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I seem to be hitting a lot of incomplete/ongoing fics at this point. I'm going to continue to review stuff that's obviously complete while letting the rest wait until it's well and truly done with, but if people are wondering why stuff like Binkie Pie and Frigid Winds and Burning Hearts aren't popping up here, it's because they're still being written. Someday!
After the break, my review of Cloud Wander's Tonight I Shall Be Laughter.
Impressions before reading: This story was one of sixty-odd submitted as part of EqD's Happy Luna Competition (linked to here in case, for some reason, you feel like reading sixty-odd stories which all share the same prompt). The idea was simple: since so many Luna fanfics (this is all pre-S2, remember) were about how angsty and emo Equestria's ruler of the night was, the challenge was to write a story about Luna that wasn't full-on depressing or maudlin. This story was one of four winners, all of which got their own story post (and, in a testament to the overall quality of writing for the competition, three of which are six-starred).
I read all of the stories submitted for the competition, and I can say right off the bat that I had no problem with Tonight I Shall Be Laughter being crowned the overall winner. But does it hold up when it's being rated as a 6-star fic, rather than a competition submission? We'll see.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Princess Luna is determined to exercise the virtues which freed her from Nightmare Moon, and one night elects to work on Laughter. Meanwhile, the captain (and sole member) of the Lunar Guard is forced to figure out how to deal with Her Majesty's strange behavior.
Thoughts after reading: In addition to the requirement that they all be about "happy Luna," a term vaguely defined and variously interpreted, the competition required of authors that they include one or more lines and/or scenes from a short list of prompts. Like many authors, Cloud Wander elected to incorporate as many of these as possible. In fact, it appears only two of the eleven prompts are left out.
Surprisingly, these inclusions almost never seem forced. Even the "Luna in socks" meme which was oh-so-popular at the time is present here, yet it doesn't feel like fanservice. Instead, Luna running around wearing socks is made into a wholly relevant plot point and is used to advance her characterization. What so many authors (in both this contest and in fanfiction in general) seem not to understand about putting fanservice asides into their stories is that they must be fully integrated into the story to truly succeed. Otherwise, they're nothing but a distraction from the tale you're trying to tell. Thankfully, that didn't happen here.
Wander's interpretation of Princess Luna is surprisingly close to her season two persona. No, she doesn't talk in all caps, but the resemblances are unmistakable: both are aloof and authoritative, apparently as a result of their need to acclimate to modern pony society; both are trying to learn what "fun" is and how ponies go about having it; and both need a little help in the empathy department. Leaving aside any prescience on the author's part, the characterization of the Princess of the Night in this fic is consistent and believable, given her circumstances.
Playing the foil to Luna is Bucephalus, Captain of the Lunar Guard. And although the author's Luna is a fine character in her own right, it's her co-protagonist who makes this story great. Combining an uptight and duty-bound sense of responsibility with a character arc and backstory that makes him easy to sympathize with is no easy task, especially in a work of humor. But the portrayal of Bucephalus finds the sweet spot between comical punching bag and genuine victim by playing up both his loyalty and sense of duty, and his responsibility (however shared) for his own difficulties: his tribulations never become uncomfortable to read about (and thus, the physical comedy elements of the story never curdle), but it's hard not to root for him, either.
Although this story has plenty of character-based humor (and some referential humor as well (and not all of it MLP-related: perhaps the best single line in the entire story begins: "And, as in uffish thought he stood...")), much of its comedy comes from the writing itself. Specifically, Bucephalus's narration combines self-importance with incongruous situations to great effect. And throughout the entire piece, a slightly formal tone helps give some of the more absurd lines and situations contrast, while serving to emphasize the story's more tender moments.
Sadly, these "more tender moments" generally aren't the strongest scenes. Luna's climactic revelation in particular feels hasty, and is one of the few times when it feels like something is being shoehorned in. That said, I hasten to add that it isn't bad, but the contrast to most of the rest of the story is one that it suffers for. A few other times, almost all involving an attempt to move the story in a more serious direction, this same problem resurfaces.
But although the execution was imperfect, I still like the central idea. The contrast between how Luna and Bucephalus grow as the story progresses works well, with the two making excellent contrasts with one another despite the fact that they aren't precisely opposites. I have a weak spot for stories that can combine genuine character development with consistent humor, and Tonight I Shall Be Laughter does exactly that.
Star rating: ★★★★☆ (what does this mean?)
This story is funny, its references are almost all subtle and plot-relevant enough to pass muster, and it contains one of the best OCs ever written in Captain Bucephalus. Some of its character development may feel rushed, but this is an excellent piece on the whole.
Recommendation: Most people who watch MLP seem to like the way that it combines humor and quality animation with a refreshing sense of sincerity. Remove "and quality animation" from that last phrase, and it could just as easily describe this story. I think anyone who likes FiM will find something to enjoy here as well.
...Unless you're one of those people who hate stories written in Courier, in which case you should go read something else, I guess. Your loss.
Next time: Common Sky, by SyrinKitty