Friday, February 3, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 34: The Misted Stage

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

Since I've found in the past that there's not a huge crossover demographic between fanfic readers and (american rules) football fans, and since a significant fraction of the people coming to this blog are from overseas in any case, I'm going to guess that most of my readership are not too big into the Super Bowl.  If that's true of you, here's all you need to know: there's a New York-based team playing in it this year.

So, if you don't want the media, celebrities, and posers of every stripe (not to mention actual New Yorkers, but at least they have an excuse) babbling on about how wonderful "their" football team is for the next twelve months, please do your part and ask the deity of your choice to make sure the Giants lose on Sunday.  For pity's sake, they haven't even played the game yet and some of the NY sports media are already talking about how Eli Manning might be the greatest quarterback of all time.  What?  He's not even the best quarterback in this game!  He's not even in the top five of current QBs!  Arrgh!

Anyway, if New York wins on Sunday, we're going to be hearing a lot more talk like that over the coming months.  Trust me, it's better for everyone if we don't have to listen to that.

Below, my review of Raz_Fox's The Misted Stage.

Impressions before reading:  The "alternate universe" tag makes me leery, for reasons I've discussed before.  Also, shipping stories aren't generally my favorite, though there are always exceptions.

On the plus side, this appears to be an Arabian Nights crossover.  Crossovers with literature/folklore seem to be good a disproportionate amount of the time, I suspect because familiarity with literature/folklore goes hand in hand with writing ability--an extension of the idea that the best writers are good readers.  Also, when glancing at the comments I noticed that several of the fandom's better-known authors (including a few who's work I've reviewed in previous 6-star reviews) were showering it with praise.  I've never been afraid to provide a minority opinion, but that seems to me like a good sign.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When Braeburn and the other members of Trixie's troupe of traveling actors arrive in Agrabay to perform for Sultana Celestia, they quickly become embroiled in events beyond their depth.

Thoughts after reading:  This is an infuriatingly difficult story to write a review of, because I feel like there's so little I can say about the last 5-6 chapters that isn't a spoiler.  Let's start with the easy stuff.

The story begins, as you probably gathered from the summary, with a number of familiar characters in unfamiliar roles.  Despite being put in strange and (initially) unexplained positions (and despite Twilight, bizarrely, having her gender switched), all of the familiar ponies are instantly recognizable and as well in-character as, say, Grand Vizier Fluttershy could reasonably hope to be.

The entire story is told by Braeburn, whose folksy, rambling narration perfectly hits the sweet spot between too dull and overly obnoxious.  Reading his recounting of his own thoughts and actions is a real pleasure; his "voice" in the narrative is strong and consistent, and makes for enjoyable reading.

As for the question of why the ponies are all suddenly Persian nobles and traveling performers... well, it will have to suffice to say that there is a reason, and it's a sufficent one, as far as it goes.  That said... ugh, I'm going to have to put a bunch of stuff behind the spoiler tag.  I'll confine myself up here to saying that while I understood the cause just fine, I didn't understand its cause.  If that's at all clear.

A few of the characterizations I felt moved too far into caricature/meme territory.  Particularly, Dr. Whooves makes an appearance that leaves it unclear why he's so damn special or how he knows what's going on (not helping: the fact that it's never made clear if he's actually The Doctor or just a smart pony), and Pinkie Pie's "freaky knowledge" is in full display.  Forgive me if I've failed to absorb the lesson of Feeling Pinkie Keen, but it's not enough for me to just have her knowledge and abilities brushed off as her "being Pinkie Pie."  This is a relatively dramatic story, not an ephemeral bit of comedy.  I can't buy Pinkie's portrayal at all, given the seriousness of the situation and her apparent awareness of it.

As you may have gathered, this story has a number of layers, which slowly are stripped away as the reader progresses.  The way that these revelations were handled was excellent and engaging.  But when the last chapter concluded, there were several questions left unanswered, and several problems I had with the final accounting.  I'll put them behind the spoiler tag, and I'll add an additional warning here: don't read the stuff below if you haven't already read the story.  Seriously.  I'm mostly including it here to help make clear why I rated the story the way I did.  Reading it completely ruins the effect of reading the story for the first time.  You have been warned.

Hopefully, that makes my opinions clear.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

There were multiple aspects of the ending that were major letdowns for me, but the rest of the story was captivating.  The writing style was a joy to read, and the way that the machinations which drove the story were slowly revealed was highly satisfying.  Although I felt that a few of the minor characters were not portrayed well, the major players (and Braeburn especially) were spot-on.

Recommendation:  In the end, I found the shipping aspect of the story highly unsatisfying.  I think anyone with a strong aversion to poorly handled or incomprehensible romance might want to give this one a pass.  Other readers, however, will probably find that there's more than enough good stuff tucked inside this story to justify reading.

Next time:  Vengeance and Fashion, by Tumbleweed


  1. Yeah, I'll sort of agree with you on that (the romance that is). I helped him with this one, and I thought that the romance at the end was... well, who knows long that'd really last, but an extra set of memories is awfully hard to absorb.

  2. As you humor me every time I get ready to post a chapter, I hope you won't take these comments amiss:

    "in unfamiliar rolls" -- I am suddenly hungry for some sweet rolls, but I do not believe this is what you meant.

    "Braeburn, who's folksy, rambling narration perfectly" -- I think you meant 'whose'

    "moved to far"

    No clue on anything within the spoiler tag, but figured you might want to know >_>

    1. Yuck. This is why I usually try to write my reviews a day or two in advance. Gives me time to look them over the next day and clean up any mistakes. But I was busy most of the day Wednesday, so I ended up writing this one Thursday night, and... well, you can see why I like to have an extra chance to edit my stuff before I let it go up. I've fixed the stuff you pointed out; thanks for the help!

    2. I blame whoever's story you were proofreading on Wednesday.

      I...oh. Hm.

  3. Oh, sure, it's easy for YOU if the Giants lose. But I live in Massachusetts. If your guys lose, "my" guys (loosest use of a possessive noun I've ever made) win, and then I have to listen to the nonstop chatter about it everywhere I turn for the next 2 months. No dice, sir, I wish your Giants the very best on completely crushing "my" Patriots into a fine red paste.

    Oh Mighty Sun Goddess Celestia, grant me the opportunity to smile in vindictive glee at the crushed spirits of Patriots fans come Monday morning!

    1. Can I just add, as a sports fan who doesn't live in the NE corner of the US of A, either team winning is a loss? Teams from Boston have won a championship in every major sport in the last 5 or 6 years, and as Chris so correctly stated, the New York media will take a Giants win and have a heyday with it.

      So, I invite all unaligned individuals in joining me in cheering for something that will cause neither team to win. While the stadium collapsing would work, that seems a bit too violent and comes with too high of a death toll. So, I don't know, maybe the halftime concert will turn into a riot that would make some soccer fans envious? (shrugs).

      Oh, and keep up the good work on the reviews Chris! They're always enlightening, and I've found several good stories to read because of them that I might not have tried otherwise.

    2. That sounds like a fair compromise, Laurence. Although I your non-death approach just doesn't go far enough. Time to start praying for a very specifically-localized earthquake!

    3. Heh, maybe we should hope for Bane doing what he did in the trailer for the next Batman movie. XD

  4. Thank you, sir, for taking the time to give my story a read and fair review. It is always a pleasure to receive both compliments and criticism, although I have to say I enjoyed the former more than the latter.

    I must say, though, if you disliked the ending I ended up with, you would have absolutely loathed my first-draft ending. It had the flaws you marked out, compounded and multiplied tenfold; I daresay you might have rated it two stars if THAT ending had gone to print. That was how I discovered the value of proofreaders who are willing to tell you, "This is horrible and needs to be re-written", which is always a good lesson to learn, no?

    1. Yeah. I'll let you know when I've learned it :P

    2. You will never hear me downplay the value of proofreaders, prereaders, editors, or anyone else who can put a second pair of eyes on a story. I'm glad you felt my review was fair--although I realize that putting all the negative stuff at the end can take away from the impression, I really did enjoy reading your story.