• Member Since 16th May, 2013
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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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  • Thursday
    Paul's Thursday Reviews CCXII

    Wow, last weekend was a busy one. Family gathering was relatively small this year, for obvious reasons. Although I must emphasize the “relative” part; usually when there’s a big holiday like the 4th, we end up with 20 people or more present. This weekend was “only” nine, including me, my parents, and my brother’s family of six. That’s right, six. That boy is a glutton for punishment, I swear to

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    8 comments · 285 views
  • 1 week
    Paul's Thursday Reviews CCXI

    My preliminary editing of the original fiction version of Guppy Love is all but finished! Soon I will have the entire story stored in GDocs and ready for prereading, which means it’s about time I started really looking for prereaders. I intend to ask the prereaders of the MLP version to come back to evaluate the changes, but I’d like to get a few others to offer a fresh perspective. I’m

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    16 comments · 314 views
  • 2 weeks
    Paul's Thursday Reviews CCX

    Howdy, folks. I’m afraid I don’t have much to report this week. Well, other than the very real possibility of maintaining 2,000 words/day of writing this month. Feels like I haven’t pulled something like that off in ages. Pays that I’m finally cutting down on the video games again. It comes in phases.

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    4 comments · 329 views
  • 3 weeks
    Paul's Thursday Reviews CCIX

    The past week has been one of highs and lows. The brief crash has led to me being two days behind on my reading schedule. The good news is that I’ve got a Vacation Week coming up in a couple weeks that I can use to easily make up the lost time. The bad news is that my current major reading project was scheduled to be finished the day before its review gets published, so I’ve no choice but to

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    7 comments · 365 views
  • 4 weeks
    Charity Stream!

    I usually save these kinds of things for my main review blog, but this one's time sensitive, so: my old friend Cerulean Voice is hosting a charity stream! Head here to get the details.

    0 comments · 81 views

Paul's Thursday Reviews XXIX · 6:20pm Mar 31st, 2016

So one of my priorities right now is to create a backlogged blog post or two for the Round Robin reviews. I've devised a complex but effective reading schedule to accommodate this, and have thus far selected two stories for the first backlog.

Why do I mention this?

Because I've decided that all stories are game, regardless of type. That means that requested stories could be selected for the Round Robin now. What this means for you is that if you've requested a story and I choose it to be in a Round Robin, your story's review will not appear when it was originally scheduled. Does this mean you'll have to wait longer? Yes. It also means that my positive review of your story is going to be on display for the entire site to see, so I think it's an acceptable trade-off, don't you?

Some of you may also be interested to know that I've added a new section to my user page that shows how far I've progressed in my current reading projects. Just sayin'.

Okay, I've got a ton of non-MLP-related work to do today, so let's get cracking, shall we?

Stories for This Week:

Maggots and Apples by MegatronsPen
The Tutelage of Star Swirl by Moose Mage
Hindsight by Jack of a Few Trades (Requested by Jack of a Few Trades)
This Day is Going to be Perfect by BronyWriter (Re-Read)
Child's Play by OfTheIronWilled (Re-Read)
The Definition of Strength by Viking ZX (Side Story to The Dusk Guard: Rise)
Total Word Count: 131,394

Rating System

Why Haven't You Read These Yet?: 0
Pretty Good: 3
Worth It: 2
Needs Work: 1
None: 0

This one lured me in with its description, which led me to hope that it might, just maybe, be something more than your typical horror fare. Sadly, this did not prove to be the case.

Maggots and Apples opens with the revelation that Pinkamina Diane Pie – in this AU, a serial killer known as The Baker of Ponyville – has been caught by Princess Twilight Sparkle and placed in a maximum security mental hospital. Her psychiatrist? Rookie doctor Fluttershy. But the hospital is just a ruse, designed to hold inmates until they are dead or have shown sufficient enough insanity – which in this case means any deviation from normalness – to be declared unfit for society and thus shipped to the Rainbow Factory.

And right there, a lot of you are turned off. Yes, the Rainbow Factory is exactly what you think it is, and yes, Rainbow Dash is still in charge of it. But this isn’t the same AU, as indicated by Rainbow’s revelation late in the story that Scootaloo was killed in this world by Pinkamina. All in all, the best way to think of this story is as a combination of Cupcakes and Rainbow Factory, with a hint of Tyrant Sparkle.

On the plus side, I would argue that this is better than both of those, if only because it feels like there’s some attempt to make a story out of it. It’s also a lot less gorey, though it definitely has some disturbing scenes (like one where a pony is forced to eat her cooked relative). The writer attempted make this into something other than endless brutality by showing Fluttershy’s efforts to work with Pinkamina rather than just giving us scene after scene of blood, guts and brutality, and for that I am pleased.

But, there are still plenty of reasons to avoid this story. Obviously, the squeamish and the “Happy Ending” crusaders will want to steer clear. There’s also the sure sign of horror stories: grammar. Or rather, the lack of it. What is it about horror that leads to terrible grammar in writers, seriously? The only horror I’ve read that is an exception would be Cheerilee’s Garden and Button Gnash, the former of which just goes to show that good grammar won’t necessarily rescue something. There’s also the complete OoC nature of everypony present, although I can be forgiving on that count since this is a dark (crapsac?) AU where most of the characters clearly have very different historical backgrounds.

As a general fan of darker stories and horror in general, I found this to be more appealing than the typical affair of these sorts. Not spectacular, but not necessarily bad either, at least by the standards of a horror. But really, I could only recommend this to the horror and dark fans out there. Everyone else will probably find this lackluster at best.

Bookshelf: Worth It

Ah, Starswirl. His is a name well established and heavily utilized, both in the show and the fandom. Which is funny when you stop to think about it, since in Season 2 it was suggested that only the most extreme of magical nerds would have known about him. (:twilightblush:) Many are the stories about him, some focusing on his depiction in the comics, others taking their own spin on things. Moose Mage chose to tackle this challenge.

The first thing I note is the timing. Most authors tend to place Starswirl as living prior to the age of Discord. Sometimes he is Celestia and Luna’s teacher, other times he is merely their friend, and sometimes he helps them brave great evils like King Sombra. This version of the character, however, is placed after Discord’s defeat, but before Luna’s fall. In it, we learn that Starswirl has been Luna’s apprentice for the past several years. Now he moves on to the next stage of his training: being Celestia’s apprentice.

And right away, red lights are flashing in my skull. It is quickly made apparent that the rift between the sisters already exists, though how far it has opened has yet to be seen. Somehow, we are meant to believe that not only is Celestia effectively stealing Luna’s prized student and closest friend, but Luna is meant to be happy about it. Yet there is an atmosphere to these events, a certain sense that Luna is not as thrilled with her sister as she lets on.

This is one of the things I liked about this story; the subtle combat between the sisters. I found the entire situation startlingly real, from Celestia’s unwitting arrogance and self-adulation to Luna’s understandable, but unspoken bitterness. Starswirl is caught within a quiet maelstrom that involves no wind or rain, but nonetheless threatens to toss him to the four winds. Above all else, I love how Celestia’s repeated manipulations, dishonesty and, at times, outright cruelty controls more of the ebb and flow of Starswirl’s story than even she at first realizes. His ultimate reaction – and Luna’s – was nothing short of gratifying, even knowing where it will lead.

But Starswirl himself is the star of this story, and it involves him being cast aside by the princess who claims to be his teacher to live in some backwater town to “make friends.” The good news: this isn’t a dumb rehash of everything Twilight Sparkle went through. In fact, it plays out wholly differently, and for that I must approve. His discovery of the value of friendship, his struggle to accept it, and his personal war to protect his new home from the devils of Tartarus are all compelling, interesting and worth getting to know.

Of course, I didn’t approve of everything. The story’s greatest issue is its speed and tendency to gloss over what could only be some very important topics. Starswirl stays in this town for only a very, very short time, and makes some great friends in the process. Problem is, we don’t get to see the steps he takes to gain those friends; we’re forced to simply accept that they happened. I think an extra chapter or two showing just how he learned to value these ponies would have been helpful. Our hero goes from “I don’t have time or interest in making friends” to “I will do everything in my power, even defy a princess, to protect these ponies” in very short order, and it defies my sense of belief.

There are some things to consider before putting the story down for this, though. For one, I suspect Moose Mage didn’t want to create a massive, 100,000+ word epic. I can understand that, and I know that sometimes sacrifices must be made to make it so.

And the situation is not without precedent. Did not Twilight Sparkle do the exact same thing? While I’d argue that a 30-minute show has to cut a lot more corners than a fanfiction novelette, I’m still willing to – grudgingly – accept this as a potential excuse.

I should also add that I was outright offended when Celestia offered Starswirl a prize she had no right to offer, without consulting her sister, as a reward for being the wisest and most learned unicorn in Equestria – right after he did something that fundamentally defies that suggestion. Buuut that was the point of the scene, and both Starswirl and Luna reacted accordingly, so I’ll just let it slide.

And I also must wonder if the last night of the story was also the last night the moon would rise to Luna’s call.

At any rate, I must value this story highly. It’s well written, appropriately paced and competently developed. It gives us a real look at the pony behind a legend, and does so without even showing us the truths behind those legends. It is the story of Starswirl’s beginning, the way his life and adventures began, but it is also the story of two sisters who have grown apart. If found it lovely. Sad at times, and not what I expected, but certainly lovely.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good

I distinctly recall my sister calling Hearts and Hooves Day too silly for her tastes. This amuses me, because this is the same woman who thought Over a Barrel was golden. Anyway, the episode always struck me as one of the more entertaining ones, so it’s odd to me that I’ve read so few stories relating to its aftermath.

In Hindsight, Cheerilee overhears Pinkie Pie talking to Mr. Cake about how Big McIntosh and Marble Pie seemed to hit it off in the episode Hearthbreakers. The revelation throws Cheerilee into a whirlwind of emotions, leading her to conclude that she might actually have feelings for Big McIntosh.

This was an interesting story about the risks we take and the consequences of both action and inaction. The characters were strong and the whole situation felt very real, even with the love poison fallout. I enjoyed this depiction of Cheerilee and watching her struggle to make sense of her emotions and find her courage. I’ve always been impartial to the CheeriMac ship, but I feel like this one did it well.

Still, while the story was interesting and kept me reading, I can’t say it ‘wowed’ me. It’s a solid piece with great characterization, generally good writing and strong pacing, but it also doesn’t seem to have anything to set it apart from any other well written story of this variety. I recommend it, and happily so, but it just needs something else to get that highest rating.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good

Does anyone else find it odd that Chrysalis was singing so loudly while preparing for the wedding with Shining, and nopony happened to overhear? Yeah, BronyWriter thinks the same thing.

In this story, we get a revised version of A Canterlot Wedding that begins when the soldier assigned to guard Princess Cadance happens to overhear her singing some very not lovey dovey lines about how her fiancee is all hers. Realizing something is wrong, he goes straight to Celestia to blow Chrysalis’s cover mere seconds before said Changeling Queen bursts into the room as Cadance… still singing.

This was nothing spectacular, just a little humorous aside created to point out one of the (many) flaws of the season 2 finale. As such, there’s really not much to say about this. It’s short, to the point, and does exactly what it aims to do. Alas, I’m not inclined to rate it highly simply because there’s nothing to it and the premise is rather obvious. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just that it doesn’t achieve much at all. In its defense, it clearly wasn’t meant to.

Read it if you want to have a little fun. Moving on…

Bookshelf: Worth It

Child's Play

OfTheIronwilled provided no cover art.

It’s clear to me now that there was a time when I was willing to be ‘nice’ to writers to avoid hurting their feelings. I was confused when I saw this story for the re-read, because my comment on it was largely positive, yet I’d given it a low rating. So… which was accurate?

Child’s Play is an attempt by OfTheIronwilled to explain who Discord is and why he became a villain. In this rendition, filly Luna created Discord from her very first constellation in a desperate bid to have a friend, being put off by the vitriol thrown her way by the common pony. She then raised him as if he were her son, even though he rapidly outgrew her and became an adult while she was still a child.

Even if you ignore everything canonical that happens after The Return of Harmony, this story makes no sense. Discord is shown as being a serious, kind and down-to-earth figure from the beginning, displaying none of his established silliness, wit and randomness from the show. Even when we get to the point where he’s defeated, he’s depicted more as a victim who wants to lose, which defies everything we know about this character. OfTheIronwilled attempted to ease this extreme OOC oddity by adding an AU tag to the story, but it doesn’t feel anywhere near enough to make up for these mistakes. If anything, it feels like the author slapped the tag onto the story to appease the nay-sayers.

Other issues abound. The story is riddled with typos and poor word choices. While the pacing is decent, the plot development is far too fast and relies on extreme leaps of logic – such as why all the citizens are viciously mean to Luna and not Celestia. No explanations are given for many of these nonsensical things, and when explanations are offered they are unconvincing at best.

Last but not least, OfTheIronwilled somehow manages to make the mistake of forgetting that Discord was defeated by the Elements of Harmony. One of the most fundamental aspects of the threat that is Discord is that Celestia and Luna cannot defeat him on their own, so the method of Discord’s defeat in this story comes across as terribly conceived (not to mention, anti-climactic).

An adorable filly Luna isn’t enough to save this piece. With so many blatant flaws, it seems clear to me where this story belongs in my bookshelves.

Bookshelf: Needs Work

Once again, we return to the world of Viking ZX’s The Dusk Guard. This story takes place immediately after the side story Carry On and follows the zebra sage Sabra. At long last, we finally get to learn more about this enigmatic character, from witnessing the day he left his home to the long-awaited conversation he’s always sought from Celestia and Luna. But more than anything, we watch as he tries to assist the team engineer Sky Bolt, towards whom his emotions are confused, and how she and the rest of the team fit into his quest for an answer to his life’s pilgrimage.

Holy (?) pilgrimages and questions of one’s place and purpose are hardly new, but this story still manages to bring out the plot as something worthwhile. At last we get to see the inner workings of Sabra’s mind, a chance to discover that the rock hard zebra is anything but on the inside. His troubles and worries felt real, and thus were enjoyable to examine. And for an added kick, Viking ZX’s use of a zebra struggling to grasp the finer aspects of the Equestrian language was a nice touch.

But aside from the story, there’s one part that I really enjoyed: the meditative sequences. Here Viking ZX flexes his descriptive muscles, letting us look at how Sabra interprets his inner thoughts and handles his own conflicts. These were vivid and interesting scenes that I wholeheartedly approve of and would recommend others read for the sake of learning a bit about imagery.

Like its predecessor, The Definition of Strength can’t rival the epic story from which it is derived. Even so, it is a great addition to the series and only makes me that much more interested in reading all of the side stories as they come along.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good

Liked these reviews? Check out some others:

Paul's Thursday Reviews XX
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXI
Jeremy's New Years Reviews!
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXII
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXIII
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXIV
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXV
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXVI
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXVII
Paul's Thursday Reviews Have Returned!

Want me to review your story? Send me a request! Check my profile page for rules.

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Comments ( 4 )

Woo! Fresh meat!

YAY! Fresh meat! Thanks for the review...now to get to reading.

Hooray! Thanks for the review!

Thanks for the review, man!

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