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I have nothing interesting to say up here. Below the break, my review of PhantomFox's Sunny Skies All Day Long.
Impressions before reading: This is another of my all-time favorites. The premise is the sort of thing that could have come straight from an episode--my favorite kind of fic to read. Of course, I've observed before that not every story that I loved on first read has held up well to closer scrutiny, but I'm still optimistic going in.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Celestia wants to take a break from the headaches of Canterlot, and decides to travel to Ponyville incognito. While there, she takes advantage of the opportunity to get to know her favorite student and her friends a little better.
Thoughts after reading: Celestia traveling among her subjects while in disguise is practically its own genre at this point. This story is one of the earliest to use the premise, and is probably the best known. It's easy to see why; this story is carefully crafted to match the show's aesthetic, and truly feels like a written-out version of an actual episode.
The story is told from Celestia's perspective, but it makes sure to introduce every one of the mane six along the way. Despite the formulaic approach, none of these encounters feels forced or shoehorned in. Each of Twilight's friends gets a chance to interact with Celestia in a way that shines light on her character while exemplifying their canon personalities.
The writing on the mane six was very good. All the ponies are in-character, even Pinkie (who displays her trademark "freaky knowledge" without coming across as a deus ex machina). Celestia, on the other hand, at times seemed a bit too inexperienced for an ancient monarch. The way that she panics and nervously tries to explain away any flaws in her disguise is funny, but it doesn't really mesh with the idea that she's been running an entire country/solar system for the last millennium; she doesn't always display the level of competence in this story which one would expect from a being of her age and stature. This wasn't a major problem (and could mostly be explained away by invoking the so-called "Rule of Funny"--as long as a joke works, it doesn't have to make sense), but it was noticeable in a few places.
Speaking of funny, there's a lot of high-quality comedy in this story. From quoting the show's opening lines to pony puns ("maresseuse," natch) to simple character-based humor, there's plenty to keep a reader smiling. While this isn't a comedy story in the "wall-to-wall slapstick" sense, there are plenty of comical situations and hilarious lines scattered throughout.
Spelling and grammar were mostly good. I noticed a couple of homonym errors, but these were few enough that they weren't distracting. One thing about the writing that did occasionally bother me was a lack of synonyms. Consider this passage: "'Here’s your invitation!' Celestia took the invitation and opened it. Scanning the glitter covered invitation, Celestia looked up at Pinkie Pie." Using the word "invitation" three times in as many sentences really sticks out. There are a few other places where a little rephrasing to avoid repeated words would have helped.
I said earlier that this story reads like an episode. I really want to commend PhantomFox for capturing the spirit of the show in this story. In terms of pacing, language, and tone, this story perfectly captures FiM's aesthetic. Sometimes this is actually to the detriment of the story (the introductory scene with Luna and Celestia feels rushed...in precisely the manner that many actual episodes skimp on setup in order to fit all the action they have into 22 minutes), but Sunny Skies is one of the most faithful-to-source-material fanfics I've read.
Star rating: ★★★★☆ (what does this mean?)
Despite a bit of word redundancy and a rushed setup, this story captures everything that fans love about My Little Pony and spins it into a tight and cohesive tale. The humor and characterization are both excellent.
Recommendation: If you like the show (and if you don't, why are you reading fanfics about it in the first place?), then you'll like this story as well. It truly does read like an official episode.
Next time: Rainbows and Sunsets, by Sagebrush