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PaulAsaran


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!"

More Blog Posts433

Jun
30th
2016

Paul's Thursday Reviews XXXVIII · 11:40pm Jun 30th, 2016

Welcome to my 200th blog! Seeing this makes me wonder just how many reviews I've written (my records say 313, but they could be off). I know it's not as much as some reviewers out there, but it sure feels like a lot. Every now and then, I go back and read an old blog. Every time I do, I find myself thinking "Wait, I wrote this six months ago? It feels like I wrote it yesterday!"

Which instantly reminds me that time flies fast and I have a crap-ton of stories to write before I die. Let's cut to the chase, shall we?

Stories for This Week:

Upheaval: Reckoning by Visiden Visidane (Sequel to Upheaval: Breaking Point)
Bad Blood by Craine (Recommended by CoffeeMinion)
The End of Immortality by DemonBrightSpirit (Requested by Celestial Pony)
A Roll in the Hay by Shahrazad (Re-Read)
The Dancer by Yipyapper (Completed Story)
Total Word Count: 328,636

Rating System

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


I first read Upheaval: Breaking Point almost a year-and-a-half ago. At that time I was still generally new to reviewing and hadn’t set many of my current rules, most notably the rule of applying sequels to a shortlist to aid in my retention of the plot. As such, it took an age to get to this. It is a testament to the staying power of the original that I needed no refresher to recall almost everything that had happened so far, and things I’d forgotten were quickly recalled in only two or three chapters.

This story picks up directly where the original left off: the Wolven are in full retreat, the great wall between Equestria and the Barrier Lands has collapsed, Celestia is powerless and the villain Black Rose is nowhere to be found. Amidst this turbulent landscape, the royals must attempt to unite the Heartland and the Barrier Lands, the Elements of Harmony must contend with Black Rose’s elite fighting force, the Thorns, and all the while a new terror from the royal siblings’ past is looming on the horizon. It’s all so very complicated that properly summarizing the story for the sake of a review is not something I’m inclined to try.

But don’t let that dissuade you, because despite the many twists and turns of the plot, the story is very easy to follow. It’s also unceasingly interesting, and this is almost entirely due to Visiden Visidane’s capacity for character building. No chapter feels boring, each chapter introduces something important, and there’s always some conflict – be it physical, magical, intellectual or psychological. All the unsolved issues from before resurface. Some are resolved, some not, and in the process entirely new ones appear and, just like in the original, many are left without a conclusion, but with a promise that one is coming.

The problem, however, is that Visiden Visidane tries to do too much in one story. Even with over 265,000 words to play with, the sheer number of characters present in this story were too much, leading to some characters being underdeveloped. This wasn’t a problem for most of the main characters, of course, but a few side characters key to that development – Copper Mane comes to mind, though there are several others – were left woefully unattended. This led to no small number of questions and a sense of shallowness.

However, I can’t really blame the author for this. Again, the story is 265,000 words long. I doubt they were interested in adding another 50,000 just so that every side character could get a proper backstory, or that everyone would want to read it. There comes a point when enough is enough. Besides, there’s a sequel in the works, and I won’t be surprised if Visiden Visidane takes some extra effort to look into these important sideliners.

There was another curious issue, although I think it’s subjective: Pyre Valor and Nightmare Moon. These characters were built up as such a big deal in the first story, but they didn’t really do anything. Now we get to them in this one, only for the both of them to be brushed aside like so much debris. On the one hand, it’s a good thing not to have another character or two to have to fret over building up (or down). On the other, their removal from the story so quickly when they hardly did anything interesting in the first one made me question why they were around at all. Granted, what they did was important to getting things started, but I can’t help thinking they could have been of better (and more respectful) use.

The writing style of the story is pretty good overall. Not perfect, but considering the size of the story we can expect a few mistakes to slip through the cracks. The worst thing encountered are comma splices, which appear to be the author’s greatest literary weakness. They’re frequent early on in the story, but eventually grow to be less of an issue.

Let us move into worldbuilding. Unlike the last story, which took place almost exclusively in the frozen northern border, this story takes up a good amount of time in the Heartland, i.e. the Equestria we all know from the show. This does not, however, mean that the worldbuilding is over. Visiden Visidane crafts a completely revised Equestrian history, rebuilding the nature of Equestria’s founding from the ground up in a way that is believable and which drives the story forward. It was a great method of combining the established history from the previous story and the known info of the show.

And let us not forget the Eternal Herd. For the most part, this mystical land was only mentioned a few times in the first story. Here, the homeland of the royals takes a much more prominent role, with politics and threats and even a little help coming from a world that is growing more and more important to Equestria’s future. The constant fretting over what the Eternal Herd was going to do only added more spice to an already tasty pot, and I’m not one to complain.

I can keep on going, but I think I’ve stretched this out far enough. To summarize: solid pacing, mostly great character building, exemplary worldbuilding, exciting fight scenes, a few unique premises, and constantly high stakes. This story is just as good as its predecessor, and that’s not something that happens very often. If there’s any reason whatsoever that you weren’t reading these stories, cast them aside and give it a go. It’s worth the time invested.

Bookshelf: Why Haven’t You Read These yet?


Bad Blood

1,200 Words
By Craine
Recommended by CoffeeMinion

So… who’s crazy about the idea of BonBon being a super spy? I’m indifferent, although I have to admit that having an episode that explores the concept would make for something interesting. I’d love to see an episode where the Mane six get involved with a Bond-esque mission.

In Bad Blood, BonBon – or retired Special Agent Sweetie Drops – goes to visit her imprisoned arch-nemesis, Orokos the Bug Bear. She’s there to warn him against trying to escape again, but Orokos reveals that he knows a lot more than he should about her new life.

On the one hand, this was interesting enough to keep me going. On the other, it didn’t really bring anything new to the table. It’s competently written – ignoring the author’s unfortunate insistence of using all bold text for Orokos’s dialogue – and flows well. In the end, though, it’s still just ‘good guy talks to bad guy’. A few threats are thrown around, BonBon leaves, the end. I’ve read a dozen of these, and there’s never any variety to them.

That’s not to say that this was a bad story. Just one that I’ve read before, in one way or another. Still, if the concept of Secret Agent Sweetie Drops appeals to you, go ahead and give it a go.

Bookshelf: Worth It


This story’s description tells you most of what you need to know. Celestia is dying. Not from an illness or an assassin’s poison or anything dramatic like that. She’s simply reached the end of her (apparently mortal) existence, and has known about it since before even the return of Nightmare Moon. This story tells of how those closest to her – specifically, the other princesses – react to this news.

I’m going to have to say something I don’t normally say. I am someone who judges stories by the amount of emotion they put into me, and many a story has been criticized by yours truly for being weak in this aspect. But in this case? It’s the exact opposite: The End of Immortality pushes the dialogue and narrative forward with so much emotion that it leaps into melodrama. Instead of becoming emotional or, at least, more invested in the scenes, I instead found myself rolling my eyes at the excessive nature of the characters’ behavior.

So yes, there is such a thing as too much emotion. This story goes well over that line.

More subjective of my part is that I found Luna’s overall response to be not in keeping with her character. I imagine a lot of people will disagree with me on this point, and I can even see Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep as evidence against my claim, hence the reason I acknowledge the subjective nature of it. Even so, it diminished my view of the story significantly. Coupled with the overbearing emotions, my appreciation for the ending was minimal at best.

Now, take this all with a grain of salt. The story has a strong view count and high overall rating, and for once I don’t attribute that to a legion of easy-to-please casual readers. The concept is good, and I could see this acting as the start of a new AU worth exploring. And while the emotions were handled… dare I say amateurishly? —the story is well written in the overall. I wouldn’t even say that most of the characters’ behavior is off or OoC, (save for Luna’s final decision at the end), only rendered into a more melodramatic form than was needed.

Despite its big flaws that severely hurt my enjoyment of the story, I actually look to this as a step forward for DemonBrightSpirit. This is not my first foray into the author’s works (I panned Descent into Hell), and so far this is their best story. Keep trying, DBS; practice makes perfect.

Bookshelf: Worth It


A Roll in the Hay

18,648 Words
By Shahrazad
Re-Read

The entire concept of ‘Big Mac Gets ALL The Mares’ is a tired cliché, and yet it never fails to make me smile. As far as common concepts go, it easily ranks among my favorites. Which is why A Roll in the Hay caught my eye so quickly when it first came out and continues to make me happy by its concept alone.

In this one, we learn that Sweet Apple Acres is in serious financial trouble. The Apple Family has only a day left to pay the bank, or else they lose the farm and their home. Desperate, Big Mac decides to try something truly shameful: he puts up a sign by the barn door offering a ‘roll in the hay’ and waits inside for eager mares. We get to watch as he then navigates the turbulent waters of a day of potential prostitution which doesn’t turn out at all like he fears.

There are a few notable issues with this story. The first is the contrived nature of events regarding Big Mac’s ‘clients’ as each and every one of them end up being satisfied in ways neither they nor Big Mac anticipate. One or two I can understand, but all of them? And some of the chapters play out events in ways that go exactly as anticipated, which somewhat deadens the impact of the chapter itself (I’m looking at you, CMC). If one simply accepts that this is ‘that kind of story’ where everything goes exactly how the author intended rather than what would probably happen in reality, then this is perfectly alright. For those expecting this to go in a realistic direction, you may be disappointed.

But honestly? I think this is a story that a reader needs to just roll with (err, pun not intended) in order to get the full effect. I was more than happy to play along.

For that, I was rewarded handsomely. Amidst all the sexual innuendo and the mares commenting on Big Mac’s substantial… “hoof,” we find a story that is two parts playful, one part heartwarming and two parts amusement at the big guy’s expense. Big Mac once again proves himself a true gentlecolt as he stumbles through the murky waters of each mare’s wants in order to determine the true nugget: their needs. He might flail and he may find himself terrified of taking the wrong step, but with perseverance, integrity and no small amount of good luck, he shows that sometimes the best thing a pony needs is an open ear and some friendly advice.

Despite a couple structural flaws with the delivery, I once again leave this story satisfied. It plays wonderfully with my own headcanon regarding Big McIntosh, and besides that it’s just a fun little read.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good


The Dancer

38,956 Words
By Yipyapper
Completed Story

Octavia, potentially awesome music, ghosts. I fasttracked this one with the sincere hope of seeing something awesome. I mean, c’mon: Octavia, potentially awesome music, ghosts.

In Yipyapper’s The Dancer, Octavia is part of a band that is trying to make it big in Ponyville’s local theatre. Then, Octavia has a moment of inspiration, and while playing she inadvertently summons the ghost of a pony. This pony dances to her music, but only Octavia can see her. Curiosity turns to obsession, but while she struggles to understand who the Dancer is, she must also try to keep her wits about her long enough to finally succeed in the musical world, for a talent seeker has them pegged as the next best thing.

This story was not what I was expecting. It’s interesting and subtle, but at times it also leans more towards indirectness, and not in a positive way. There are also times where it feels as though it wants to be far more than what the words on its pages suggest, but is straining to get there. Octavia’s issues affect her bandmates and leads to plenty of strife for the band’s impromptu leader, Staccato (towards whom I have very mixed feelings).

I suppose the first issue to talk about is the music in and of itself. Now, from the descriptions alone, I gather that Yipyapper is trying to describe something epic along the lines of Nightwish or Within Temptation. This is good, because those bands are awesome. However, the style of writing just can’t seem to do the intended musical style justice. Moments that I think were meant to be powerful and emotional fell flat, specifically because the descriptions were so uncomfortably direct.

Music is a highly emotional thing. When translated into a literary form, one must take a lot of care in the writing to make sure that same power and strength comes through. It is not easy (speaking from experience), but when it works, it can be amazing. Unfortunately, this story went through the musical parts as actions: direct, to the point, and with minimal description. This is not how you inspire a reader’s imagination and emotion, and as such, the scenes all fell flat for me. Which is a shame, because it’s clear that those scenes are meant to be anything but.

A few other issues come to mind, such as the indirect storytelling style. Things are happening to Octavia, deeply emotional things that she’s trying to wrap her head around. You’ll be doing the same thing, because there’s not enough information given to really clarify everything. Oh, yes, we know the physical aspects of everything that happens, but then there are decisions made and reactions given that left me awaiting an explanation that never comes.

It is entirely possible that Yipyapper was going for something ‘deep’ and intending the reader to think their way through the scenario. I’m all for making the readers think, but I felt like this one left a little too much room for it. It left the story feeling incomplete, as if there were important pieces I’d missed entirely but was expected to have pieced together by the end. Maybe I’m just too shallow. Maybe Yipyapper will read this and think “Are you serious? It’s obvious!”

I wouldn’t hold it against them. I’ve thought the exact same thing a few times.

Despite this, I still enjoyed the story. It’s intriguing, to say the least, and I enjoyed the majority of it. I only wish it had been a little less vague.

Bookshelf: Worth It


Liked these reviews? Check out some others:

Paul's Thursday Reviews Have Returned!
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXIX
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXX
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXXI
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXXII
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXVIII
Paul's Thursday Reviews XIV
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXXV
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXXVI
Paul's Thursday Reviews XXXVII

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

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Comments ( 14 )

Wheeeeeeee, Reckoning gets the praise. :heart:
...Wow, has it really been two years since I read it? :pinkiegasp: That means it's been three-and-a-half years since I read Breaking Point...

You blindsided me with this one. I was expecting it when the site notified me that you put it in your reading now shelf, but I was waiting for comments in the chapters like you did with BP.

Glad you enjoyed it.

Ah yes, I forgot about recommending Bad Blood. It's still a personal favorite, though I suppose my enjoyment of it is helped by getting a huge kick out of Secret Agent Bon Bon in general.

Sorry it wasn't a big hit for you, though I'm glad it wasn't a total loss.

4059426
Thanks!

4059974
Yeah, I was a little surprised at the dates. Book III is on my shortlist, so when he finishes I won't have to wait another eternity to get to it.

4060018
I stopped commenting chapter-by-chapter a long time ago, on the basis that anything I say in the comments would just be repeated in the review. It also saves me time when I need to get through with my reading so I can write my own material, because I take too long writing comments: thinking about what to say and how, re-reading it for typos, changing my mind how I said something, re-reading again to make sure it flows right, and so on. I'm not very good at the whole 'read chapter, drop comment, move on' thing.

That said, I've been thinking about doing it again for long stories such as yours, if only because I could use them as reminders for things I forgot. Alternatively, I could start actually writing notes to myself. :facehoof:

Sigh. One of these days, I should really go back through your reviews and very carefully make a list of things to read. The thing about it is that I'm the type of person who tends to see through the eyes of others, so the only thing I could truly comment on is the technicalities, and the rest would probably line up with the opinions in your reviews. I guess that's why I don't have a review blog. But it's okay, 'cause I have you! :twilightsmile:

BTW, one of these days you should tackle Crisis: Equestria, and then you can speak to me about gigantic, ridiculously convoluted epics. I mean Lordy...

4060125
Glad to be of service!

I decided to look up Crisis: Equestria. Yeah... I couldn't find it. That only makes me more curious.

4060135
Here ya go

It's one of those esteemed stories that are exclusive to EqD. The only kicker is, it's not complete. But the last chapter was made in Sep14. So, ya know, fuck me right? :flutterrage: It's close to the end, tho. Like really close.

4060147
Holy wow, you talk about a scheduling nightmare! I'll try to keep an eye on it. If it's that big and updating that slowly, I'd rather just wait for the finished product, especially if its "really close" to being done. Then I'll have to add it to my 'completes' list. Then I'll have to schedule when the time comes, which requires knowledge of word counts. But since it's in GDocs only (what is wrong with this guy?), I'll have to check each chapter individually to get their lengths. And all of this is after I actually confirm it's complete, which requires me checking every week or two if I remember...

This'll be fun. :pinkiecrazy:

4060235
I'll let you know when, or if, it is completed. I check in on it every couple of months, anyway since it's my favorite fic of all time.

And most of the chapter lengths are in the 10k to 20k word range. Chapter nineteen alone has 32,847 words, but it's the longest by a sizable margin, cause it's pretty important. It's got to be in the 500,000 range by now, surely.

4063650
500,000 words? Bah. Do your worst. :coolphoto:

4060235 Sadly, it has been "Really close" for a really long time. As far as I am aware, the author decided to do some rewriting of the first few chapters a couple years ago, and didn't really update much since that :applejackunsure:

4064048
:facehoof:

Well, I guess I'll put it in my 'maybe someday in the coming infinite infinities when it's done' pile alongside Green and Asylum. Or I would if the author bothered to put the story on FIMFiction. :ajbemused:

Excellent set of reviews as usual, Paul.

I just have one gripe (but it might just be me); Black Rose comes across as kinda Mary Sue-ish to me. All her plans go off without a hitch and even when she dies it's 'all according to plan'. Still a great story and it's still on my favourites, but Black Rose kinda rubbed me the wrong way.

Anyway; Good Luck, God Bless and hope to see more in the future!

4063650

Love the penname!

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