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Story (review) time! Below the break, Coffeegrunt's Allegrezza.
Impressions before reading: My immediate reaction to a shipping story starring Octavia and Vinyl Scratch is a negative one; aside from being a dramatically overdone storyline, TaviScratch holds little inherent appeal to me, and a disproportionate number of such stories are really poorly written (if we take ponyfiction generally as a baseline for what a "normal" ratio of well written to poorly written fanfics looks like).
But, that certainly doesn't mean that this particular story is poorly written. In fact, I've been led to believe that it's one of the codifiers of TaviScratch as a subgenre, along with The Vinyl Scratch Tapes. I previously reviewed the first season of that and enjoyed it far more than I thought I would going in, so I'm hoping for another better-than-expected outcome here.
I won't lie, though: I'd feel a lot more positive going in if the last sentence in the story's description weren't a run-on sentence ending in a direct appeal to the reader.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A chance trip to a less than reputable bar leads Octavia, classical musician and notorious prude, to make the acquaintance of Vinyl, a professional DJ.
Thoughts after reading: "Write what you know" is common bit of advice for authors of all stripes. Obviously, this doesn't mean that you can't write about a subject which you aren't an expert at, but it points to an important truth: when you choose to put a great deal of emphasis on a subject with which you are not personally familiar, and do not then take the time to familiarize yourself with that subject at least insofar as it relates to your story, there is a very good chance that you'll end up putting something in your story which is unusual, irregular, or simply wrong, as regards that subject. And while that "something" may not be obvious to every reader, it will be to those who are more familiar with the subject than you, our hypothetical author.
As it happens, I'm reasonably well-versed in both classical music and in whiskey, two subjects about which Coffeegrunt writes at length (albeit I'm mostly a scotch drinker, while Octavia's tastes seem more eclectic). Based on my personal experience, I found the alcohol descriptions perfectly adequate--either the author knows a bit about whiskey, or she did enough research (firsthand or otherwise) to write a simple but nevertheless convincing description of Jura whiskey. On the music front though, I was disappointed. While there was clearly some work put into the linguistic side of things (use of musical terms is reasonably good throughout), frankly silly things like a functional, playable lyre made of pure gold, an apparent confusion of lyres and harps, or at least of the musical functions of which each are capable, and the idea that a professional cellist would allow a string to wear almost to the breaking point before replacing it (she was playing on this nearly-frayed string in a major performance! Think about how that must have sounded) are as disappointing as they are unrealistic. I suspect readers without a significant musical (or at least, instrumental performance) background will be far less bothered by these inclusions, if they notice them at all, but for myself, it rendered parts of the story positively cringeworthy.
On the positive side though, the description of burning one's tongue on a fresh-from-the-toaster Pop Tart is clearly inspired by personal experience, and as someone who's experienced that pain myself, I can attest to the believability of that particular scene.
Writing was a weak point throughout the story. The previously alluded-to run-on in the EqD description was sadly representative of the writing throughout. Story breaks occurred at seemingly random intervals; sometimes they represented major time skips, while on other occasions they were placed right in the middle of an exchange of dialogue. While story breaks are usually almost invisible to the reader, the strange and inconsistent way in which they were used made it hard to keep track of the passage of time in some places. Bizarre phrasings and misused words ("Lyra and Bonbon stared at the subtle wisps of smoke diffusing from Octavia's heated temperament") belied the seemingly impressive vocabulary used throughout. While plenty of writers work wonders with prolific vocabularies, I would always rather see an author restrict him- or herself to a relatively simple word set, if the alternative is to have that author repeatedly stumble over the difference between "prolific" and "prolithic," as was the case here.
The comic aspects of Allegrezza are where the story is strongest. Although mostly absent for the first few chapters, Coffeegrunt shows a knack for Douglas Adams-inspired asides and witticisms in this story. A few fall flat, particularly those that rely on fandom references (a brief tangent involving Lyra's obsession with humans stands out as a particularly unfunny example), but plenty of others shine. One thing I will absolutely say for this story: the humorous bits regularly did made me smile.
Still, these can't hide what is unquestionably the greatest flaw of the story, and that's the lack of rhyme or reason to many of the events which drive the plot. To cite one of the earliest examples, Octavia and Vinyl, who do not at this point even know each others names, end up sleeping off an alcohol-filled (for Octavia) night together. When Octavia awakes, after ascertaining that nothing unprintable happened between the two of them and exchanging a few more insults, she precedes to... invite Vinyl to dinner. Why? I'm not sure. Octavia simply declares, apropos of nothing which Vinyl said, that she's an excellent chef, and when Vinyl comments that her special talent seems to be music-related rather than culinary in nature, Octavia proceeds to give Vinyl her address and offers to prove her skills (yet unchallenged) by preparing a multi-course meal for the two of them.
This kind of poor synchronization between action and setup/explanation is distressingly common to all parts of the story, unfortunately. Characters alternately fight and become friends for no believable reason, or pull 180-degree mood swings absent any clear justification. Needless to say, these kind of untraceable, apparently nonexistent impetuses made the romance upon which much of the story rested seem at best implausible, and at worst completely inexplicable. And when a shipping story can't make a convincing case for its shipping, that's obviously a major problem.
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
By design, my 1-star designation covers a lot more ground than my higher ratings. The assumption with these reviews is that EqD's 6-star tag should (in theory) mark the best stories in the fandom, and so a single star from me represents anything below "a quality work by general fanfiction standards, but definitely not something I'd list among the best examples ponyfiction." In other words, a 1-star rating here can mean anything between "has some redeeming qualities and areas of competence, but marred by multiple significant flaws" and "despicable tripe."
This story is definitely in the former category. While I didn't particularly enjoy it, and while there's frankly a lot of things wrong with it, Allegrezza is far from dreck. Unfortunately, it's also far from inspiring.
Recommendation: This might be a story worth reading for die-hard fans of the TaviScrach ship, but I suspect most others will find it unremarkable at best.
Next time: Eternal, by Device Heretic