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"Do it right and do it with style." - Author, Designer & Project Lead of the story-driven DLC Gardens of Equestria: This Coming Storm - (Patreon)

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Jun
9th
2016

Let’s Talk About The Long Road to Friendship · 7:46pm Jun 9th, 2016

First. Let’s get this out of the way.

“Curse these humanized ponies. They drive me to write.”

*Slow long clap* I loved that. SO VERY MUCH.

Time for another long rambling editorial-review-commentary-thingy. As usual, enormous spoilers are contained below, so if you haven’t read the story, GO AWAY AND READ IT FIRST! If you don’t, I’ll sic Pinkie on you.

Pickle barrel.

See? I knew that would make you scamper.

Now that you’re back and you’ve overcome your fear of pickles, I’ll admit I really don’t know what I’m doing here. But I do know that as an author, the long comments usually mean the most to me. When I get to find out how the reader felt during certain scenes, to know if the emotional beats were done properly and the true state of mind of my audience...that’s special to me. Though I’ve written in many different forms before, this particular persona doesn’t have any writing credits just yet. Nonetheless, occasionally through my constant rummaging through FiMFiction, I’ll come across a jewel, a story that stands out on it’s own as something powerful, unique and brilliant.

This is probably one of my favorite jewels of all time. Without a doubt, “The Long Road to Friendship” is solidly in my top five FiMFiction stories of all time. Frankly, I don’t think I can give more exact than that, because these gems all shine brightly in their own way. It’s a bit like the Mane 6: we love them because they’re all unique and special. They each bring something powerful that the others couldn’t do as well. Well, that’s what authors do. And that’s exactly what this author did when he penned this wonderful tale of Sunset Shimmer.



I need to admit to having a serious bias here. Since Rainbow Rocks, I have been a diehard Sunset Shimmer fan. I love redemption arcs. The end of “Siege of the Crystal Empire” makes me cry every freaking time. And this story? Several (okay, FINE a hell of a lot of) tears were shed during the course of this tale. But what also grabs me about Sunset is that she is the original Twilight Sparkle. She was supposed to be the bearer of the Element of Magic. She could have been that pony. But...she made mistakes and they changed her life forever. In fact, I’d still love to see Sunset come back and kick Starlight back to “Our Town” so that Sunset can take her rightful place as student of the Princess of Friendship. But that’s me.

Even if Starlight’s new hair is adorable.

ANYWAY!

I think one of the best parts about this story is all the little gaps it fills. We explore where Sunset’s living, what happened when she was slammed by the Orbital Friendship Cannon and even get to see a much-expanded version of her origin story from the MLP:FiM EqG Annual, tackling Cadence (in due time) and the fact that she actually had a complete freakout just like Twilight after getting through the portal. We get the pieces of how she came to power. How and why a student of Princess Celestia would want to control a high school in an alternate reality. So much of Sunset’s character was built in this story that we get to see pretty much every aspect of her life, both before and after the fight with Celestia.

I wonder if the author is familiar with the Mistborn series, specially the second trilogy and the god Harmony. Because I realized that the word Harmony was capitalized and it was being treated as a sentient, godlike force, not only in Equestria but also in this other world. It’s an interesting concept and something I’d love to see explored a bit more in the sequel (which I cannot wait to read).

Now, why did I love this story so much? Because it took its time. At no point did the novel become rushed. At no point did events become forced. It was fully character driven. You might go “Uh...did you miss the point about the Element’s compulsion on Sunset?” No, I didn’t. Yes, her body may have been overridden, but her mind wasn’t. Sunset was never forced to think a certain way, she was forced to act a certain way. And the fact that she fights it for so long make it all the more powerful. It’s this slow shift of perspective that comes across so gradually, so naturally that the reader almost misses it if they weren’t paying attention. The reason for Sunset’s change isn’t because of the Elements. It’s because she started to realize that what the Elements wanted from her was far better than what she had. She wanted more out of life. She wanted friends of her own. She wanted a home of her own. She wanted family.

She wanted to live instead of just existing. And it terrified her. She ran from it...and was instantly pulled back, kicking and screaming the whole while. Sunset’s reactions all came across as very honest and--I know I keep using this word--natural.

Toward the end though, as Albinocorn started to weave the Rainbow Rocks story (And I loved Rainbow Rocks. Seriously loved it) into his own story, that’s when I really saw his gift. How he deftly took threads from Rainbow Rocks (a story that completely contradicted “Long Road” in so many ways) and spun them into this story was a work of artistic mastery. The tiny nuances to the big ones. I love that at a certain point, Sunset encourages SciTwi to wear her glasses. I’m positive that Twilight hadn’t been wearing contacts before Rainbow Rocks came out, but the nice thing is that it doesn’t matter. It works. The final dance scene where Twilight is wearing SciTwi’s hair? Lovely. (Those fan art dresses were gorgeous as well. Sunset’s was simply spectacular). Hell, somehow Albinocorn actually worked Sunset owning a motorcycle before Friendship Games (I think). Seriously...when a writer can predict a new story’s direction before it even comes out...that shows they have one heck of a handle on a character.

Even the SunLight angle was natural. The idea of Twilight latching onto Sunset because of her saving Twilight from a shockingly horrible fate (and we don’t realize just how shocking until Gilda comes on the scene) made sense. The fact that Sunset didn’t have that connection to Princess Twilight that the rest of the EqG Mane 5 had...it set her apart. The fact that Sunset had this huge fight with herself trying to come to terms with the fact that Princess Twilight and SciTwi were not the same person/pony...that was a big deal. And Sunset’s realization...I can’t even put it effectively into words of how she fell for Twilight. I just know it was right. Maybe it was all the reasons above. Maybe it was because Twilight really was her equal in so many ways.

...and maybe, just maybe...it’s also because Sunset sees herself in Twilight. What she could have been. What she would have been if she hadn’t made the same decisions. The road not taken. And through Twilight...maybe she could have a little of that.

Or I could be totally wrong. Shut up. I’m a romantic. If you’ve read any of these before, you should already know that. If you haven’t...well, I’m a romantic, so shut up.

I should also mention that his comments at the end were short enough not to distract from the story itself while still often being very entertaining, which is something I’m extremely grateful for. I hate long comments at the end of chapters. So thanks for that little bit of housekeeping.

Next! Let’s talk about two of the greatest OCs I’ve ever seen: Artemis and Selena. First, my objection: the names don’t follow the normal pony-name conventions like Twilight, Trixie or other such names. Selena is a fully human name. Artemis I can let pass since it’s Luna’s rule 63 name and has the whole Greek Goddess thing going for him. Gender swap of a gender swap of a...I’m going to stop now before I give myself a headache.

Now that my petulant nitpicking is out of the way...

Artemis was an amazing addition to this book. The whole Lulamoon family was simply magnificent. Selena acting as the caring mother, Artemis as the loving, eccentric father-figure that can actually use magic. And Trixie as the sister character...something I never really saw coming. Artemis was simply one of the most fun characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of writing. He obviously knows far more than he’s letting on (And I swear, if we don’t get more of him in the sequel, I will find you just to pull it out of your brain). For a moment, I had convinced myself that he was actually Starswirl (let’s be honest, Merlin and Starswirl are probably the same person/pony). You gave him enough of an air of mystery and having this obnoxious wonderful charm...damn, seriously, he’s such a solid character he’s become canon in my head. Selena’s there too...and the whole fencing thing? Thank you so much for having us see that in action, rather than it just being a little backstory thing. Someone knows how to place Chekhov's Gun. ^^

But even more important was the moment where they came to Sunset’s rescue...first in battle against Gilda and her gang and second in Sunset’s most desperate hour of need. Seriously, the whole Sunset and the Lulamoon storyline made me sob like crazy. It was so damn beautiful and epic...and you balanced it perfectly by having Trixie acting...well, like Trixie! It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but it was so much brighter than I expected, even with Trixie’s little tantrums. By the way, thank you for what you did with Trixie. I’ve become so tired of the whole “Great and Powerful Trixie” arrogance-that-never-changes thing...but instead, even when everything is falling apart, Trixie is one of the ones who steps up to help Sunset in the end and makes things end so happily. We got to see real character development from her...a lot like what we just saw recently in “No Second Prances.”

This was something I never saw coming and it was utter magic. (See? I can be punny too.)

Oh, one other stand-out thing before we move on. The whole Princess Twilight plushie bit? By Celestia, that was a stroke of genius, especially how the author kept hanging a lantern on it by Sunset calling herself nuts over and over again. God, I loved every one of those bits. They were amazing.



Okay, I want to hit a highlight reel here. “Long Road” had so many hysterical stand-out moments that I actually started tracking them as I read the novel on my iPad. I have to bring these up. There’s way more than just these...but they deserve special treatment.

Chapter 22: Berries and Facial Cream

“Hey, do you think Sasquatch lives in there?” Scootaloo asked in a hushed whisper.
“Ain’t no such thing as Sasquatch,” Applejack replied, blasé.
“What about a snipe?” Apple Bloom asked.
“There are no snipes in there neither.”
“Unicorns?” Sweetie tried.
“There’s no such thing as unicorns!” Applejack shouted.
“The girl from another dimension filled with sentient unicorns and pegasi would like to have a word with you,” Sunset said casually into Applejack’s ear.
“Shut up.”

Seriously, I was howling in laughter at this. Just howling. Even reading it now I’m grinning like a freaking idiot. I want to do a little jig about just how good this scene is.

Chapter 25: Home

Shortly before this scene when Sunset pretends to get electrocuted just to annoy Twilight...it was hysterical. I loved it every time that Sunset would do something that got Twilight so ticked off that she went off and staring wailing on her with a notebook or something. I can literally picture it in my head as if it’s coming from an episode. Is there something wrong with me that nothing quite says love like whacking someone repeatedly with a harmless object as they berate them for a triviality? Probably, then again I’ve been married eleven years, so who are you to judge? (Oh snap)

“Fine. But when you really get electrocuted, don’t expect me to help you.”
“Okay, then I reserve the right to haunt you afterwards.”
“Then I reserve the right to have you exorcised.”

I can’t even explain why this is so hysterical to me. Damn, I should be taking notes. The banter between Twilight and Sunset is simply magnificent throughout this novel.

Chapter 26: The Rise and Fall of Sunset Shimmer

“To say I was happy is an understatement. I was over the moon! I screamed so loud, I shattered the porcelain cups. Celestia and I just laughed afterwards.”

Admit it. She’s part Siren. Admit it, dammit!

“At the end of the lesson, she pointed out my cutie mark and I screamed so hard, I cracked one of the windows this time. We still laughed, even after the royal glass maker scolded me.”

Why is this so great? I don’t even know and I know it’s great. Gah. Stupid brilliant writing making me not understand my own brain...like I normally understand it anyway.

Chapter 27: Law of the Universe

“That’s it. No more drowning my ramen in hot sauce.”
“Yes. That’s why you had that dream.
Sunset grabbed Princess Twilight from off her pillow, trying to remember why she was there in the first place. She gave up and flung her across the room before throwing the blankets over her head and going back to sleep.”

Seriously. This is such a gimmick! And I don’t care! Right after a romantic dream with Twilight (nice change of pace from the nightmares)? Especially when you remember that this is Sunset berating herself.

Sunset sat up in her chair with sudden enthusiasm. “Well, gosh and golly gee, Twilight! That’s a swell idea that never crossed my mind! In fact, let me get up right now and make a formal apology! How’s this sound? ‘Hey, everybody, I’m sorry about being a tyrant and making your lives crap for the past three years. Oh, and turning into a raging she-demon and destroying school property, on top of brainwashing you and almost ruining your dance!” She crossed her arms and slumped into her chair again.

“Wow.” Rainbow rested her arms on the table. “Pinkie, what does the scouter say about her sarcasm levels?”

“It’s over nine-thousand!” Pinkie crushed the pudding cup she was holding, splattering chocolate all over her face. “Oopsies.”

My notes for this one?

“You’re terrible. And epic.”

Chapter 30: Science Fiction II

...Ijusthadagreatidealet’smakeitintoasolarturbineandgetpanelstopowerthewholeschoolwe’llwinforsurenowaitwedon’thavethatkindoftimespeakingoftimecanyoubelieveit’sthreeinthemorninggoodthingShinyisn’thomeorhe’dkillusforbeingupsolateareyougoingtogohomethislateSunsetpleasestayhereandsleepoveryoucanhavemybedandI’llsleeponthefloorIlovesleepoversIwoulldhavethemallthetimewithmyfriendMoondancerandwe’ddoeachother’shairwellshewoulddominebecuaseherhairwasalwaysnicelookingshealwaysdrankteaandsodidIuntiltodaynowIseehowgoodcoffeeisandIneverwanttogobackanywaythegeneratorhowarewegoingtogetittospinspinspinwhyistheroomspinning?”

First and foremost, this is totally evil to do. EPUB Readers do not handle this well. I literally had to copy/paste this into a notes document and manually parse this mess by adding spaces until I could read it.

Second, I still loved it. Twilight on coffee would be utterly terrifying. Lesson Zero-level terrifying.

With Ms. Vector facing the blackboard, Sunset reached over and nudged Twilight. She gave a light snort, but didn’t awaken. Sunset nudged her again, harder, and she bolted upright.
“Forty-two!” She blurted out. The class broke into snickers while Sunset facepalmed.

Classic. Simply classic. Respect for noticing what number Twilight had on her flank for the Running of the Leaves...and knowing what it meant.

Chapter 31: An Evening With the Sparkles

Okay, this isn’t a particular scene, but the fact that you mentioned that “Daylight Savings Time” was over felt like a particularlity well-crafted bit of worldbuilding. It was a tiny little detail, but it’s those tiny details that really make novels work.

Chapter 33: Friends, Foes and Family

This comment is really for the entire book, but this is the point where I actually notated it. Your fight choreography is superb. I’ve seen a lot of it here and there and often it’s so confusing it’s hard to follow. But that’s not the case. You know your terminology and use it effectively and simply. It brings the entire scene to life. While it may end up coming across a little stiff to some folks, it definitely worked for me.

Chapter 34: Words Unsaid

Rainbow licked a dollop of whip cream off her thumb. “I dunno, A.J. I think I’d like to find a date this year; if only to get Cloud Kicker to stop asking me out. Seriously, do I have to wear a sign around my neck that says I’m not gay?” She glared at Sunset.”

Okay, I cannot escape Cloud Kicker. This is insane. She’s appearing in almost every freaking book I read. How did this happen?!

Chapter 38: Princess Royale

“Trixie stopped by Sunset’s door and raised an eyebrow on her otherwise impassive face. “Are you talking to yourself?”
“... Yes.”
Trixie continued to stare for a moment, then walked on. “You’re weird.”
Princess Twilight muttered, “Says the girl who speaks in third person.”
Sunset snickered.

Note: “Good golly…” Brilliant. Love it. Wonderful. Now write the other damn book so I can have more!

Chapter 39: Victory Road I--Final Hours

“Well, I just came in to see how the decorations looked before tonight.” She leaned in toward Sunset. “And to say how proud of you I am. You’ve come quite some ways this semester, Sunset. I hope to see you make even greater strides in the future.”
The warmth in Sunset’s stomach was fit to melt her from the inside out. Her tongue finally unraveled and she spat out, “Thank you, Princess!”
“Celestia quirked an eyebrow. “Princess?”
“Principal!” Sunset said quickly. “Thank you, Principal Celestia. That all meant a lot.” More than you’ll ever know.”

Stop making me cry, dammit.

“Twilight gave Sunset an even measure with both of her eyes. “Yes. I’m sure.” She wilted like a shaded flower. “But, only if you want me.”

“Wilted like a shaded flower.” Poetic without being overdramatic. This phrase was simply beautiful.

“You look so beautiful, sweetie, but why don’t you have a date?” Selena asked.
“Because Trixie doesn’t need a date!”
“Good, then I don’t need to beat anyone with a stick,” Artemis said.

Have I mentioned how much I adore Artemis?

“Of course, ladybug.” Cadence broke it off and put her hands on the wheel. “Now,” she said, shifting into reverse, “let’s get you to my future sister-in-law!”
“Cadence!”
“Not sorry!”

Actual note: “Oh my God, I freaking love her.” Okay, Cadence was a surprise from top to bottom. But she amazingly worked and worked amazingly. She was so perfect to needle Twilight about the whole Sunset thing. And I think one of the best reasons it worked is because I’m fairly certain Cadence would act exactly like this...and Twilight would be squeaking incoherently the entire time. I died laughing. Luckily, I had an extra life.

Sunset’s jaw slackened. “Did… did you just use sarcasm?”
Pinkie smirked. “Noo, of course not.” She turned and skipped down toward the gym.
Sunset stared after her, jaw still hanging open. I’m proud of you, Pinks. She had just enough time to recover before the door opened once more. This time, Sunset’s heart rose and didn’t come back down.

So Pinkie Pie. Actually, what really stood out for me here was the whole nickname thing. Sunset developed nicknames for every one of the Mane 6 (I believe) and it felt very...natural. (Yes, overusing the word, I know, but I’m not going to go digging in some damn thesaurus!)

I should mention I swept through Chapter 40 so fast I think I got whiplash. You’ll be getting the bill later this month.

Chapter 41: Rising Sun

“Good morning, Canterlot!” Cadence’s voice rang out of the radio.

Probably because I’m the whole Executive Producer of the Manehattan Project, but I heard DJ-PON3 from Fallout: Equestria when I read this...which means I really heard ThreeDog from Fallout 3. Just...a note. >.>

“Well, ponies and humans have a lot more in common than you think.” Sunset wiggled her fingers. “The only real difference is, we walk around on four hooves and have magic. And we can weaponize friendship.”
“I bet that keeps your military budget low.”
“We’ll never have to build any nuclear bombs, I’ll tell you that much. Puts a whole new meaning on, ‘kill them with kindness.’”

Someone’s poking at Kkat here. ^^

Chapter 42: Shooting Stars

Normally, Sunset would never step foot in the mall with this many people milling about. But, her friends were eager to get their post-holiday shopping done, so she reluctantly agreed to tag along. She could have taken advantage of her ability to say ‘no’ again, but, friendship compelled her to go. It was magic, after all.

This is horrible. Terrible. You should feel ashamed of yourself for using such an obvious pun. Ashamed and other words that are synonymous with ashamed. As ashamed as I am for loving it so much.

“What did the gesture Rainbow make symbolize?”
“I’ll tell you when you’re older.”
“I just turned seventeen!”
“And yet, you’re still the baby of the group.”
Rainbow pointed with her thumb. “Unless you count Pinkie. She was born on Leap Day.”
“I’m four!”
Sunset just nodded. “Yeah, that makes too much sense.”

No kidding. Priceless.



Okay, that’s all I can do for the highlight reel (though the entire birthday at the museum thing was a highlight reel in and of itself)

And I almost forgot...I didn’t note it because it was so damn beautiful I knew I would remember. Shine Like Rainbows. Shine Like Rainbows is a gorgeous song on its own. While I tend tear up during “Welcome to the Show” (namely Sunset finally standing up and taking her rightful place), Shine Like Rainbows is simply a work of beauty. This is my favorite part of Rainbow Rocks you worked into Long Road. While it had just been the credits song for Rainbow Rocks, you instead used it as the penultimate finale, the one that reminded the Mane 5 why they were friends in the first place. You even matched the original singer with their respective CMC counterpart! I couldn’t believe that level of attention to detail. No one would have noticed if you hadn’t...but that fact that you did was majestic. Dammit, now I’m tearing up just writing this. I’ll send you a bill for the tissue boxes too. I cannot say enough good things about this. This...this was beautiful. From the inception of it being an unfinished song that Fluttershy wrote and forgot to its delivery by the CMC and company...it was magical. There’s really no other word that fully encompasses how great that was.

Finally, one other thing. You actually provided us with a full denouement. Too many stories like to end on the climax and give either no epilogue or such a short epilogue that it’s really just a footnote. Instead, you had two full chapters after the final dance (and it didn’t involve battling the forces of evil magic, just battling Murphy’s Law--though honestly, I’m not sure which is worse!) where you gently wound down the story, settling things up, making sure that everything was just so. So few writers know how to do that or know why it’s so important. You, on the other hand, definitely do. This was another mark of just how well you know your craft.

Jeez, is this really nine pages long? I wrote more on your story than I did in my own today. This is the kind of story that will make me dig through FiMFiction non-stop looking for others of this caliber and quality. Don’t worry, I have your other epic waiting for me on my iPad. I’m just wary of anything with the “sad” tag on it...so I might be dragging my feet just a little. ^^

I could literally go on for another 20 pages on this tale. On how much I loved that Sunset was constantly battling her demon self, down to the grand finale during the dance. Or the whole Science Fair chaos. How real her emotions came across when Shining Armor ‘caught’ her. About how she handled Trixie. But I won’t keep you here for hours.

In the end, to me, this story is as solid and well-told as such epics as “It’s a Dangerous Business Going Outside Your Door,” the “Hard Reset Trilogy,” “Hocus Pocus” and “Fallout: Equestria.” Each of them stand out for very different reasons. Each of them is magical for very different reasons. But they all share a single trait: they were penned by an author who loved what they did with exquisite attention to detail, a masterful understanding of character development and character-driven storytelling and finally, an exhaustive drive to create something amazing.

To create such a story that is the length of a Brandon Sanderson novel, knowing full well you’ll never make a penny off it...that’s the mark of someone who loves writing for the sake of writing. And while that might not mean much to foolish people who care only about the bottom line, I believe it is stories like these that will stand the test of time. Even after the show has faded, your tale and stories like it will live on.

For anyone to take the time and effort you obviously did for a labor of love...I have nothing but undying respect for you.

So thank you for sharing your gift, your talent, your words and your insights with the community, the fandom and myself personally. I very much look forward to reading this again...and look forward to enjoying the rest of your works.

Again, I say thank you.

-NI

Oh, and one more thing. As usual, I didn't feel the cover it had did it justice. So I actually spent a bit more time than usual to give this an extra bit of flair:

Comments ( 2 )

Quick note: Imgur has blacklisted FIMfiction, so other people cannot see the images you link from there. I recommend using Imgbox to host pictures for your blog.

4015436 I was wondering what the heck was going on with the blasted images. Thanks Kkat. ^^;

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