Wednesday, March 14, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 46: Nocturne

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

When I was cleaning out my desk drawer today, I found a doubling cube from a backgammon board.  Which wouldn't be too strange, except that I'm pretty sure I don't own a backgammon board, and haven't for years. Where did this thing come from?  I'm kind of a messy person by nature, but it hasn't been that long since I tidied up around here.

My review of CupcakesNom's Nocturne, after the break.

Impressions before reading:  I've done plenty of reviews for stories I haven't read, but usually I at least have some vague recollection of seeing the story posted, or I've heard the name mentioned by other readers in various contexts.  This one I can honestly say I've never heard of before.  I don't know that that's a particularly good or bad sign going in, but at the least it's unusual.

Oh, and Seth's quote on the page ("I really hope Season Two doesn't completely destroy [Luna's] fanon"), along with those of several anxious commenters ("I fear it with every passing day what canon Luna is going to end up like. I really, really hope the story writers have paid attention to fandom Luna," for example) made me laugh.  Sorry guys, better luck with your next fan-interpretation.  Kidding aside, this is of course a pre-Luna Eclipsed Luna story, so the usual characterization observations apply.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Following her cleansing by the Elements of Harmony, Luna is left not only physically weak, but with a memory that's full of gaps.  She tries to remember the Princess she once was and to become the co-ruler her sister desires, and to put that knowledge and power to good use.

Thoughts after reading:  Like so many of the S1 interpretations of Luna, Nocturne offers us a portrait of a weak and uncertain princess, easily browbeaten and unsure of herself.  It's easy to see why this vision of Luna was so common: not only did it seem to fit what little was known/could reasonably be inferred about the Princess of the Night, but a timid Luna who's filled with self-doubt makes an ideal story protagonist in many ways.  CupcakesNom has a very typical take on Luna, but he gives her something that few authors really delved into: music.  Not just a pretty voice (which many have given her before), but music as a fundamental part of her nature.

In this story Luna doesn't merely have a beautiful singing voice, or a talent for composition.  Instead, the author draws upon Pythagoras's concept of the music of the spheres and imbues her and her celestial role with aural significance.  The passages describing Luna's performances, or the simple concept of her "music of the night," are some of the most powerful parts of the story, and create indelible images upon reading.

Sadly, the portrayal of the characters wasn't always as stunning as that of the music.  "Cheesy" would be a charitable way to describe a number of passages, where Luna angsts about all the harm she's done or how she's not living up to her duties, where Celestia frets about her poor sister's happiness, and so forth.  These are weighty issues which need to be handled with a certain amount of delicacy, lest they destroy a readers immersion by becoming too overwrought.  Passages like "[Luna's] heart sang as a single tear trailed down each cheek. It's almost time, isn't it? Oh, sister, soon I'll be able to take so much weight off your shoulders! I'll never be a burden again!" dot the story, to its detriment.

Likewise, several major plot developments seem forced to the point where they become a distraction.  The major development concerning Aura (an OC adviser to Celestia) near the middle of the second chapter was not set up at all, and felt more like a cheap way to create a little drama than anything else.  Other major points, like Celestia's fear that Nightmare Moon may return when Luna begins to recover her memories, are grossly underutilized.  Once such an idea is brought into the story, it requires a certain amount of attention; bringing up the idea as something that weighs heavily on her mind and then dismissing the concern less than a page later doesn't give such a powerful and plot-relevant revelation the weight it deserves.

In addition to Celestia and Luna, Aura plays a major role in the story.  While she functions well enough in her role, she is fairly unlikable as a character--something I don't believe the author intended.  CupcakesNom gives her a strong and familiar voice when addressing the princesses to show that she speaks freely, even to authority (and thus, can be trusted to give advice).  However, her bluster often comes off as braggadocio rather than friendly familiarity.  Still, this unintended interpretation is not fatal to the story--it merely makes her presence (and her infallible ability to be right) more annoying than it need be.

Throughout the story, the words sun and moon are capitalized.  This threw me for a loop at first, as I was assuming that their capitalization meant that the author was intending to introduce them as characters in their own right (something a number of other stories dealing with the alicorn sisters have done).  I did some checking, however, and discovered that several sources state that both words should be capitalized when used as proper nouns (as opposed to referring to suns and moons generally).  Fair enough, but it still looks wrong to me.  Moreover, my Chicago Manual of Style agrees with me.  In all other respects, the piece was flawlessly edited, and word use was appropriate throughout.  And in the sections dealing with Luna's music, the language was at times positively evocative.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

Although it sometimes gets lost amid the overwrought fretting of the characters, and the handling of certain plot developments, there is a perfectly serviceable story here about growth and redemption.  Moreover, it contains some of the powerful musical imagery I've encountered in a fanfic

Recommendation:  This is another "sad Luna" story, and anyone who likes/liked those will enjoy this without a doubt.  But it's also more than that: there are some stunningly moving portions of this story, and any readers willing to put up with some overly maudlin introspection will find something to like here.

Next time:  Thunder and Lightning, by Avery Strange


  1. What is it about sad Luna that was so compelling last season? I mean, I love those fics, and most of the fanon based around her ten seconds of fame. But for the most part, unless she was being an uber-Twilight like in Progress, she was generally treated as an uber-Fluttershy. And now that I think about it this way, those are the two most popular characters, if fandom surveys are to be believed. So I guess it makes sense.

    And I believe the word you were looking for is "detriment", not "determent". :B

    1. *sigh*

      This is why spellcheck isn't an acceptable substitute for basic spelling and proofreading skills. I've made the correction, and you can rest assured that I felt appropriately chagrined to have made such a silly mistake. Thanks for the catch.

    2. No worries. :) You do good work and I want it to reflect that.

  2. Read it yesterday, and the most prominent feeling I had afterwards was...


    Not in terms of writing, or editing, or anything like that, but just how much it's trying to do in so few words. With that in mind, a lot of the points Chris raised didn't particularly irk me at all. Even the overwrought emotional diatribes seemed somehow in tune with the overall feeling of condensing the story down into an easily manageable size.

    Of course, whether that justifiably has any bearing on the quality of the work is down to the individual. I'm sure there are plenty of readers who were grateful of it being short, I'm just no one of them.

    Aura didn't seem that bad to me, but she just wasn't around long enough for me to care when she died. It felt like I was in an audience for a live sitcom filming where a light flashed up saying "FEEL SAD NOW." Similarly, Luna's hopping from one revelation to the next in quick succession really undermined the effectiveness of it to me.

    I'm not going to get into the S1/S2 Luna thing as I'm not a fan of the character portrayal in Luna Eclipsed. Still enjoyed the episode, but only because I seem to like Luna as much as most of the fandom.

    However, with all that said, I'll sign off by saying I really enjoyed reading it. I didn't find the music stuff as moving as Chris obviously did, but I'm always an advocate of the power of starting with a good idea. CupcakesNom seems to have had a good feel for who he wanted Luna to be, and some of that really came alive for me. It felt consistent, which gave it an underlying believability, and thus a degree of immersion. Usually, that's enough for me to enjoy any story.

    - Soldier for the New Lunar Republic

  3. Just what is it about the emo, hand-wringing Luna that is so attractive to so many fans? Even now that Luna Eclipsed has utterly crushed that interpretation of her, there are still new fanfics portraying her as a soppy depressive. The only way to guarantee I won't read a fanfic is to give it the tag "sad_luna".

    The only fic that nearly got it right was Luna's Goodwill Tour... and the author seems to have abandoned it. More's the pity; it was a greaqt story.