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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 CLXXIII · 9:39pm Aug 29th, 2019

Hello again, everyone! Back from a review break, and before I talk about anything else: books. I didn’t want to bring this up until I had all my pre-orders settled and I knew what I’d end up with. I can now say with certainty that I have four copies of The Gentle Nights: Audience of One and one paperback copy of Bulletproof Heart still taking up shelf space in my apartment. Obviously, I’d like to be rid of these. I’m willing to part with the BPH book for $15 and AOO for $12 each, both prices being less than what Lulu would charge you, plus I’m not charging shipping or taxes (unless your from outside the U.S., then we may have to discuss). First come first serve! You want one, contact me via PM and I’ll tell you where to send the money through Paypal.

On to other things. August has been an absolutely crummy writing month for me. As of now I have achieved ~850 words/day. I know, I know, for some people that’s a lot. It’s not for me. At all. Funny thing is, when I do sit down to write, I can pull off 2,000-2,500 without much difficulty. I’m certain my mistake was in trying to get back into video games. I forgot that I’ve got a nasty addiction to them. But I’ve been slowly fighting it and my numbers have been going up every week, so hopefully September will see things turn around.

Chapter 7 of Famous Last Words is completed, and now I’m going to try alternating daily between chapter 8 and a short story (by a certain definition of “short”) I’ve had in my head for a while now. We’ll see how well this works.

Alright, enough of that. To the reviews!

Stories for This Week:

Mr. Brannigan's Ghosts by Moose Mage
The Incidental Pony by Fervidor
The Five Stages of Grief with Trixie Lulamoon by Curly Q
Make it Stop! by Captain Unstoppable
Colt in the Rain by DarkAura89
I Am The Cutie Mark Crusader by RainbowDashian
Who We Are by Basic Information
For this Happy Friend of Mine by Echo 27
The Waters of March by TheBandBrony
Saving Equestria by Damaged

Total Word Count: 154,296

Rating System

Why Haven't You Read These Yet?: 1
Pretty Good: 5
Worth It: 2
Needs Work: 2
None: 0

One cold autumn’s day, Twilight Sparkle is visited by a once-famed musician named Mr. Brannigan. Mr. Brannigan believes he is being haunted, and asks Twilight for any help she can offer. Of course, Twilight knows ghosts aren’t real. But she wants to be Mr. Brannigan’s friend, so…

This story reminds me of The Turning of the Screw, in that it’s never clear if Mr. Brannigan is really being haunted or if it’s all in his head. This works incredibly in the story’s favor, creating a steadily growing sense of unease and alarm as Twilight becomes more and more invested in the fate of the stallion. I also greatly appreciate Moose Mage’s approach, which reminds me of some older stories I’ve read where everything is peripheral. I expected this to have Twilight immediately visit Mr. Brannigan’s house to prove that all his fears were unfounded. Instead, Twilight only visits the house once, at the end of the story, and spends the majority only fretting and worried but not digging too deeply.

That might make this sound boring and indirect. On the contrary, Moose Mage does a wonderful job of atmosphere and mood, and does so by slowly climbing up to a climax rather than leaping right into the spookiness. That moment under the streetlamp was truly the most disturbing moment in the story and came with pitch-perfect timing.

This is a story that exemplifies the art of the unanswered question, leaving you with just enough information to lead you to a certain conclusion without ever actually confirming that conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would rank it very highly amongst my list of horrors.

Bookshelf: Why Haven’t You Read These Yet?

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
Those Who Live ForeverWHYRTY?
The Tutelage of Star SwirlPretty Good

Alternative Title: Fervidor is an Ass, but At Least He Owns It

Twilight Sparkle doesn’t remember Lyra all that well, but Lyra remembers her. Turns out there’s a perfectly legitimate reason that Lyra is always in the background. (Un?)fortunately for her, Twilight is ready to pull her into the foreground.

This doesn’t go at all where I expected it to, which is a great thing. It’s a story about who Lyra really is, her relationship to Twilight (and BonBon), and exactly how she earns her bits despite being a self-described useless, lazy dropout. I’m afraid I can’t say much more than that, because this is a story that shouldn’t be spoiled.

The story is well-written, hitting all its emotional and atmospheric queues more or less perfectly. It starts off somewhat slow but makes up for it with the latter third of the material, all while keeping the mystery steadily building up. I’d say Fervidor hit the mark perfectly.

The only catch is that Fervidor knowingly, willingly, perhaps even happily trolls us by ending the story before it’s even begun. This is an introduction piece to something much larger that we will never see, as the author never intended to let us see it. Indeed, Fervidor wrote this story specifically so that it would end in exactly the right way to disappoint as many readers as possible, if not all of them. It’s quite the trolly move.

That’s not a complaint. If anything, I can respect someone willing to do something so blatantly wrong on purpose like this. It’d be different if I got the feeling Fervidor didn’t know what he was doing or made the mistake of thinking this was actually a satisfying conclusion. Heck, for him it probably is. But I came away with the sense that he knew exactly how people would feel about this and chose to take that hit, and I can appreciate that.

Given the story’s upvote ratio, I’d say the vast majority of people are okay with it as well.

By all means, give this a read. Just be ready for a disappointing ending.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
Paper PromisesPretty Good

Trixie just got her invitation to Twilight Sparkle’s coronation. To say she’s unhappy about it would be an understatement, seeing as it patently ignores things like shock, fury, and soul-selling for dark powers for revenge.

Ah, Trixie, how I enjoy your stories.

This one is peculiar in that it mixes seriousness with humor, and does it quite well. The seriousness doesn’t really start until Chapter 4, but that’s okay because the other chapters are pretty short. Plus, the whole thing literally starts with Trixie blowing up her own wagon in a fit of rage. I grinned.

At times silly, frequently playing Trixie up for her most entertaining qualities, and never showing her as entirely good, the story is fun from beginning to end. I love the central premise of Trixie being easy to hate until you get used to her. You could make that into an epic tale and I’d read the heck out of it.

But for now, I’ll be satisfied with this.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
New Author!

What exactly happened to Big Mac after Starlight cast that Evertalk spell on him? Simple answer: he ran through downtown Ponyville making an ass out of himself, because apparently the spell also forces everything that comes out of his mouth to be the truth, no matter how harsh.

At least he got a date out of the ordeal.

This was an amusing bit of silliness. It’s nothing more than Big Mac telling everypony he comes across exactly what he thinks of them, from insulting their wares to admitting that they’re the cutest mare ever. Even better is that Captain Unstoppable plays it straight, never resorting to ridiculous, unrealistic stunts to keep things going. The story almost outlasts its welcome, but the author stops before the topic can get old.

If you feel like a bit of light humor at Mac’s expense, give this one a go.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
New Author!

Lightning Dust breaks up with Thunderlane. He doesn’t take it well.

This is, to put it lightly, a story about how Thunderlane is an immature pony, at least when it comes to matters of the heart. He wears his heart on his sleeve, leaping at opportunities and lashing out when hurt. It’s rather surprising that in this case it’s Lightning who is the mature, kind pony of this story. Of course, one must bear in mind when the story was written. But Thunderlane is quite the wreck here. He also seems to have anger issues, because when something hurts him all he can do is attack anyone and anything that might try to help him.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the story is bad, nor am I saying Thunderlane himself is bad. We’ve all (well, I assume we’ve all) been there, and what he’s going through hurts like a bitch. He’s in an intense emotional state and not thinking straight. It is a testament to Lightning’s maturity that she recognizes this and reacts accordingly. My one regret for the story as a whole is not seeing her make amends.

So that’s what this story is: a study of the emotional impact of a difficult breakup, from the perspective of a highly emotional pony. DarkAura89 handles it well, putting the raw emotion on display in a way that is, in a certain sense, nostalgic. It’s made all the better by how you can see the breakup coming, not just because the opening flashes it in our face like a glaring billboard, but because of the nature of the relationship. Really, if the author hadn’t written the entire story through flashbacks interposed with the present in alternating scenes, I still would have known exactly where this is going. Does that mean the story would have been better if told chronologically? I’m not sure, but I’ve no issue with how it is written.

Except that one flashback within a flashback. We didn’t need that. It came out as sloppy at best.

I’m not sure who all this will appeal to, but it has a certain familiarity and realism to it that puts it a step above for me. As much as I don’t like how Thunderlane handles the situation, I can at least understand it and appreciate the ‘why’ behind it. The fact it ends on a happy note helps with the nonstop sadness of the tale, and it may work well for the hopeless romantics. I like it overall, and I encourage you to give it a shot.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
New Author!

I went into this hoping it wouldn’t be just another Scootasad fic. It ended up being much, much worse than that.

Somehow, I am expected to believe that Apple Bloom, upon getting her cutie mark, just up and abandoned her fellow crusaders as if they’re trash. And then I’m expected to believe that Rainbow Dash stopped paying Scootaloo any attention whatsoever upon learning that she has a debilitating disease and will never fly. And then I’m expected to believe that Sweetie Belle instantly got a major job offer with a travelling group—and took it—at nine years old upon getting a singing cutie mark because that’s how these things work.

Does anyone believe any of this? Given the upvote ratio on this story, apparently some do. Which makes me question what knock-off series they’ve been watching for the last decade that clearly has nothing to do with friendship.

This story doesn’t exist for any reason other than to make Scootaloo a wretched, unloved filly driven to suicide by completely OOC characters. Needless to say, I am not impressed. More annoyed than anything, really. This will still get on my bookshelves because the writing in and of itself isn’t bad, but in every other way it bombs.

Bookshelf: Needs Work

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
New Author!

When a parasite with zombie-like effects spreads across Equestria, it means the end of ponykind. The last remaining survivors have but one chance: abandon their home and flee to Saddle Arabia, which has offered salvation and amnesty to any uninfected that arrive at the border. Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo are late to jump on that opportunity, and now trek alone across the vast deserts in hopes of salvation.

Wow, this was… rough. I’m honestly not sure Basic Information even knows what a period is meant for, much less a comma, because they use them interchangeably and randomly throughout the whole story. To get a good idea. imagine if I wrote a story, like this from. Beginning to end, yeah. It’s really this bad. To accentuate. They also right the wrong, words and sometime has the wrong tense and spell. Even, gone far 2 use text speak.

Geez, just fake-writing it for demonstration purposes is hard. Reading this story is a phenomenal chore. Basic Information desperately needs to take a grammar class. Or get a very patient proofreader.

That being said, the story itself is not bad for someone so blatantly new to the practice. It’s all about Scootaloo’s and Rainbow’s dependence on one another. It could have made for something strong if handled by someone with a bit more experience. The only serious issue is that the supposed point of the tale comes completely out of nowhere and is resolved within a matter of seconds.

If this author could learn to write in a general sense, they might have been able to produce something worthwhile. Alas, it appears they’ve abandoned the site, so we’ll never know.

Bookshelf: Needs Work

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
New Author!

When Pinkie hears that Fluttershy’s feeling down, she immediately rushes over to cheer her friend up. To her bewilderment, Fluttershy politely refuses all the usual tools in Pinkie’s arsenal of parties, cupcakes, confetti, etc. So instead she agrees to try things Fluttershy’s way: a calm day of doing chores, visiting animals, and generally keeping the pegasus company. For perhaps the first time ever, Pinkie is taking things slow. She’s not sure how to feel about it.

This was a nice little friendship tale between Andrea Libman and Andrea Libman. It largely focuses on Pinkie learning more about Fluttershy’s lifestyle and discovering it’s not so bad to take things mellow every now and then. I do feel like the story overemphasizes Fluttershy’s timidity given when it was released, but I’ll consider that a subjective matter in this case since it’s not clear exactly when the story takes place in overarching canon except “after Season 4”.

Other than that, there’s not a whole lot to the story. It’ll be worthwhile if you want to see some Pinkie and Fluttershy interaction. It’s decently written, but ends pretty quickly. My one and only real complaint is that I feel the story could have given us a bit more development regarding Pinkie’s study of Fluttershy’s way of doing things, but it’s a minor complaint. By all means, give it a go.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
New Author!

The cover art is a lie.

Rainbow Dash is feeling… she’s not sure. Melancholy, perhaps. She wants to get away, but she doesn’t want to get away. It’s a depression, and she has no idea what to do to salvage it. Rarity notices, and suggests that the two of them get away from Ponyville for the weekend. Their destination? A tropical island resort. Rainbow isn’t sure that’s what she needs, but she’ll go. For Rarity.

This isn’t even remotely what I expected, but that’s not a bad thing. The story is told entirely from Rainbow’s perspective and runs through her vacation with Rarity. As it moves from scene to scene, Rainbow’s endless melancholy lingers, driving her closer and closer to something she wants but doesn’t understand. Not surprisingly, her favorite solution is to run away from the problem.

There are a lot of strange elements to the style of this story. It’s all told in this ceaselessly vague fashion where you have to pay close attention to get at what Rainbow is really thinking and doing. This is a loud contradiction, because I think we can all agree that one thing Rainbow isn’t is vague.

Then we get to the jetstream, and that’s where things really get interesting. This is the first story I’ve read that treats the jetstream as a magical entity and focuses a good bit of the story’s theming on it. This also serves as backup, because I get a feeling like Rainbow’s trip through this purely magical flow has affected her mind to a certain degree, hence justifying her vague manner throughout the story. The author never confirms this—really, the author confirms nothing at all in this story—but it does make for some nice headcanon reasoning.

Yet the central premise, buried deep beneath the jetstream and Rainbow’s melancholy, is romance. This is a RariDash ship, told in a gradual and offhand way. To be honest, I’m not buying the ship as presented in this story because we’re not given anything at all to suggest why Rainbow is interested or if Rarity even reciprocates. That or my skull is too dense to grasp the clues in the foggy uncertainties that make up TheBandBrony’s prose.

Did I like the story? Yes. Absolutely. The style of it is intensely atmospheric, the protagonists portrayed in fascinating ways that don’t feel out of character, the bits of worldbuilding are a nice spice, and I ultimately came away happy with what I read. However, those seeking directness in their author will scoff at this and those looking for straight-up romance, with all the tropes that implies, won’t find what they’re looking for. This one feels more experimental than anything, and while it works well for me, I suspect it’s ability to please any individual reader is going to be hit or miss.

Bookshelf: Worth It

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
Save the RecordsMissed Audience

Imagine, for a moment, that Queen Chrysalis isn’t a vicious tyrant but a loving friend who adores ponies and only wants to protect Equestria from its gravest threats. That is the premise of Damaged’s Saving Equestria. Chrysalis, disguised as one Chryssi, is the best friend of Shining Armor and Mi Amore Cadenza, and is so close to them she actually lives in the same house. Ever-studious, she comes upon the legend of Nightmare Moon and rushes to intervene, arriving in Ponyville only to find that Twilight and her friends already solved the problem, albeit through sheer luck.

As time goes by and more threats emerge, Chryssi realizes that Celestia is not only inept at protecting her nation, she’s completely blind to her own incompetence. So, to save Equestria, Chrysalis decides to do what she’s avoided her entire life: create a proper hive and take over Equestria. But first, she needs to get Cadance and Shining in on the plan.

This didn’t go at all how I expected. My anticipation was for Chrysalis to replace Celestia and rule from the shadows. Instead we get her scheming behind Celestia’s back with the help of her friends. The story comes in three parts: first, Chrysalis’s rise to power, then her first challenge in the form of King Sombra, then a rematch when the Alicorn Amulet pops up.

What’s really quirky about all of this is that Chrysalis is, you would think, the central character. And for the first part of the story, that’s mostly true. But as soon as she’s cemented power, she all but disappears from the story. Replacing her are Cadance, Shining Armor, Twilight, and Luna as the central players. Then the third story comes along and suddenly Derpy’s the hero; aside from a cameo or two, Chrysalis might as well not exist.

To a certain degree, this makes sense. Chrysalis openly acknowledges that Celestia is better at managing internal affairs and Luna better at fighting Equestria’s enemies. Even so, when the story description and the cover art make it absolutely clear that this is supposed to be a story about Chrysalis, some readers might be miffed that it ends up not being so. Still, the events were interesting enough to keep me watching from beginning to end, consistently curious as to where Damaged was taking this. 

There are, of course, some issues. To begin, Damaged has no sense of atmosphere and intensity. Easy examples are when Chrysalis first fights Celestia, and again when Luna challenges Chrysalis after. These are supposed to be big, climactic moments of high emotions, big risks, and potential horror. Instead they’re just ‘They fought. One won. Moving on.’ Not in so few words, but it amounted to the same thing. At no point does the author try to get into the head of either the victor or the defeated, and these are precisely the most important times to do so. Since the entire story reads in this dry, unemotive fashion, no one scene ever feels as dramatic as it is obviously meant to be.

Then there’s the ending of each arc, which… isn’t. Chryaslis’s coming to power merged fairly seamlessly with the Sombra arc, which is fine, but the other two? Fight’s over, next arc. No transitioning at all, no sense of accomplishment, no examining the consequences of events. As soon as the Big Moment is over, we move on or end the story. This is jarring to say the least, leaving me to wonder if there’s an extra couple chapters that somehow never got published.

Then there are the characters themselves, who are unbelievable in their manner. Celestia just got dislodged from her throne for the first time in over a thousand years? Ho-hum, I was getting tired of ruling anyway. I’ll totally trust this changeling I don’t know who showed up out of nowhere to rule my country for me, no problem.

Luna just found out that the most frightening creatures she’s ever faced have taken over Canterlot. They can be anyone and use mind control, and they once did exactly that to her sister centuries ago. And now it’s all happening again! But oh, Twilight’s here saying the new Queen is alright. Yep, guess I’ll trust her and go into the hornet’s nest all alone, because that makes perfect sense. Please ignore the total paranoia and terror I’ve been displaying for the last half-dozen chapters, I was totally faking that.

Then there’s the high speed of events. A year passes within the first three chapters. Chrysalis goes from “I can help Celestia” to “Celestia is totally incompetent and I need to take over” so quickly it makes no sense. She jumps to the conclusion so preposterously fast I can’t help wondering if her whole scheme wasn’t really due to a natural, subconscious urge of a Changeling Queen to conquer a food source.

This story feels incomplete at best. It has some interesting ideas but fails to explore them to their full potential, on top of failing to provide proper conclusions to two of the three arcs. The awkward character behavior, the absence of appropriate drama when it is most needed, the overly telly narrative, the rapid-paced decisions with no adequate reasoning (at least at the beginning), it all works to squeeze the life out of the plot. Which is unfortunate, because there is some good stuff here. If Damaged could learn to wield atmosphere properly and not speed through things so quickly, we might get some real gems from this author.

Bookshelf: Worth It

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
New Author!

Stories for Next Week:
Geoverse Part One: To Friend Is Human by GeodesicDragon
Sparkle's Law by AestheticB
Care and Love, Always by Sage of the Leaf
Mother by chillbook1
Everypony Lives by Chinchillax
Defining Features by Ice Star
Rainbow's Horn by Cerulean Swirl
No Place Like Nowhere by CoffeeBean
Star Overhead by KorenCZ11
Misunderstandings by The Rogue Wolf

Recent Review Map:

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Comments ( 9 )

"The Waters of March" is the only one of these I've read, and I liked it about as much as you for the same reasons.

I have yet to read these stories, but I definitely want to now! Hey, feel free to do a review of one of my stories, but The Lost One! Because that I believe is A Lost Cause. :pinkiecrazy: This one is still going through a bit of editing, but it will be ready once I remove that from the description.

I'd forgotten about Mr. Brannigan's Ghosts. Certainly a very unusual take, and I liked it a lot, too. Mind you, looking back I see that I read it straight after The Mane 6 vs. the Islamic State, so possibly I was partly just relieved to get away from that!

Looking down next week's list, I think Sparkle's Law is the only one I've read.

I had Saving Equestria on my RiL for a while, from a Chrysalis phase I went through a couple of years ago. I think I took it off in the end without reading it. Might have to give it a try, though, you make it sound great!

Hey thanks for the review! Glad you enjoyed it! Surprised it wasn't the random ship that got you!

I've added you to my list as a request, but bear in mind that its length mandates it go into my Long-Term Schedule, which is fully booked through November 2020. :raritydespair:

The random ship? Are you kidding? I ship. I ship the ships so much. There are very few ships that give me pause, and that's not even remotely close to one of them.

So, this is super belated - I must have seen your comment on the story ages ago and I'm pretty sure I read the review back then, but I guess I somehow forgot to comment, apparently?

Anyway, you were half right regarding my intentions with the ending. I did do it totally on purpose, but I wasn't exactly trying to troll everyone. Rather, I was trying to emulate the experience I sometimes have when reading an unfinished story that has just enough in it that I can imagine the continuation. This is something I have personally found strangely stimulating, as I'm aware that whatever I come up with is more my story than that of the original author. That was the general effect I was aiming for.

So, yeah, I did want the readers to go: "But what happens next?" However, I honestly did not expect so many people to get quite so disappointed since I had - in my mind - covered all the really important stuff. I might joke that the worst thing people had to say about my story was that there wasn't more of it, and I still stand by my decision to end it the way I did. But the simple truth is that I underestimated how important closure is to many readers, and I doubt I'll ever try something like that again. It was an experiment, and a valuable learning experience for me.

Thanks for the awesome and amusing review, anyway. Not to mention any names, but you seem more insightful - and positive - than critics I've dealt with in the past.

Belated indeed, but appreciated nonetheless!

If we take the term 'stimulated' to mean "have lots of ideas", then yeah, the end of incompleted stories can be very stimulating. That doesn't make them any less disappointing. Readers become invested, and once they become invested, they want to know the conclusion, even if the conclusion is a bad one. Developing the story in your head is fine and all, but it's never canon, and I think most people want that reassurance rather than what amounts to wishful thinking. The Incidental Pony did a wonderful job of endearing the characters and getting the reader invested, so knowing there will never be a conclusion? Yeah, it felt trolly.

But some very well done trolly.

Anyway, glad you enjoyed the review!

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