To read the story, click the image or follow OH GOD WHY DID I THINK INVERTING THE COLORS WAS A GOOD IDEA
Yesterday I posted three of the six guest reviews I received for my CYOA fanfic, The Purloined Pony. Today, I'm posting the rest. These three reviews all have something in common: the person who wrote them doesn't like CYOAs. Despite this, each came up with a unique take on the story, its strengths and weaknesses, and its potential appeal. Below the break, find the final three reviews.
[I'll be posting these using the same format as the other post, so let's begin by introducing our dramatis personae. First, we have 14-Spades:]
14-Spades: Hello folks, this is 14-Spades filling in for Chris for today’s 6 Star pony fiction review. While I admit I do not have as nearly as much literary experience as our friend Chris, I think I know enough about fanfiction to write a decent review.
Before I start the review, I would like to mention I will be reviewing based on elements in The Editors Omnibus on Equestria Daily and Twilight’s Guide to Writing by Mister-Hand on DeviantArt. I have found they are invaluable tools for writing in general and I suggest them to writers on FiM Fiction all the time [I agree that both are incredibly handy references, especially for inexperienced writers]. If you would like to look them up, they are hyperlinked below for your convenience.
The Editors Omnibus
Twilight’s Guide to Writing
[Next we have Mrakoplaz, who didn't provide an opening blurb. To be fair, I didn't ask for one, but then most of the authors wrote one, and I didn't want to just delete it...
And finally, we have Arenahz:]
Arenahz: I’ve never done a fanfic review before, so this should be a learning experience for me. I figure I’ll just jump in headfirst and see how it goes.
Impressions before Reading
14-Spades: I’ve never been a fan of choose your own adventure books. The problem I’ve always found with them is that they never have that nice, satisfying feeling of a complete work. I think Chris has taken this into account considering the very casual description posted on Equestria Daily.
Right away, I can tell this is not going to be the next epic that shatters the 1000 comment mark and spawns its own large fandom [Well, nuts]. The Purloined Pony looks like something I should dive into just for fun. It is probably best we don’t take it too seriously.
Mrakoplaz: Before we even begin, I must admit that I am probably the worst possible person to be reviewing this particular work. In the few CYOA (Choose Your Own Adventure) books I did attempt to read during my childhood, the protagonist always seemed to end up getting either permanently maimed, or ceremonially sacrificed to the god of a thousand stabbings – and sometimes both at once – no matter how much back-pedaling and other cheating I tried. Whatever I attempted, every choice just resulted in an instant death; and while some of those were due to my own stupidity, most were just plain unfair, and caused my youthful self to firmly snap the book shut. Armed with such experience, it is not surprising to see why I initially gave this story a wide berth.
Now that I am about to review it, the only other thing I note is the lack of a [GRIMDARK] tag, and the presence of a [NORMAL], which is always encouraging. Also, that title is a reference to something, but I'll be damned if I can remember what… [It's a bit of a play on "The Purloined Poe," but there's no other reference to that in the story. Mostly, I just liked the alteration]
Arenahz: I’ve read a few choose-your-own adventures in the past and I have never liked them. Usually, because I would end up dying a horrible gruesome death. But, this is ponies, and I do not see a grimdark tag. I should be safe, right? Also, I have not read any fics by Chris yet, so I don’t know much else about how this is going to go.
Zero-ish spoiler summary
14-Spades: When a young foal goes missing, it's up to Carrot Top to step in and save the day. Based on the 1980's/90's Choose Your Own Adventure book series. [Hey, you just copy-pasted my summary from EqD!]
Mrakoplaz: You take on the role of Carrot Top, an everyday mare with no special superpowers, who nevertheless manages to get caught up in events much larger than herself during her daily routine. Will you become the hero of the episode, rescuing the foal-napped Applebloom and bringing peace to Ponyville? Or just sleep through the whole affair? The Choice Is Yours ™
Arenahz: It’s just a normal day for Carrot Top until Twilight asks for her help. She has to make her choices wisely because she soon discovers that Applebloom has mysteriously gone missing.
Thoughts after reading:
14-Spades: Fortunately, reading the Purlioned Pony was more enjoyable then the Choose Your own Adventure series or the Goosebumps rendition. It could be because there was more love put into this one story then those books; but more likely because I approached this with a more open mind.
In The Purloined Pony, we are put into the horseshoes of Carrot Top through the magic of second person perspective. Normally I find second person perspective is distracting and absolutely cumbersome to try to read. Second person pronouns usually just serve to draw me out of the characterization of the personality at hand. For example, if it is Twilight Sparkle facing an army of mutant, discorded, nightmare rats in a story, then I want to know how she would react within her own characterization. She would approach the situation with a degree of logic, bravery, and talent that I simply do not have. I myself would be cowering in a dark corner until someone gave me the ‘all clear’. It’s not me going through conflict, it’s Twilight Sparkle. The pronoun you usually has the opposite effect on me that author intends.
However, Carrot Top holds an advantage in second person perspective because she both does not have an established personally in canon or fanon really. She serves as the perfect tabula rasa, or blank slate, to project our own imaginations onto. How should we know how Carrot Top would react in a stressful situation? Would she fight for her fellow Ponyvillians? Would she be too afraid for her own safety? Does she even care about them at all? The thing is, we really don’t know. Second person perspective works wonderfully because Carrot Top’s lack of a personality allows the multiple paths in the story to each seem more believable.
The plot is pretty generic; stories that have foals disappear into the Everfree Forest are nothing new. What’s different is Applebloom did not simply get lost in the Everfree Forest, but rather she was kidnapped by a group of evil creatures called boggies. The boggies themselves are not particularly interesting. You could replace the word ‘boggie’ with the phrase ‘diamond dog’, you probably would not notice the difference. Another problem I found is that none of the protagonists are really that interesting other than the brownies. Twilight, Applejack, Zecora, and our tabula rasa Carrot Top all had static personalities.
I guess it was best that nothing too complicated was done with the characters. There’s no reason to bog the reader down in prose when the whole purpose of the story is to have the reader quickly explore the consequences of different choices. Chris has done a fantastic job of keeping the pages short. This allows for quick and fluid exploration through the story. The redundancies built into stories to save the reader and the author sometimes serve a double edged sword. While it saves you time when going through a path with a similar outcome, the repetition can get annoying at times.
Exploration, the crux of the choose your own adventure style, was overall fun to do. It was neat finding a resolution that was completely unlike my first read through. My favorite path lead me to intriguing creatures called brownies. I won’t spoil too much about them or which page they are on, but they are the by far the most interesting mythical creatures in the pony fan fiction community (In my opinion, of course). It’s a shame that their role in the story was so limited. I was really looking forward to reading more about them. It wouldn’t have fit in the story right if their part was any longer.
Mrakoplaz: First of all, the technical side: the story is very well written, with no obvious errors. The prose hops and flows throughout, with no overly lengthy sentences or complicated grammatical super-structures that break the pace and drag everything down. Considering the length of the story – especially after all the alternative paths are taken in account – such a high and, more importantly, sustained level is a respectable achievement. Furthermore, being a dabbling writer myself, I must admit that Chris' writing is superior to my own, and never feels stilted or repetitive. Seeing as it is a six-star story, however, and published on Equestria Daily, the technical side of things being good should not come as a surprise (hush, I said should, I'm not talking about the reality now).
What was surprising, however, were the actual 'mechanics'; namely, the variety of choices, alternative routes, and number of endings available. Above, I mentioned my opinion of CYOA novels before I even started the story; but after reading, I am pleased to announce that Chris has managed to break through my scepticism. One example: Just to test the author, in my first 'playthrough', I deliberately picked a few obviously-wrong choices at the very beginning, then continued normally, curious to see whether a single mistake at the start would completely ruin you a page before the end, as is the malevolent habit of these works.
What I did not foresee, however, was the sheer amount of alternative pathways available in this story (as a matter of interest, this is about the fourth time I've typed out 'game', then grumbled and replaced it with a more literary synonym; what on earth do you call these CYOA things?). No matter how much you appear to screw up, there's always a chance to make things right again, and what 'deaths' do jump out at you can be avoided, provided you have been paying attention while reading; and, to further credit the author, 'attention' here simply means 'read all the sentences and remember most of them', as opposed to 'double-check every single word of description in the entire book' – again, quite unlike many CYOAs I have read (as an aside, the fic does avoid gratuitous violence, even in its bad endings, and keeps things suitable to the show, which is nice). Even though I ended up taking one of the most circuitous and lengthy routes through the story (i.e. spending 20 pages preparing a secret 'weapon', only to lose it in the Everfree Forest, and be forced to figure out something else on the spot), I managed to eventually get to the finish, and the last page actually felt all the more rewarding for it: A positively shining, congratulatory conclusion, which makes you feel both genuinely happy for both your plucky heroine, and your 1337 skillz at guiding her there.
And, perhaps surprisingly, herein lies the core of my main issue with this work. The particular path I chose was incredibly satisfying, full of twists and turns and mistakes (some reader-induced, other brought on by the characters themselves) that still managed to come together into a full resolution at the very end, and I was very pleased with it. However, just to settle my curiosity (and my 'grand responsibility' as a guest reviewer), I went back and chose a few different paths. There are a variety of endings, two genuinely good, with the rest either minor variations of those, or outright bad. And, unfortunately, the feeling I got from those other paths was a lot different my original experience. I can clearly see the point of 'rewarding' the reader for picking the better choices with a better ending, but, trying to speak objectively (and probably failing), the end result is slightly mixed; the quality of the choices you make does not always correspond to your conclusion. As such, the story feels too easy and forgiving at certain times, and too harsh at other. Perhaps a little more re-balance could make things right, but as everything is so tightly interconnected, even a small change would require a major re-write of the story in order to accomplish.
Of course, as in any work, there are also a few more mundane flaws, both in the mechanics and characterization. I almost feel like I am nitpicking when I compare them to the bulk of the work, but alas, that is the task of the reviewer. Although most of the time, the story feels like a special episode of the show, there are a few particularly jarring scenes that temporarily ruin the immersion. I can't help but think of the first time I met Twilight in her library: The few first lines simply made me cringe, and pray she wasn't going to hang around for long ("Your visual confirmation of my conjecture" being a particularly bad example). There was also one moment near the beginning, where a completely random 'death' simply came out of nowhere, leaving me thinking this was going to be one of those CYOAs. However, these brief moments only seem to occur near the beginning, and soon they disappear altogether, leaving the reader with a nice, fun read.
Arenahz: This was actually a lot more enjoyable than I had anticipated, however the choose your own adventure style of it still got to me. I found one of the not-so-happy endings first, but backtracked and quickly found my way to a happy one. I was content to put it down, but felt that I had to read as much as I could in order to review it honestly. I almost wish that this had been done like a normal fanfic done in first or third person. I do like the general story, and wonderful use of mythological creatures. But, this style of fiction is not something I typically enjoy.
I do not want to rant on that for too long. I only dislike the story because of personal preference, and it is written effectively as a choose your own adventure. I think that it was a lot more enjoyable because it was shorter than most I have read. After reaching a point where it’s asking you to turn to page 200 something I usually just give up. But this one was just long enough that it had a lot of different turns and paths without being too long to invest in reading all of the different options.
The quality of the writing was also something that caught my attention. There was only one error that I noticed and I cannot even remember what it was. It would not be surprising to me if I had imagined it. Sentences seemed to flow well, and overall it was not difficult to read. The main characters themselves seemed to be represented properly, and the dialogue was fairly authentic. Nothing seemed forced nor relied too heavily on references to the show. I also really liked some of the word choices. “If you flop down on the couch and veg out, turn to page 17,” for example. “Veg out” is a phrase I might start using again just because of this fic.
The pacing seemed a bit off to me, but that was partly due to the choices I made. With the initial path I took, there was a little bit too much exposition a little too fast. Twilight seemed to come completely out of left-field with her explanation of the story’s antagonists. In this route at least, it took place too soon in the story. The use of boggies was a little odd at first. But, as I read I really enjoyed them in the story. I do not know much about “brownies/boggies,” and I am guessing it took a great deal of knowledge about them to include so much information about them unless the author made it all up himself. It reminded me of the Erlkonig, which is a similar myth. I say this a lot, but that is something I would not mind seeing him ponyfied.
The endings, I think there were 18 in all, were actually not as bad as I thought. I never died! That was a plus for me, at least. They also gave a sense of hope, rather than the typical “You did something stupid. You died. The End.” The way the “not-so-happy” endings were written I felt that things would get better for poor Carrot Top and Applebloom. The happy ending was just delayed and I would not get to read it. But, I did find a happy ending. It even included a friendship report in it, which I thought was a really nice touch.
Star rating (what does this mean?)
14-Spades: I will neglect the traditional star rating as I would feel it would be dishonest. Chris and I have different biases when judging a story’s grammar, writing style, and plot. Instead, I will arbitrarily give the story a star rating. It will take me a little longer to explain my reasoning than Chris does. Please take my rating with a grain of salt.
★★★☆☆ and ★★★★☆ (3.5?)
I had to give The Purloined Pony two separate star ratings due to its unique nature. Your own experience with it will depend on what path in the story you take. It might feel a little bit unfulfilling if you happen to take one of the drier story paths your first time. A couple story arcs, however, are genuinely interesting enough to stand out as a story their own merit and will give you the incentive to explore more.
It bothers me that the number of options had to diminish the more redeeming parts. Even if you do happen to run through some of the more entertaining sections, you will eventually find yourself growing tired of scouring through the redundancies and the shorter story consequences. While the short pages minimize this problem, those issues still put me on the fence of completely lowering the rating to 3 stars.
Chris’s handling of the choose your own adventure story, like it’s unique style, wonderfully short pages, and interesting mythical creatures was enough to make me say otherwise. It’s probably the best a pony choose your own adventure can ever be. Therefore, it is worthy of both 3 and 4 stars.
This is a tough one. The story I myself read was incredibly fun, quick-flowing, and consistently well-written… but I am not sure that is always the case. Looking at it in retrospect, it was probably simple luck that I made the choices I did make, and I could have easily gone down a different route that would have made the entire thing a lot less fun (unless I was unwittingly following clever subconscious clues placed there by the author, of course) [Man, do I wish I could take credit for that..].
Having said that, however, it is far less punishing than most CYOAs I have encountered, and thus far more engaging as a result. Add in the quality of the prose, and this is easily pushed over from three stars to four (being a guest writer, I reserve five for complete perfection).
Due to personal preference, I disliked this story. But, I can’t help but rate it based on how well I think it was written as opposed to just on how much I did or did not like it. I could not find very many negative criticisms. There is always room for improvement, but I think this fic does very well as it is.
14-Spades: If you are bored on a Sunday night like I was, The Purloined Pony will keep you entertained for a good hour or two. People who have fond memories of choose your adventure stories will also find this story amusing as it is written just as well those that were commercially published. Those of you that want to sink your teeth into long story arcs and complex character developments, however, might find it lacking.
Anyway, I would like to thank Chris for this opportunity to write a review for his blog. I hope what I said was fair and reflects on what you can expect from The Purloined Pony adequately. If you would like help editing your own stories or for some reason are interested in my work, you can find me on FiM Fiction as 14Spades or DeviantArt as 14-Spades.
Mrakoplaz: Despite my concerns above, I would still recommend the story to anyone that likes ponies, whether they also like CYOAs or not; chances are they will like it either way, as it is severely lacking in most things that make such novels annoying. Meanwhile, the OC personality of Carrot Top smoothly merges with the canon characters, there are plenty of jokes to enjoy, and the whole thing feels just like an episode of the show. What's not to like, apart from the lack of sequels?
Arenahz: If you like choose-your-own adventure stories then I would recommend this one to you in a heartbeat. In fact, even if you didn’t I would say you should give it a try. It’s a lot shorter and reading far enough to get to the last ending does not take much time nor is it a frustrating experience. Also, if you like reading about fey (faeries, goblins, etc.) then this fic might be a good read for you too.
Well, that was easier than I thought it would be. I am gonna go veg out somewhere though. I have not had much sleep this week.
[I'd like to thank all three of these reviewers for stepping up to the plate. Personally, I found it especially enlightening to hear from some folks who aren't big fans of CYOAs on principle. Thank you for your observations!
And thank you to all the reviewers from the first post, as well (go read it, if you haven't already). Allen De Smet actually drew up a complete flowchart of all the story paths! I originally wasn't going to link to it here because it's basically one massive spoiler, but the thing's pretty cool. And it all looks so simple when it's laid out like that... anyway, don't click the link if you don't want all the story paths spoiled!
Personally, I thought it was interesting to see what different people had to say about the use of 2nd person, certain aspects of the dialogue, and about Carrot Top herself. I think all six writers wrote thoughtful, intelligent reviews, and I was glad to post them on the blog.
Normal non-guest reviews will pick up again on Monday, with ADriftingThought's The Logical Option. Until then!]