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To start, a brief explanation for why I'm skipping Secret Tub Fun, despite saying otherwise last post: I'd read the first six, and thought that the stories were all loosely connected at best. So, I figured I could review what was already written and it would stand alone just fine. Turns out that there's now an overarching plot, and the author still has two "chapters" to go before the story's complete. So, I'm holding off on that for now and moving on to PhantomFox's My Faithful Student.
And in non-pony news (those of you who aren't professional cycling fans can skip down to the review now), the statuses of Andy Schleck and Thomas Voeckler for the TDF are uncertain after they both withdrew from the Dauphine due to a crash and knee trouble respectively, and Thor Hushovd is going to be out with a viral infection. That's my favorite racer, my second-favorite big-name contender (after his big brother Frank), and my favorite sprinter, all out or in doubt.
I sure can pick 'em, eh?
Impressions before reading: Based on what I remember of this story from a previous reading, I'd say it's one of the better episode-style stories out there. I also remember that I liked the author's best-known story, Sunny Skies All Day Long, slightly better... but I really enjoyed that story, so that's hardly a knock going in.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Celestia arranges for Twilight to compete in the annual Unicorn Arcane Arts competition, but Twilight's tendency to take such things a little too seriously quickly gets her in trouble.
Thoughts after reading: Contrary to what many readers and beginning authors seem to believe, writing a fanfic which hews closely to the conventions and tone of MLP (aka "episode-style stories") is quite difficult. The simple fact is that written stories and television shows are two different mediums, and translating the style of one to the other is a task fraught with peril. It's no coincidence that the best movie adaptations of books are often the ones which don't dogmatically cling to their source material, however much that may annoy fans of the original work. Likewise, many of the best fanfics tell a story which differs in tone, structure, and pacing from what we'd expect to see on the TV show, sometimes drastically.
But although it may be a difficult task, PhantomFox was clearly up to the challenge. My Faithful Student is about as close as any writer could hope to come to writing a story which preserves the FiM aesthetic while still being a good story in and of itself.
As the phrase "about as close" may suggest, however, the attempt to preserve the show's pacing and setup was occasionally to the fic's detriment. Important story elements are occasionally brought up only to be instantly dealt with or dismissed, which suits a fast-paced visual medium better than it does the written word (though whether some of the off-the-cuff inclusions in the show work even in that setting is debatable). Likewise, the introductions of several plot points were sorely lacking in subtlety; while this didn't really hurt the story, it did give the entire piece a "basic" feeling which I found unfortunate.
Still, if that's the worst I can say about the story's adherence to its chosen style, that's saying something. The entire piece is full of the show-style humor that so many of the adult fans love, and like the show itself, Student is refreshingly sincere in both its presentation and the lessons it strives to impart.
Characterization was mostly very good. The author's interpretation of Celestia was a little too excitable for my taste (I'm inclined to think that her first scene in the story might have worked better from both a character and a story perspective had she been calm and collected (at least in front of her subjects), rather than obviously panicked), but I didn't find it at all unbelievable. The depiction of Pinkie was one I quite enjoyed, which was a pleasant surprise; she's often my least favorite character to read about, because so many authors amp up her randomness and/or self-awareness to distressing heights. Here, she was wacky and over-the-top, but she was still definitely Pinkie Pie.
The writing style was simplistic, but this I generally found to be in the service of the story. While Twilight's dialogue moved towards more advanced word choice, the rest of the piece tended to maintain a level of word choice more appropriate to the show itself. But although it may have felt appropriate, the one issue I repeatedly noticed on the technical front was likely a result of this: repetitive word choice. Although this story generally lacked conceptual redundancy, a number of times the same word was used several times within a few sentences. While the level of repetition was never absurd, it was definitely noticeable.
Star rating: ★★★★☆ (what does this mean?)
Although the simplistic word choice and attempts to match the pacing of a piece of visual media occasionally created issues, these were relatively minor. What remains is one of the few stories in this fandom that could actually be re-written as an episode with relatively little work. "This could be an episode" is a bit of praise that gets tossed around all too often, but in this case it's absolutely true.
Recommendation: Anyone who likes the show should read this story. Since I expect that most readers of MLP fanfiction are also viewers of the show, that's basically a blanket recommendation. No matter what one's literary preferences, I have trouble imagining the fanfic reader who wouldn't find something to like in here.
Next time: The Light in the Darkness, by Zaptiftun