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I just re-upped with the league I've played fantasy football with for the last three years. My combined record over those three years? 12-30, and you can probably guess how many playoff appearances that's gotten me. Much more than the lottery, I think this game is a tax on those of us who are bad at math.
Below, my review of The Descendant's The Silent Shore.
Impressions before reading: This is one I've read before, and while I didn't dislike it, I wouldn't have called it one of the author's strongest stories (that I've read). I'm a little surprised that this is the story of his that joined A Cup of Joe and Tangled Up in Blues on the 6-star list, but maybe a re-reading will leave me with a more positive impression.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: While traveling to Hoftston, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Twilight, and Spike stop by the ocean for a bit of respite. When an unnatural fog rolls in, things quickly take a turn for the surreal, and truth and imagination begin to blur.
Thoughts after reading: One thing I have a bad(?) habit of doing is comparing authors to themselves. On the one hand, it's a perfectly natural comparison to make. On the other, it's not necessarily the most relevant metric for a reader. Saying that Twain's Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven is better than A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is a far cry from saying the latter is bad, after all.
So I find myself resisting the urge to compare The Silent Shore to some of the author's other stories, because while it does suffer for the comparison, the problems are often minor at best by any other measure. Editing was more lackluster on this fic than, say, A Cup of Joe, but what's at issue is a dozen or so isolated errors--nothing systemic, and nothing which impinges upon readability. The writing style is quite dense, though for the most part this feels appropriate to the atmosphere of the piece; the only problem of significance on that front was a tendency towards repeated words and phrases (as at the beginning of chapter three, where an attempt to establish "at once" as a structural motif falls flat). Although it's not the best story by the author from a linguistic standpoint, it's still full of very thoughtfully constructed prose which readers who aren't put off by the style are likely to enjoy.
But even recognizing that those elements are all reasonably well executed by a more objective standard, there are some issues with the story as written. The biggest one is clarity: too often, it's difficult to understand what's going on.
Now, the nature of The Descendant's tale (a supernatural mystery) is such that confusion and suspense are integral to the story proper; large parts of the work literally hinge on the reader (and ponies) not knowing what's real and what's phantasmagorical. However, in attempting to keep the proceedings mysterious, the author sometimes allows events to become a little too murky; it's one thing not to be sure if there really are voices in the fog or if it's just the echo of waves off the rocks, for example, but often it's all too easy to lose track of where a character is (shore, rocky outcroppings, further up the beach...) or where they're trying to go. When this happens, the story stops being mysterious and simply becomes confusing.
The Silent Shore is more than just a tale of the paranormal. The Descendant does a great deal of wordbuilding, especially in the last of the three chapters, which I quite enjoyed. There's a fine line between allowing one's story to give a glimpse of untold others (which aids reader immersion, by setting story events within a wider world) and just dropping a pile of unexplained names into a reader's lap, but I think the allusions to a long-ago witch's war and other similar hints of background tread that line deftly.
And other, more prominent, inclusions also make pleasant additions. Spike wanting to try the lobster at the coastal town they're visiting, and the ensuing discussion of Equestrian diet, may have little to do with the main plot, but do give a welcome bit of insight into his and Twilight's character. Indeed, I thought that Spike was extremely well-realized in this story, showing both his burgeoning assertiveness and his dependence on Twilight subtly enough that they never become focal issues, but poignantly and clearly for that. Dash I was less impressed with (we get her cocky self-assuredness at the start, but from there we move to terror with too little transition for my taste), but by in large all of the characters were engaging.
Star rating: ★★★☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Despite some excessively confusing descriptions of ponies lost in the fog, this story has a lot going for it. Interesting characters and history, and reasonably good language/story synergy, for example.
Recommendation: Although I wouldn't call it purple, there's a lot of dense prose throughout this story; readers put off by such may want to look elsewhere. Those easily frustrated by vague or unclear descriptions I'd likewise advise to find another story to read, but anyone looking for a well thought out, introspective, and at times insightful supernatural tale ought to consider reading this.
Next time: Derpy's Bebop, by Trelatyarelis