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Because the raft of Out in the Cold sequels and spinoffs which I've been reviewing lately clearly haven't given me a nearly sufficient dosage of Trixie shipping, today's post centers around another showmare-based romantic pairing. Below the break, my review of Avery Strange's Kindness's Reward.
Impressions before reading: Trixie and... Fluttershy? Not exactly an intuitive pairing (if any pony shipping can really be called "intuitive"). But I've got an open mind going in; this is the same author who gave us Thunder and Lightning, another oddball shipping story which I ended up enjoying quite a bit.
Then again, this is also the same author who wrote Spark, which I was extremely disappointed by. Still, I have high hopes for this fic.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Some time after Boast Busters, Fluttershy finds Trixie lost in the Everfree Forest, starving and on the verge of death. As she nurses the showmare back to health, both begin to grow and discover things about themselves which they never realized.
Thoughts after reading: One of the most important things a shipping story needs is time. Unless the two (or more) characters involved in such a fic are assumed to be together from the very start, it's absolutely crucial that they be given plenty of time in-story to get to know one another and develop, then come to terms with, their feelings. One of the easiest ways to render a shipfic unbelievable is to have the characters go from "Hi, my name is..." to "You are the light of my life all is dross without you!" over the course of single meeting.
Kindness's Reward gives its protagonists that time together, and this alone sets it apart from many of the more lackluster stories in its genre. In fact, the setup reminded me a bit of how I thought the early chapters of Spark would go, before it skipped straight to "I LOVE YOU FOREVER." Trixie is forced to accept Fluttershy's ministrations and ultimately spends an entire month under her care. That's more than enough time for the two to establish a connection, and I didn't seriously question their developing feelings at any point. That said, it's true that the lesbianism is assumed from the start--maybe I've just read enough shipping stories that I've become jaded to authors taking characters' homosexuality for granted?
But though the shipping itself didn't strain my credulity, the pacing of the romance wasn't always perfect. In its broad strokes, the story moves from dependence to infatuation to true love. This seems to me the natural and logical progression for a story like this where "true love" is the inevitable endgame, but the transitions between the three are abrupt. Especially at the end, where Trixie is convinced to stay together with Fluttershy (I'm not spoiling anything if I reveal that they're together at the end, am I? I imagine nobody expected this story to end any other way) absurdly easily, especially considering how much time had been invested in showing us why Trixie felt they couldn't be together. All those issues were seemingly tossed aside over the course of a single page or so of text, which was just too jarring a transition for me.
Characterization is a bit tricky to judge. As in so many Trixie-centric stories (especially shipping stories), Trixie is broken down and remolded into a new mare over the course of this fic. Trixie redemption tales have always been popular, but I'm usually not impressed by them. While I have no inherent issue with the idea of Trixie maturing and learning how to interact with other ponies, too many authors seem to confuse "maturation" with "replacing Trixie's personality with something barely recognizable;" she may have only been in a single episode, but Trixie had enough screen time that at least the rudiments of her personality could be extrapolated, and those rudiments oughtn't be blithely tossed aside. Kindness's Reward never goes nearly that far, but some of Trixie's most humbling moments, especially in the later chapters, didn't seem particularly in-character to me.
On the other hand, I thought Fluttershy was very well handled. She too exhibits character growth over the course of the story, and the presentation of her personal development felt totally natural to me. Other ponies were more hit-and-miss (especially Applejack, whose attitude I could understand but whose tone was a little too aggressive and hostile to my mind), but were generally done reasonably well, acting out broad roles without ever becoming entirely caricaturish themselves.
As with the last story of Avery Strange's that I reviewed, this one had a few technical errors. Punctuation coming out of quotations remained a weak point, and there were occasional slip ups of the its/it's and especially/espesially variety, but nothing which really hampered readability. The writing style was very unobtrusive, neither noteworthy in and of itself nor at any point a hindrance to the story the author was trying to tell.
I want to mention that Zecora's rhymes in the first chapter don't have a consistent rhythm to them. In the show, she generally speaks in alternating stressed and unstressed syllables when rhyming, with either four or five stressed syllables culminating in the rhyme at the end. That pattern was mostly absent here, although to be fair, it's not really consistent in the show (I blame lazy and/or overworked scriptwriters). In any case, her lines may have rhymed, but they didn't flow very well.
The ending was, well, exactly what you'd probably expect: sappy and sort of ridiculous. I was put off by it, but I have to recognize that as someone who only has a passing interest in romance as a genre, I'm not the target demographic of this story. Looking at it from the perspective of a romance enthusiast, it's a very satisfying conclusion. Not merely in that it ends with the two ponies together, but the way that it ties them to one another over the course of the last chapter, culminating in Trixie's near back-to-back physical and emotional breakouts, is perfectly plotted to appeal to such readers. I think most general readers will be vaguely disappointed by the ending, but that doesn't mean it was poorly executed for what it was.
Star rating: ★★★☆☆ (what does this mean?)
A shipping story that gives its characters the time to get to know each other and, you know, actually fall in love? I have to give credit where credit is due. Still, there are some issues involving pacing and general appeal here; this just isn't a story that most readers will be able to fully enjoy.
Recommendation: Fans of shipping and romance will love this, of that I have no doubt. It's an incredibly well executed story within the context of its genre. But other readers, even those merely apathetic (as opposed to antipathetic, but presumably they don't need me to tell them this wouldn't be their cup of tea) towards unabashed love stories, will probably have a less enthusiastic reaction. Although it's not bad by any stretch, it does little to appeal to the general reader.
Next time: Moonlight Over Midnight, by EsperDerek