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Titanium Dragon


TD writes and reviews pony fanfiction, and has a serious RariJack addiction. Send help and/or ponies.

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May
18th
2020

Read It Later Reviews #90 – The Land of the Dead, The Third Wheel, Courtesans, The Trixie Clause, The Sum of Our Parts · 1:39am May 18th

Ninety is a nice, round number, and the nineties were a rather nice decade.

In this set, I started reading GaP Jaxie’s The Third Wheel, a series of five AU fics set in the same world, plus I read a smattering of other stories.

Today’s stories:

The Land of the Dead by GaPJaxie
The Third Wheel by GaPJaxie
Courtesans by GaPJaxie
The Trixie Clause by TCC56
The Sum of Our Parts by Aquaman


The Land of the Dead
by GaPJaxie

Slice of Life
2,021 words

Twilight learns what comes after life ends.

Why I added it: GaPJaxie is a good writer.

Review
I could have sworn I read this story before, but I can’t find any evidence of that.

Twilight Sparkle dies, and finds herself in a peaceful snowy world, with a little log cabin. She doesn’t need to eat, but the food never runs out; she doesn’t need warmth, but there’s always logs for the fire. There is a little shelf full of books, always what she wants to read, and little bunnies around that she feeds.

It’s very peaceful there.

Very nice.

And then Starlight shows up.

This is a story about the value of life, and the contradiction between the common presentation of the idyllic afterlife and the things that people see as mattering and having value. This is a very philosophical piece, subtle in its initial presentation, but it becomes clearer and clearer as the piece goes on just what it is trying to say and what exactly it is deconstructing.

I really thought that the simple presentation did a lot to reinforce the message. The story is cleverly written, as it shows us what Twilight is doing, but it doesn’t show us the true conflict of the piece until much later on in the piece, even though it had been set up there from the beginning.

Recommendation: Recommended.


The Third Wheel
by GaPJaxie

Drama, Alternate Universe
18,961 words

Twilight and Shining Armor have a little sister named Light Step. Everypony tells Light Step how lucky she is to be related to such great heroes.

Light Step wishes she could smother them both.

Why I added it: GaPJaxie asked me to.

Review
This was a very unpleasant story to read. But not because the story was badly written.

No, this story was unpleasant to read because the main character was extremely unlikeable. This is always a dangerous gambit. There’s such a thing as loving to hate someone – like Flitter in Five Hundred Little Murders – but here, the protagonist is pretty unbearable for the overwhelming majority of the story. Even when they’re showing their “good side”, they’re still horrible, because they’re taking advantage of people and are in denial about what they are really like.

And worse still, they treat characters we are supposed to like garbage.

Light Step, Twilight Sparkle and Shining Armor’s younger sister, is a raging bitch. She is a bitter, poisonous pony who constantly acts out and who treats other people like dirt. She acts absolutely horribly towards her siblings for no good reason at all, and what she accuses other people of doing, she does even more, and worse, and in a much more abusive fashion.

She’s just a toxic individual through and through. Even the closest thing she has to a positive relationship – her friendship with her roommate – is absolutely horrible, as she is using her roommate as an outlet, and mistreating them in the process.

This is, in fact, the entire point of the story – we’re seeing an absolutely awful teenager who is constantly acting out and treating other people like trash, and even when people try to be nice to her, she treats them horribly. There’s something deeply wrong with her.

That’s not to say this is a bad story. There’s something engaging here, an interesting core. Setting out to write a story about someone this bad being redeemed is interesting, and by the end of the story, we start to see them not be such a horrible person all the time… and yet, they still are almost entirely horrible. And in some ways, that kind of makes them worse, because there isn’t even something fundamentally wrong with them – they choose to be a horrible person all the time, and even as they try to justify their acting out, they act terribly towards other people.

There are some oddities here due to the AU verse, and I have to say, the first chapter was a bit offputting – this is not a very nice alternate universe, and Cadance felt pretty out of character relative to her personality on the show. And frankly, Light Step was offputting as hell.

But the central thread here is actually legitimately interesting, and I want to see where it goes.

This is not a story for the faint of heart. This took almost 19,000 words to make a completely intolerable bitch into… a still completely intolerable bitch, but one who at least admits that there’s something actually wrong with her and who actually felt bad about hurting at least one person. So if you are put off by protagonists who are fundamentally unlikable, this is probably not the story for you.

I’ve read one of the sequels to this – The Virgin Princess – so I’m somewhat curious about how this series is going to unfold.

Recommendation: Worth Reading.


Courtesans
by GaPJaxie

Drama, Sex, Alternate Universe
19,855 words

Double Time is a changeling. Years ago, she fought the Crystal Empire in the war in the north. Now she's Cadence's prisoner.

Together, they'll learn something new about life, and rulership, and what it means to love.

Why I added it: It’s the sequel to The Third Wheel.

Review
I was definitely not expecting the sequel to The Third Wheel to be about Double Time, but I have to say, I swear GaPJaxie wrote these stories to talk about damaged goods.

Because boy, are Cadance and Double Time damaged goods.

This story is a sequel to The Third Wheel, and but Light Step has very little presence in this story. Instead, it does a bunch of world-building for this AU.

Here, Cadance and Shining Armor have an open marriage, and Shining Armor reformed a changeling hive by banging their leader, Queen Amarylis. As it turns out, this was something of a desperation tactic, but it worked.

Double Time is part of said hive. She was an infiltrator during the war, but now she does a bunch of random odd jobs – including part-time being a student at the school Light Step goes to.

But old loyalties run deep, and when Queen Amarylis summons her back to the north and hands her over as a prisoner to Cadance, Double Time is obedient. She is, after all, the perfect little infiltrator.

Right?

Double Time is a very adaptable creature, but it is very obvious as this story goes on just how much is wrong with her. And yet, at the same time, she and Shining Armor seem to be coping pretty well, while Princess Cadance, who has had a mostly pretty good life, is having a lot of trouble.

The real heart of this story is the interplay between Double Time and Cadance, with a bit of her and Shining Armor as well. Double Time is an interesting (if messed up) character, and peeling back her layers and seeing what she is really like underneath it all is interesting. Cadance, meanwhile, is being pushed around by Queen Amarylis, who has no idea how to be good, and is in turn taking it out to some extent on Double Time.

Double Time is an interesting character. Her mindset is alien, and yet, she’s clearly still a person, even if she is a damaged one who tries to hide it. She was a monster at one point, and still sees herself as one, and yet, she’s better than she thinks she is.

This story is very much an AU, and Cadance is perhaps the most AU part of it. Cadance is not very show-like here, but the character she is given here is nonetheless interesting; she works pretty well at her role in this story, and while this may not be show Cadance, she is an interesting (if damaged) character to read about.

This was a lot more fun to read than The Third Wheel was, even if the subject matter was in a sense even darker, as here, we can see that the characters are aware of their flaws, and are trying to overcome them – which, even though the situation is much more serious than a teenaged brat throwing a hissy fit, makes the story feel less relentlessly unpleasant by comparison.

Recommendation: Worth Reading.


The Trixie Clause
by TCC56

Comedy
7,306 words

Some realize that Trixie is not the first to bear the title of The Great And Powerful.

Few realize that it is less a title and more a curse.

The one who kills The Great And Powerful shall ever after be cursed to become The Great And Powerful.

On a related note, Twilight Sparkle is having a very bad week.

Why I added it: PaulAsaran thought it was pretty good.

Review
While the story is labelled as a black comedy, the story is really mostly just a comedy with a dark bit to start it off – after Trixie gets killed by an escape act gone wrong, poor Twilight finds out that by being the one to secure Trixie’s restraints, the curse of the Great and Powerful has now been passed on to her… along with the hat and cape.

I really liked the premise for the curse of the Great and Powerful in this story. It was a very clever idea, and I don’t want to spoil what it was about for those who do read it.

But unfortunately, at the same time, I feel like I can’t really recommend the story apart from that bit in the second chapter.

This story’s greatest problem is its arc – the story is basically arranged like the inverse of the universal engagement curve, with the hook at the beginning being a high point, but the story declining from there as the curse is explained and then Twilight tries to break it. The result is that, rather than the sort of escalation that longer comedy stories exploit, this instead feels like it is declining until the end of the final chapter, when the climax is reached and the payoff for the whole thing happens.

Consequently, this didn’t really do it for me; the story is over 7,000 words long, but a lot of the middle portion of the story felt like it was taken up by the same joke of Twilight Sparkle not being able to speak normally.

Recommendation: Not Recommended.


The Sum of Our Parts
by Aquaman

Romance, Drama
2,100 words

When I was a foal, I despised Apple Bloom more than anypony else in the world. Years later, my feelings have changed, and so have Apple Bloom and I. But some things will always be the same: she will always be honest, and I will always be a liar. To her, to my parents, to the world—and to myself.

Why I added it: I liked it in the Iron Author competition.

Review
Diamond Tiara is at an upper-class party, amongst a bunch of rich and famous businessponies. She’s nursing a drink, but she isn’t drunk.

Or is she?

This story is a character study about a potential grown-up Diamond Tiara. She’s a bitter, miserable pony who makes bad choices – but she knows she’s making them. In fact, she even already knows her excuses for making them.

And yet, she continues to do so.

Seeing someone sabotage themselves in this fashion, keep on making those mistakes, and seeing the flaws in others but also seeing them in themselves and not doing anything about it… it is all very humanizing. Even if she is a pony, the emotions are real, and the cynical tinge throughout the piece really makes it work. The story has a good arc to it, and the closing words of it work well to sum up the piece.

While in one sense, “nothing happens” in this story – she goes to the bar, gets a drink, and avoids talking to another pony – Diamond Tiara’s inner world here delivers a narrative arc that brings us back to the present and gives the lack of action meaning.

Recommendation: Worth Reading.


Summary
The Land of the Dead by GaPJaxie
Recommended

The Third Wheel by GaPJaxie
Worth Reading

Courtesans by GaPJaxie
Worth Reading

The Trixie Clause by TCC56
Not Recommended

The Sum of Our Parts by Aquaman
Worth Reading

Until next time, stay safe, and be well.

Number of stories still listed as Read It Sooner: 241

Number of stories still listed as Read It Later: 691

Number of stories listed as Read It Eventually: 2291

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Comments ( 7 )
Georg #1 · May 18th · · ·

Yep, GaPjaxie does an amazing job with broken characters. I can't match it, although I've tried with Buggie.

Also, Aquaman's story was so good at the Iron Author reading. I'm so proud to have tied with it.

81 Days is good as well.

TCC56 #3 · May 18th · · ·

Recommendation: Not Recommended.

Well, can't win 'em all! Thank you for the review, as well as the feedback. Can't do better next time without it, after all.

Hooray! :twilightsmile:

I really thought that the simple presentation did a lot to reinforce the message. The story is cleverly written, as it shows us what Twilight is doing, but it doesn’t show us the true conflict of the piece until much later on in the piece, even though it had been set up there from the beginning.

It's hard to make "one day, we're all going to die," a happy ending, but I think I pulled it off. It was a very productive little writeoff!

I was definitely not expecting the sequel to The Third Wheel to be about Double Time, but I have to say, I swear GaPJaxie wrote these stories to talk about damaged goods.

Most of my stories are about damaged goods! I'm damaged goods. Writing is cheaper and more effective than therapy.

makes the story feel less relentlessly unpleasant by comparison.

What every writer longs to hear! "This story was less relentlessly unpleasant than your last one."

5264683

What every writer longs to hear! "This story was less relentlessly unpleasant than your last one."

Truer words were never spoken.

Georg #7 · May 21st · · ·

5264573 Indeed. Good feedback is as valuable as gold to a writer. More, in fact, because if we had enough gold, we might stop writing. Or buy an incredible amount of cheez-its. In any event, you've got a lot of positives with this story:
1. You got TD and Paul to review it, and that puts you into a special category of "Hey, this author might be interesting."
2. You got positive feedback out of it, which is then used to make Greater and More Powerful stories.
3. You got like five pages of comments. People who are engaged by a story may not upthumb it or fave it, but frequently will go ahead and produce feedback on their own.

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