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This marks the first time I've reviewed a grimdark story on this blog. Although every now and then one catches my eye, I must say I read very few fanfics of this genre. Ponies and violent death, in principle, aren't things I particularly want to see mixed together. But if there's one thing I'm willing to make an exception for, it's quality. Is Sparkler and Quill's Party of None such an exception? Read below the break to find out.
Impressions before reading: The EqD description says this story asks, "Can grimdark actually be a little funny and not depend on gore and blood?" That sounds a bit more like a story I want to read. Still, the "alternate reality" tag is setting off warning bells for me--saying that something takes place in an alternate reality is all too often code for "One or more of the ponies is wildly out of character, but it's okay, because I said so!"
Zero-ish spoiler summary: We all know that the events in the episode Party of One drove Pinkie to act just slightly unstable. But what if she was more than just unbalanced? What if she went a bit... farther?
Thoughts after reading: Sadly, I have to report that my fears concerning the "alternate reality" tag were completely justified. There's a character named Pinkie Pie in this story, but she has nothing in common with the Pinkie Pie from the TV show.
The story picks up about three-quarters of the way into Party of One, with Rainbow Dash sent off to fetch Pinkie, and proceeds exactly as the show does for a few paragraphs. The writing in this section is dull and stilted; granted, the fact that the authors are telling us stuff that we already know doesn't help, but the first page or so reads like a set of Cliff's Notes.
From there, the story begins to diverge dramatically from the episode. The writing picks up, and other than an overuse of proper nouns (to be fair, it's hard to use "her" or "she" when the action is constantly shifting between Pinkie and Dash, but the lack of pronouns was still a bit jarring in places) I have no complaints on that front. No, what bothers me from there on is the characters themselves.
Pinkie Pie is reimagined in this story as someone capable of casual murder, and that doesn't sit well with me. Especially given the major canon tie-in at the start, it just seems a bizarre choice to characterize her that way, and resulted in more head-shaking and eye-rolling on my part than it did terror. The idea that Pinkie's capable of stabbing, drowning, bludgeoning, or whatever-ing her friends to death without batting an eye isn't just a stretch, it's so laughably out of place that it makes it impossible to take the fic at all seriously. I suppose the same sort of folks who think that Party of One made Cupcakes canon (yes, I've heard that said) might find this story more compelling than I do, but really: how am I supposed to take Pinkie the knife-wielding psychopath seriously?
Now, I'll admit that there are some circumstances when murder and ponies can be reconciled, but it's not something authors can expect readers to accept without plenty of groundwork being laid. Simply declaring that your work is an "alternate reality" is a cop-out; a cheap attempt to explain away the total lack of justification for a character's actions.
Then there are the more minor discrepancies between the episode and the story. For example, in this fic, Pinkie gives Madame LeFleur and the rest of her new "friends" the voices of her real friends: Rocky is done in Dash's voice, Mr. Turnip is AJ, etc. This lets the authors use them as stand-ins for Pinkie's real friends later in the story, but is it really worth contradicting the episode you're basing your fic on just for that? This seems to me a common theme: ignoring the show for the sake of the story. That might be forgivable if the story was both transcendently good and if it could not work without the changes in question, but neither condition is met here. Doing things like changing the voices Pinkie uses gains the story little, and costs it a great deal.
For the squeamish, I'll note that this story delivers on its promise to earn a grimdark tag without death or bloodshed. So no, you don't have to worry about encountering such if those are non-starters for you.
I should mention that Dash is also horribly out of character, though this doesn't become obvious until the end of the story. Frankly, this seems like some kind of word-swapped psychological thriller. Take away the canon tie-in and the names, and this story might even begin to make sense. Make it about Alice and Janet, take away all pony references, and the story would be far better served than trying to pretend that this somehow fits into the world of MLP. I probably wouldn't read it, but at least then I'd get it. Instead, we're left with a story that only works if one doesn't know anything about the characters being represented, but which is predicated on readers being intimately familiar with the show it's themed around.
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
The parts of this story that are technically well-written revolve around a pair of unconvincing doppelgangers. The parts that involve the FiM crew are bland retreads of things we already know. Sadly, I can't imagine who this story would appeal to, nor can I imagine why it was ever 6-starred.
Recommendation: As I suggested above, there are people out there who seem to think that Pinkie Pie is indeed a ticking time bomb, a serial murderer in the making who could snap at any moment. For them, maybe this story's worth reading. For anyone else, I'd suggest you look elsewhere for your pony fiction needs.
Next time: Better Living Through Science and Ponies, by Pen Stroke and Batty Gloom