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Today's installment of my ongoing 6-star reviews series brings us Chasing Rainbows courtesy of Phoe, ponyfic author and EqD blog editor. Unlike the previous two entries, I'm going into this one blind. That's right, I've never read this fic, in whole or part. Below the break, surprises! Hopefully, the good kind.
Impressions before reading: As I said, I've never read this before, no doubt because of the [shipping] tag. Don't get me wrong, I don't have any particular antipathy towards shipfics as a group. I just generally don't bother with them because I know they aren't going to be my cup of tea. Different strokes for different folks, and all that (although, [shipping][comedy] is a tag set I'll often check out). Anyway, if this story is really the creme de la creme of pony fiction, then it ought to be good enough to make me forget about the tags and enjoy it on its own merits. Right?
Anyway, Chasing Rainbows is a sequel to Fluttering Heart, which is probably worth reading first. It's cute, it's harmless, it's less than three pages long, and it sets up the opening sequence to this story. That said, it's not required reading to understand what's going on here.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Fluttershy loves Dash, but Dash doesn't know...yet. Then the cards get laid on the table, and the drama commences.
Comments after reading: Spelling/grammar errors: none. At least, none that I noticed. God, that felt good to write.
The story's prose couples florid word choice with comparatively sparse descriptions. Usually when you see phrases like "lithe but powerful muscles," and, "magenta eyes locked with teal," it's a bad sign. Not that there's anything wrong with such phrases per se, they just tend to be used as crutches by inexperienced authors who add lengthy, irrelevant descriptions which bog down the narrative. Thankfully, the author's restrained use of such descriptors prevents the story from devolving into lengthy bouts of purple prose. Indeed, I would point to this as a shining example of a story which uses flowery language in such a way that it enhances the reader's enjoyment, rather than detracting from it.
Unfortunately, the plot is lacking. I don't think it's fair to expect the reader to just take it as a given that Character A is in love with Character B, as this story (and many, many other shipfics) do. It seems to me that the revelation that Fluttershy is romantically attracted to one of her supposedly platonic friends is kind of a big deal, and here it's never even addressed; it's just assumed from the start. Why should I as a reader have to try to justify such a major character revelation as a prerequisite for reading the story? Is it unreasonable to expect the author to explain huge developments like this? Why can't Phoe at least give us some setup for these major character developments, rather than just taking it for granted from the first sentence that Fluttershy's a lesbian and has the hots for her best friend?
Maybe this is what separates people who enjoy shipping stories from people who don't. Maybe the folks who do like them don't see any problem with the author making those kind of assumptions; after all, it says [shipping] right in the description, so you know there's going to be ponies falling in love, right? I still think that it falls to the author to explain and justify this kind of thing to the reader. Incidentally, this is the same reason I read relatively little grimdark--too much of it doesn't even bother trying to explain why the ponies are suddenly mass-murderers or what have you, which is completely at odds with the way they're portrayed in the show.
On a similar note, this story makes it clear that homosexuality is something uncommon and not universally accepted, much like in the real world. It's apparent that Fluttershy isn't "out of the closet;" at least, Dash doesn't seem to have known that she was a lesbian, and Fluttershy's friends are presumably among the first people she'd come out to. Yet when confronted, Fluttershy goes straight to "I love you" (or rather, "Iloveyou"). I admit that I've never come out of the closet to a lifelong friend on whom I'm crushing (if anyone reading this has, feel free to correct me if I'm mistaken), but that just rings false to me.
Okay, getting back to the positives: Dash's dream/memory was well-written, and did a great job explaining her actions. If we put aside all that stuff I've been whining about for the last few paragraphs, then everything else about Dash and Fluttershy is solidly in-character: Dash's aggression, her emotional fragility, Fluttershy's whole out-in-the-rain bit...all very much in keeping with their canon personalities. The ending was sweet, and (unlike many shipfics) didn't rush the characters straight to "And then they ******." Er, "kissed."
Star rating: ★★★☆☆ (what does this mean?)
I have my issues with this story, but if you're willing to put aside the inexplicable character developments then there's some good stuff here. The prose is well-written, there's enough development in the latter half of the story to bring out some genuine emotion (I really felt for Dash after reading the dream sequence), and the ending doesn't insult the reader's intelligence.
Recommendation: Anyone who's a fan of Fluttershy x Dash should read this. In fact, anyone who likes shipping in general should read this. Anyone who doesn't...probably shouldn't. There's some good stuff in this story, but I wouldn't say non-shippers are missing out if they give it a pass.
Next time: Bubbles, by Anonymous