, foreshadowing. Having your characters abruptly start talking about drakes for no reason whatsoever right before the creatures make their first appearance? You’re doing it wrong. Having Twilight discover a coin belonging to seaponies right before said seaponies make their appearance in the story? Talk about convenient. I admit this may be considered subjective, but hinting at something right before it actually happens is a weak means of foreshadowing. Dropping hints ten or fifteen chapters ago – or perhaps right at the beginning in the case of the seapony coin – would have been far more effective and impressive in my mind.

Then we add some unusual and strangely illogical decisions on the part of the cast. The most obvious of these is when Twilight decides that, instead of reading all the letters Trixie sent her looking for clues, she decides to leave the vast majority unopened and begin her quest. I gather that someone must have noted this in the comments, because there’s one part of the story where Applejack, Rarity and Spike question Twilight on this and she comes up with some half-assed excuse for why she not only didn’t do it, but still wouldn’t. It was a moment of her being completely out of character and making nonsensical choices for no reason whatsoever – except perhaps to shut some commenters up.

Then we have a random chimera battle, which exists for no reason I can see except to provide a little action. I would much prefer that these things serve a greater purpose, but perhaps that’s just me.

With all the bad stuff, there’s still plenty of good stuff to get through. alexmagnet’s worldbuilding is fascinating, giving us just enough detail to make us believe there’s a larger world out there, but just a small enough amount of detail to be believable from the different characters’ perspectives. The imagery he’s conceived – Drakkenguard, Frostvale, Hoofington – paints some nice pictures and makes everything about as clear as can be. While I cringed at a few blatant ripoffs from common stories (“Queen Under The Mountain?”), much of the universe is interesting and creative.

Despite the delivery of the story being rather haphazard, it’s still a good story. Trixie’s struggles and steady growth is believable and real, even if her jump from loathing Twilight to liking her seemed abrupt. Twilight and Co’s search for Trixie is also interesting as they steadily discover more and more of what she’s been up to lately, even if the impact was deadened considerably by the reader already knowing it ahead of time.

The characters are interesting, albeit a touch too predictable. There were times when I got a distinct fantasy feel, something akin to The Lord of the Rings in how the characters behaved. Sometimes they do and say things that, by our standards, don’t make a lot of sense, but then I think about certain characters throughout the epic stories like The Odyssey and Gilgamesh and think I see what alexmagnet was going for. How many of you listened to Théoden in LoTR refuse to come to Gondor’s aid and thought he was being ridiculous? Yeah, you’ll get that kind of feeling here every now and then.

If you’re the kind of reader who gets hung up by poor writing or bad plot direction, then this story is not for you. But if you can look past the flaws and focus on the story, you’ll be in for a treat. alexmagnet has crafted an interesting world, and I personally look forward to seeing the sequel.

Bookshelf: Worth It

After reading the exemplary story A War of Words, I of course added The Night Guard to the sequels list of my review queue for expedited reading. What I didn’t expect was for Georg to contact me directly requesting just such a review, which allowed me to put the story in either the sequel or requests queue, whichever was more expedient (it turned out to be the request queue). The Night Guard – Night Mares is the direct sequel to A War of Words, in which Georg explores the consequences of Luna’s request that mares be inducted into the Royal Guard as her personal protectors.

In the story, we follow four different but determined mares as they cut through the chauvinistic expectations of the previously 100% male Royal Guard’s academy process. I say ‘cut through’ for two reasons: one being that they blasted through it in easy defiance of all the expectations of the stuffy, high-muzzled superior officers; and two being that Georg wrote through it like Celestia tears through a birthday cake. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the material, I couldn’t help but think that the author should have slowed down a touch in this area. Aside from Thermal and Grace, we didn’t really get the time necessary to know the characters. Oh, we know about them – where they come from and all that – but I felt that Banehammer and Rose could have used a little more focus than what they got. Thermal and Grace, however, were given plenty of well-deserved attention.

For the most part, I found the plot pretty good. It did have a couple hiccups, though. For example, the return of the Crystal Empire occurs throughout the events, and while it is made a secondary major topic I feel Georg skirted it in the wrong way. It’s clear that by the end of the story Sombra has been dealt with and Cadance is in control, but nopony in the Royal Guard is actually made privy to this fact. It’s sort of… casually ignored. On the one hand, it’s pretty clear that Celestia and Luna planned it to be that way. On the other, I fail to see why keeping their highest-ranking military officials unaware of just what transpired after the fact does for anyone. With this level of non-existent information, it’s no wonder the Royal Guard isn’t prepared to deal with anything whatsoever.

The second thing that bugged me was Celestia’ interpretation of the situation. After doing plenty of examination, she concludes about ⅔ through the story that her sister is ‘losing the war’ in terms of getting mares accepted into the ranks. This is in direct contradiction to everything the story has been showing us up to that point: the regular ranks of the guard have been rapidly adjusting and approving of the presence of the mares, the leaders who can’t see the light are being appropriately dealt with, and many of the highest-ranking officers who were most adamantly against the whole notion have begun turning around (most notably, the main character Commander Peaks). Either Celestia’s choice of information sources is horribly flawed or there’s something I’m missing. Or perhaps the author just made a mistake? Regardless, Celestia’s conclusions at that point in the story left me miffed.

Then there’s the one topic that was on my mind from the very beginning: if Equestria is a mare-dominant society (and there is every indication that it is), why is this story’s primary topic a topic at all? I grant that we never (to my recollection) see a female Royal Guard in the show, but it still seems like a strangely out of place situation.

Despite all these ‘issues,’ which may or may not be a big deal depending upon your outlook, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It was fun, amusing at times, largely well-written, and (when a certain blue colt is involved) just a little cute. The characters are interesting, the relationships well-built, and the plot generally well designed (albeit a touch too fast). While not as good as its predecessor, The Night Guard thoroughly entertained.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good

Say hello to my very first Patreon Accelerated Review, as requested by the author. Ciphers is one of those intensely challenging stories, in that we all know what we want to happen – and we all tell ourselves should happen – but are faced with a reality far colder than our hopes and dreams. This story reminds me of two others: first, Obselescence’s Upon Reflection, in which Twilight considers the consequences of alternate universes, but only because of how badly I wanted things to run around; and second, my own Frequency, which has been both praised to high heaven and blasted to the depths of Tartarus for denying the reader that which is so desperately desired.

Ciphers tells of Fleur de Lis on the day of her wedding, arranged, prepped and designed entirely against her will by her domineering, image-driven parents. As she reflects on her regrets, she is met by the stallion she loves, who gives her an opportunity to escape. The big clincher of the entire story is whether or not she can agree to do so.

On the one hand, I must compliment GMP for having the balls to make the decisions he did. This story, despite having subject matter that is as old as dirt, is emotionally effective and plays on the reader’s desires very well. At the same time, I find Fleur ultimate decision to be rather poor. Or, to be more accurate, it’s not exactly what she chose to do so much as why she chose to do it. She literally gave herself all the ammunition she needed to make the choice for herself, then promptly ignored it. This, of course, reflects poorly on her self-esteem and will, but then with parents like hers this shouldn’t be a surprise. So even though I hate the choice she made and why she made it, given the overall personality and manner of the character I think it fits well.

So now I think I have a good idea as to how the readers of Frequency felt.

This story is a hard one, but a good one. It’s well written, emotionally evocative, filled with nice imagery and has great characterization, regardless of what you might think of the characters themselves. But if you’re interested in happy stories, avoid this like the plague. For my part, I am pleased in my imminent frustration.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good

After reading the emotional ride that was Born in Equestria, I of course had to place its sequel into my short list for reviewing. First continues the universe Winston has created, his serious choice of subject matter and his typical style of writing. In subject matter, it’s pretty good. In writing style? Ouch.

First follows a conversation between Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle, taking place a few months after the events of Born in Equestria. Basically, Rainbow has been thinking a lot about death lately and has asked Twilight if it’s possible to see the future. In spite of Twilight refusing, the question still opens a can of worms that forces Rainbow to admit to some secrets she’s been keeping about how she views her friends, her past and life in general. It’s both philosophical and emotional and full of interesting conclusions. Also, I can see this story being an effective bridge between Born in Equestria and Seashell.

But oh Goddess, the writing!

Winston seems incapable of shifting styles, and that’s proving a big problem for me. It’s a certain psychological element; different styles are appropriate for different stories, and the effective use of those styles can make a huge difference in a story’s impact. In the case of Seashell, Winston used a slow, thoughtful style to reflect the careful considerations of a pony through her diary. It was incredibly effective. In the same way, Winston used this method to translate Rainbow’s growing troubles in Born in Equestria, but stumbled a bit because he didn’t adjust for the altered viewpoint – i.e., Rainbow’s direct perspective instead of journal entries.

In First, Winston takes this mistake to its extreme, maintaining almost exactly the same style through dialogue. When you have a paragraph that is 323 words long and only 7 of them are narrative, something is very wrong. This is the easiest way to take whatever is being said and drop it into emotional numbness, and Winston does it almost constantly. Narrative is a tool to be used in conjunction with dialogue to bring out an emotional impact and really drive home the power of what is being said, and it’s a tool Winston chose to ignore completely. I should have been in tears because of this story, but instead I was just “Oh, that’s really sad.”

And I’m wholly serious about the tears thing. Rainbow is bringing up some heavy stuff, stuff that is evocative and painful just knowing it exists. This kind of thing should have been a powerful blow on the emotional scale, it has everything it needs to be so. It just didn’t pull it off because of how it was put down, and that’s a damn shame.

In the end, my view for this story is mixed. The topic of discussion – the whole idea behind the story – is thought-provoking and interesting. At the same time, the unfortunate choice of writing style has a huge negative impact on my impression of it overall. I think the subject matter is strong enough to warrant a middle-ground rating. If Winston can learn to develop his style and adapt to different storytelling situations, I think he’d be far more established than he is at present.

...I’m still gonna read the sequel. I want to see where this universe is going, and if Winston might have improved already.

Bookshelf: Worth It

Stories for Next Week:

Facebook Buys Ponyville by Eakin
All the Mortal Remains by Cold in Gardez
Why Earth Ponies Don't Fly. by spideremblembrony
Forever Faithful by Konseiga (Re-Read)
Ghost Lights by Winston (Sequel to Seashell)

Liked these reviews? Check out some others:

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
Paul's Thursday Reviews VI

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Comments ( 2 )

Thank you very much for the review! I'm glad you enjoyed the story. :)

I'll put in my positive two cents on Letters From a Friend as well. It's one of the few stories that I would check for updates on, and read that day even if I had other things to do. It has wonderful ideas in it, and that is what drives us to a story. Grammar helps; a good story with bad grammar is readable, but a bad story with good grammar is forgetable.

As for First, it's very much Winston, all the way through. He's got a particular pleasant style that's heavy on the descriptions (about the inverse of my normal style) that frequently trips me up when I go charging through a story the way I normally do. I like about everything he's done, even though I need to slow down when reading them.

The Night Guard - Night Mares has gotten more flack than any of my other stories, which is fair, because in addition to my normal flaws, I rubbed a lot of rutabagas in it. I covered most of the points in the Author's Notes for TNG-NM, but I didn't cover the 'Crystal Empire' plot complication that popped up in the middle of the story. In short, I wanted to show how the Royal Guard gets short-sheeted every time the M6 are sent to deal with some world-ending disaster, but I did not deal with the immediate aftermath. I'm trying to excuse that plot twist under the excuse that what Celestia was trying to hammer home was that she had the situation under control, and the best thing the Royal Guard could do in this case was nothing, no matter how hard that was to not-do. And since doing nothing would make a very dull chapter or two, that's why I switched up the pace and let a few days flow by at that point.

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