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Jesus Christ, fifty reviews? When I started this back in October, I had no idea I'd still be at it nearly six months later. I also had no idea that there were a significant number of folks who'd be interested in following my journey through the fandom's highest-rated stories. I don't know how many regular visitors I actually have, but the site averages more than 2000 page views per week now. Not exactly Equestria Daily numbers, but pretty darn good for a pony fanfiction review site, IMO.
So thank you, dear readers. Thanks for inflating my ego with your praise and attention, thanks for keeping that ego in check and helping me improve with your criticism and corrections (and for presenting both so politely and, dare I say, professionally), and thanks for directing your friends and fellow readers to this site. You guys are awesome.
Now, on to a hundred! Below the break, my half-centennial review of EsperDerek's Out in the Cold.
Impressions before reading: I should start out by explaining why I'm reviewing this at all, since it's not technically a 6-star story. See, it's the prequel to Moonlight Over Midnight, which was going to be my next review, and it wouldn't make much sense to review the one without the other now, would it? Besides, I have it on good authority that Cold did indeed meet the criteria for a 6-star story (50+ ratings with a 4.9+ average) at one point, though it was never "officially" given the tag. Eh, good enough for me. I'm calling Cold an honorary 6-star story, and will be reviewing it as such. Hopefully I haven't just set a precedent for myself which I'll come to regret.
As for the story itself, I've read it before, but I haven't read parts two or three, nor the "bonus chapter." I recall the first chapter having some pretty significant flaws, both in execution and premise--hopefully my impression after a second read-through will be kinder.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Unable to bear the alternative, Trixie returns to Ponyville to collect some very personal items which she left behind after the Ursa incident. There, she realizes how damaged she really is, and begins to rebuild her life.
Also, it's a shipping story, so you can probably guess what "rebuilding" entails.
Thoughts after reading: When I first read chapter one, I came away with the impression that little to no editing was involved. After reading it again, I remain convinced that this was the case. Run-on sentences ramble on to their non-destinations, it's and its are interchanged freely, and competing plot elements are poorly juggled, switching from "shipping" to "tragedy" to "angst" as if these emotions could be called and dismissed at the press of a button. I'm certain that this chapter's been worked on since I last read it, since I recall there being some spelling errors and a tendency to say paw for hoof, but the writing on this piece is still uninspiring. The subsequent chapters are progressively cleaner, but none are particularly well-edited or stirringly written.
The storyline became progressively stronger with each chapter. The first, dealing with Twilight and Trixie meeting and falling in love, is painful at times to read. While I recognize that "Twixie" triggers a Pavlovian response from significant sectors of this fandom, such that they are unable to help but love any work shipping the two unicorns together, readers who are not so easily swayed by the presence of a preferred pairing will rightly roll their eyes at the speed and ferocity with which the two fall for one another (apparently, they were both in love ever since they met in Boast Busters, though I hope I can be forgiven for not noticing this when I watched the episode). As I touched on earlier, broadsides of emotion are blasted haphazardly at the reader without regard for the pacing or structure of the story; the scene based on the story's cover art was the most prominent example, but the connections between the shipping, Trixie's backstory, and her emotional growth often feel like they were nonexistent, because any given chunk of writing tended to focus on one of these elements to the exclusion of the others. Since all are supposed to share a climax, this is a major structural problem.
By comparison, the second chapter more deftly combines its two major themes (reconciling Trixie with Twilight's friends, and showing Trixie's personal growth). And the third chapter goes in a wholly unexpected direction, exploring Celestia's relationship with her favorite pupil. While I didn't really buy into the background EsperDerek assigned to Celestia, I thought it was a bold move to bring her into the story, as both a princess and a mother figure to Twilight, and to my mind her actions were some of the most intriguing of the entire story.
As for the "bonus chapter..." let's just say it was definitely not my cup of tea. While it wasn't dirty, exactly, I do not recommend it to anyone who doesn't like their ponies on the "adult" side.
I mentioned that the shipping in the first chapter was abrupt and jarring. Interestingly, the subsequent two chapters deal with Twilight and Trixie's relationship fairly well, painting a reasonably convincing picture of how a fundamentally insecure but lovestruck mare and a social neophyte might interact with their friends and each other. I only wish that the first chapter had been as convincing in setting them up.
Characterization was broad and unsubtle, but pretty decent for that. If we're to grant the usual "shipping exemption," then all of the characters were recognizable and acted predictably. Luna was given a brief appearance, and had a significantly more meddling and bubbly personality than most S1 incarnations of the goddess of the night. Personally, I liked this interpretation of her quite a bit, though she was given only a small role (not including the bonus chapter, but let's not talk about that). And although I didn't think Celestia's backstory seemed all that believable, I really liked the idea that she might not approve of Twilight's love life, and thought that this idea was executed well on a conceptual level.
Star rating: ★★☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
The first chapter just isn't very good, at least not by the standards to which I hold 6-star stories. But the subsequent two show significant growth by the author. From the first to the third story, the plot line goes from cliche and predictable to original and thoughtful, the writing goes from mediocre to merely unexceptional, and the romance goes from painful to believable (if over-dramatic, but this is Trixie we're talking about).
Recommendation: This story has a few really nice elements, coupled with some pretty uninspiring ones. Fans of Trixie/Twilight shipping will no doubt enjoy this, but I wouldn't suggest this to a more general reader. It has its moments, but the poor editing, lackluster writing, and weak opening chapter make it difficult to recommend.
Actually, let's not do that. Then this entire week would be nothing but reviews of Out in the Cold and its sequels. Let's move on to the next 6-star fic and come back to this set of stories in a couple of posts.
Oops, that one's not quite dead yet. Although it's been forever since there's been an update, I'll take the author at his word and hold off on reviewing for now.
Next time (for real): Two Ponies, by Twilight Snarkle