Wednesday, February 22, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 39: Spark

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

Am I the only one who thought Cranky Doodle Donkey's story was incredibly tragic?*  I mean, it's not clear how long he spent looking for his sweetheart, but given what clues we had (the old-timey appearance of the flashback, the hair loss, etc.) the length must have been measured in decades.  This poor guy wasted most of his life searching in vain, and only found his true love in his twilight years.  Are they still young enough to have children, assuming they want any?  And what happens if it turns out that the girl he spent one night dancing with all those years ago isn't quite as perfect as his memory made her out to be?

And even if things do work out between them, they might not have long together.  There's obviously a tuberculosis epidemic in Ponyville (first Bon-Bon, now Rose.  Who's next?), and the elderly have weakened immune systems.  One or both of them will probably be dead within a few weeks.

...Or maybe it's a children's cartoon show and I'm overthinking things.  In any case, my review of Avery Strange's Spark, after the break.

*I still can't believe that I wrote that sentence with complete sincerity.  Confound these ponies, they drive me to take seriously the trials and tribulations of a cartoon character named Cranky Doodle Donkey.

Impressions before reading:  There seems to be a belief among some readers that I despise all shipping.  This is untrue.  It would be fair to say, however, that I've found comparatively few shipping stories I enjoy.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that an unrealistic or poorly set up romance is one of the quickest ways to break my suspension of disbelief.  Maybe I should do a post of "shipping stories Chris doesn't hate" or something.

In any case, I'm not going to pre-judge this fic for the shipping tag, but there are a few hints to go on elsewhere.  The additional tags include "sappy," which doesn't really sound like my sort of thing, but the description promises to reveal, "dark secrets about the elements, the alicorns, and [Twilight's] past."  That seems promising.

I notice there's a short second story by the same author included in the post.  I'll include it in my review.

And last but not least, pre-Nightmare Night Luna!  I always have fun going back and seeing what people thought the moon goddess would be like back before we got to see her canon personality.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Princess Luna has been growing progressively weaker, and Celestia sends for Twilight Sparkle to aid in caring for her sister.  While trying to discover a cure (or even just a cause) for Luna's decline, Twilight stumbles upon revelations both personal and earth-shattering.

Thoughts after reading:  Since this story was written well before season two, and since it deals extensively with Equestrian history, it should come as no surprise that large segments of it have been completely shot to hell by Discord, canon Luna, the Hearth's Warming play, and the upcoming appearance of Princess Cadence.  Obviously Avery Strange can't be held responsible for any of that, but I know some readers are put off by such retroactive discrepancies.

There were several formatting errors in the first two chapters (missed or doubled gaps between paragraphs, for example), and the editing was pretty poor throughout.  Not as bad as a few of the other fics I've reviewed, but when there are one or more significant errors every couple of paragraphs, it's a real distraction.  The only really consistent problem was punctuation coming out of quotes; the rest was a mix of missing words, superfluous commas, misused expressions ("[doing so] was out of the option," for example), and homonym mixups.  The story was never unreadable, but it takes a lot of fun out of ficreading (for me, at least) when there are so many basic problems present.

Since it's sort of a pet peeve of mine, I'll mention that there's a pretty clumsy reference to the Luna + abacus meme in this story.  By "clumsy," I mean that it serves no function in the story whatsoever--all references to abacuses and Luna's skill therewith could have been excised entirely without causing any harm to the overall narrative.  Having an entirely superfluous shoutout to another fanfic in what is supposed to be a story with a fairly serious tone, and referencing a goofy, lighthearted comedy no less, is pretty jarring.

I was not thrilled with the pacing and setup of the shipping.  After reading the first chapter, I was actually feeling pretty optimistic on that front: having Twilight play nurse to Luna is a great way to have the two characters spend a lot of time together, and anyone with friends or firsthand experience in long-term care knows that it's not exactly uncommon for a patient to develop feelings for his/her nurse.  Sadly, this opportunity to let the two characters develop an organic relationship was thrown out in favor of having the two declare their love for each other after spending something like 24 hours in one another's presence (during most of which time one or both were asleep, no less).  The author even eliminated the possible excuse that they were not actually in love so much as in lust by having the two do a soul-meld which revealed to both of them the absolute sincerity of the others' feelings and intentions.

The last two to two-and-a-half chapters were full of twists, turns, and shocks.  I wish I could say these were well-executed, but I was extremely unsatisfied with the way the major reveals were conducted and subsequently played out.  Obviously, I can't say much without resorting to spoilers, so up here I'll simply observe that I found Celestia utterly unbelievable, and a number of moral/metaphysical questions were created and never addressed.  For a more in depth and significantly more spoiler-y accounting of my problems, look behind the tag:

And as far as the second story goes: it has the same technical problems as the larger fic, but is actually pretty sweet.  Frankly, I think I'd have liked it more as a stand-alone; I still had a sour taste in my mouth from the way the first story wrapped up when I read it.  In any case, it's a fine epilogue, if somewhat tangentially related.

Star Rating:   (what does this mean?)

I wish I could take some sort of vindictive pleasure in giving out low ratings, but I can't.  I really hate putting a single star down when I'm rating a fic, but in this case I don't feel like I have any other choice.  Between the poor editing, the abrupt and unrealistic shipping, and the issues with the last few chapters, there's plenty to say about this story.  Sadly, precious little of it is positive.

Recommendation:  I do not recommend this story.  If you really like Luna x Twilight and can wrap your head around the ending, maybe you'll enjoy it.  But it's not something I'd have 6-starred; anyone expecting to read one of the greatest stories in the fandom will be sorely disappointed by this.

Next time:  Creeping Darkness, by Pen Stroke


  1. Hah, man. A few months ago, I'd have called this one of my favorite stories. Actually, I'm pretty sure I did. I still list To Be An Alicorn as one of those that really gets to me, but I'm just a sap for certain kinds of sadfics, I guess.

    But yeah, Spark was linked to me with the warning that it goes from "Hey" to "I LOVE YOU FOREVER" in a surprisingly short time, and I see that there's zero disagreement about that.

  2. Thank you! I have finally found someone who shares a similar sentiment to this story! I was thoroughly confused by its wide-spread love and attention for the exact reasons you have listed above. Overall it was quite disappointing, which is a shame considering that the premise itself held promise and some scenes were quite well written. I myself enjoyed the imagery in the 'soul-showing' scene quite a lot.

    Still, for the reasons you have outlined, this fic fell flat, so I am forced to agree with your rating!

  3. His Twilight years? Are you planning the love-cheat inter-racial clop-fic hyphen-inducing ending even now?


    I'll get my coat...

  4. I don't know why but I read this (or at least I remember the beginning and ending) for some reason even though there are so many initial marks against (shipping tag, pre-eclipsed Luna, creepy image (*shudders*)) a while back and I can't help but agree your sentiments. As to whether or not golems have rights, I suppose one's opinion of Blade Runner would be the best answer (it even has a unicorn, amusingly enough).

    *"Am I the only one who thought Cranky Doodle Donkey's story was incredibly tragic?"*

    Somewhat, I found the greatest tragedy to be that Pinkie wouldn't leave the poor jack alone. I've had similar experience where people like to bother me againist my wishes (usually because seeing my reaction is somehow funny). Getting his book burned was also somewhat tragic but honestly I really didn't enjoy the episode as much as I wanted to. Pinkie, for me, is best in small doses and in a supporting role. Also the how she solved the Cranky's problem was hard to swallow. Even if I did like Cranky

    *"Confound these ponies, they drive me to..."*


  5. Oh, Cranky Doodle was very tragic. That's why I loved the episode so much, it's one of those things you never anticipate seeing in a children's cartoon show. As to the rest of your questions, that's what fanfiction is for, bro, get writing.

    Reading through the spoilers, I got a funny feeling I'd read this before. Lo and behold, I 5-starred it. Strange, since after seeing those spoilers, I was ready to never read it. All I can say in my defense is that it was long ago and things change with time.

  6. Hello again. I have been waiting for you to review this.

    A dear friend of mine (and dare I say my very first brony friend) wrote this. It was this story infact that coaxed me out of my shell and drove me to reach out into the MLP community. On first reading I, like Drakmire, really loved this fic.

    When I read this fic, a lot of the plot holes stood out to me, just as they did to you. Though, this wasn't a six star fic yet. I didn't see this story only for its flaws. Instead what I saw was a budding author, with great ideas and a passion for writing.

    This review, tough as it was, was honest and fair. However, I disagree with the recommendation, not entirely, but I would amend it to include this:
    This story does have some interesting original ideas. I think that it does merrit at least a glance to see if it fits your pallet.

    Full disclosure: I edited the sequel. I am biased. Plus, AveryStrange is a really cool person who sparked (pun intended) my love of Brony fiction.

    Keep Being Awesome,

  7. I think it's worth noting that the AveryStrange herself admits that she hates this fic. This is basically because she's aware of the faults you highlighted here, but it is still the fic she's most well known for despite her other stories being of a much higher standard.

    Also, much like EmeraldPage's post above me, I have to say that the author's works are pretty much what got me into Pony fanfiction. So I do owe her some.