Friday, December 28, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 122: My Little Denarians

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

Er, oops.  Looks like I forgot to set this one to post!  Enjoy some reviewing, somewhat off the normal schedule.

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Hope everyone had a great Christmas!  Even those of you who don't celebrate it--no reason not to have a nice day anyway, right?  In pony-related news, my little sister got me the MLP season 1 set for my present, so now I'm finally going to get to see what Dash and company look like on a decent-sized screen.  Woo!

Below the break, my review of Chengar Qordath's My Little Denarians.

Impressions before reading:  This is the sequel to Forever!, though it should be obvious from the size alone that the stories are two very different beasts (Forever! is a quick one-shot; Denarians clocks in at well over 200k words).  The first story is linked in the EqD post, of course, and if you'd like to read my review of it, you can find that here.

The reason I'm stopping to pick up this sequel is because I've been following Denarians, and it just recently finished.  Since it was more-or-less still fresh in my mind, I figured I'd save myself some time and re-read it now, rather than down the road a ways--I find there's a direct correlation between how recently I've read something and how quickly I can re-read it without skimming/skipping.  And considering how long this sucker is, saving a little time on it seems like a very good idea.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Harry Dresden, professional wizard/private investigator turned supernatural superpower, is tasked with traveling to the Outside--a strange and unmapped realm where fictional characters are real--and stopping a group of demons unleashing the destructive potential of one of fiction's most dangerous constructs onto Earth.

Naturally, the demons are targeting the magical land of Equestria.  Naturally.

Thoughts after reading:  As usual with reviews of sequels, I'm going to skip over details that were adequately covered in reviews of the original.  In this case, that's not a lot, but there are two things I'm not really going to touch on here: accessibility to non-Dresden Files readers, and characterizations.  The two stories, on the whole, do a similar job in those regards, so to spill a bunch more e-ink repeating myself would be a waste.

Let me start by addressing this story vis a vis The Dresden Files, the books upon which they're based: Denarians is set shortly after Ghost Story, the 13th book in the series, and is chock-full of spoilers for that book.  Also, much of the author's understanding of the Outside has been trashed by the most recently released book, Cold Days.  Personally, I'm not bothered by stories which are retroactively invalidated by additions to canon, but readers who are will want to take note.

Going back and re-reading the first few chapters was something of a letdown.  There were regular spelling and word errors--nothing which rendered the story unreadable by any stretch, but plenty to notice.  Exposition is painfully heavy in the early going; although it's true that Dresden Files itself tends to be heavy on Harry's inner monologuing, author Jim Butcher is pretty good at breaking up infodumps with character dialogue, action, or other such.  A talent for doing the same is not exhibited early on.  And some of the early fourth-wall breaking and reference humor is decidedly lowest-common-denominator fare.

As should be implied by the fact that this was a letdown, rather than being expected, things quickly improve on all fronts.  Once the story hits its stride (I would say sometime around chapter three or four) these problems mostly vanish, and what's left is a story that absolutely nails Dresden's flippant wit, and combines it with ponies in seemingly endless permutations to good effect.  The writing improves, and Qordath eventually lands on the balance of exposition and events strikingly close to that of the real Dresden books.  But what impressed me most was the referential humor.  Not because it went away, but because it mostly integrated into the story proper.

Denarians romps through multiple fictional universes, but (again, excepting the first few chapters) doesn't force meme-heavy references into every encounter.  Instead, it justifies those references and integrates them into the story, to the point where, for example, Cupcakes's Pinkie showing up at one point isn't just non-immersion breaking, it's a perfectly logical outgrowth of the way the Outside functions.  When given a reason to exist, referential humor can be funny, and can even serve a role.  How successful was Denarians in this regard?  It has an "arrow to the knee" joke that not only didn't make me want to quit reading on the spot, but which actually got me to smile.  That's hard to do.

The story is written very much in the style of the Dresden books, so fans of that series should know what to expect: lots of high-octane action and mystery, and Harry getting his butt kicked at least a couple of times along the way.  I was consistently impressed by how well Qordath masked the Denarian's plans at various points, and trailed along red herrings.  And the energy which is maintained throughout an extremely long story is impressive without a doubt.  Couple that with the surprising depth allocated to the ponies, done in a way which almost never feels at odds with the show (at least, non-deliberately)?  This story does a remarkable job of capturing all the best elements from its source materials.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

I'm not a big fan of saying "it gets better" when speaking about fanfiction--generally speaking, I think wading through mediocrity in the hope of being ultimately rewarded is a losing proposition.  That said, the opening chapters of Denarians aren't bad by any stretch, and there's a whole lot of good stuff scattered through the sprawling but never directionless story.  Although it might save its best moments for later in the fic, this is a story that has a lot to offer those looking for a lengthy bit of reading.

Recommendation:  Fans of The Dresden Files really ought to check this out, with the caveats that 1) you should definitely get through Ghost Story before tackling it, if you don't want major spoilers for the book series, and 2) large parts of the story have been invalidated by subsequent canon, if that's the sort of thing that bothers you.  Non-fans really ought to check out The Dresden Files, but failing that, this story is still worth a look if enjoy snarky narration, magical worldbuilding galore, and clever character revelations.

Next Time:  For Those We Left Behind, by Drakmire

19 comments:

  1. Crap, I completely forgot to read The Dresden Files! Gonna have to make a trip to the library soon. Well, after I re-read The Hobbit (assuming I can find it)

    Oh, Chris, I finally read Going Up! Also a few others (great work, Ezn and Present!), but yours is my favorite so far. It has gotten me thinking, though, which is never a good thing. In the context of a children's book, I adore that style, but I'd take issue with it in a book aimed at an older audience. I'm not sure why, and I can't stand the idea of being inconsistent

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    1. "... but yours is my favorite so far."

      And then I read Playing Along! Maybe the added length gave it an advantage (never thought I'd say that), but that was a great fic. Those numbers to the right of each fic - what I assume to be scores - seem to be pretty good indicators of how much I'll like them. Not sure why the stories aren't just ranked by those

      Delete
    2. Thanks!

      The numbers were the scores from the voters. Final ranking was done by the judges, largely based on what they felt would be the best fit for illustrations.

      Playing Along was my favourite too. =)

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    1. I really need to read this Dresden Files thing, don't I?

      I'm really looking forward to the next review. I remember FTWLB being really good, but we'll see if it holds up.

      ...

      Only four more to go...

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  3. Crap, now I'm very excited to read this. Still working my way through Cold Days, but I'm intrigued to see if a fan author can really capture the style of the Dresden Files series, something I hope one day to be able to do myself.

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  4. You know, I have been craving a good lengthy read lately for some whatever reason, and I found one! But then I found that it was only halfway done and I was like GRAAAUGH!

    But this one looks good too. So maybe I'll pick it up.

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    1. So! It turns out I did pick this one up. And I got... A little less than halfway through I think. I suppose I have to throw this in the "didn't enjoy" category.

      I believe what bugged me most is how much Harry rambles in his thoughts. It's fine for a while and there was some laughs to be had, but eventually, it seems excessive and repetitious. I'm pretty sure he went over the fact that telling people that he's alive is a bad thing at least three times.
      That and... I don't know, I'm just not feeling the action here.

      So yeah, I'm most likely not going to finish this.

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  5. >Next Time: For Those We Left Behind, by Drakmire

    Judgment Day.

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    1. Come with me if you want to live

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    2. Hike up your knickers, boys!

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    3. Hike up your britches, super high now
      Cut off the circulation to your thighs now
      Yank your trousers higher than Corey Haim's
      'Cause it ain't hip 'til you're in total pain!

      Delete
  6. Is this story enjoyable even if you read The Dresden Files and didn't like it?

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    1. Depends on what you didn't like about it. Mz. Qordath's Dresden is a dead ringer for Butcher's, so if you don't like that character, I'd give this story a pass. If your problem is more with the setting (if you aren't a big fan of modern-day supernatural stories in principal, say) then you might enjoy this one: it takes place mostly in Equestria, though there are a few forays to and from Earth, and not just Chicago at that.

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    2. It's more I'm not a fan of Butcher's writing style, and I guess part of that was not really finding Dresden a very engaging character. Ah well. Maybe the next one.

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  7. Disclaimer: I acknowledge that the following comment is extremely preferential and biased. It's still an honest opinion, however.

    I hate this story.
    How much?
    It is one of my favorite genres, and the other featured Dresden crossover is my current 3rd favorite incomplete FiM fic, yet I stopped reading this story 3/4 through and don't care to ever finish it.
    I NEVER do that.
    1 book in my life I left incomplete. IN MY LIFE.
    And you know, it was the same reason, almost.
    The plot in this story is either predictable or nonsensical, and the storytelling is unbearably blunt.
    The loyal one takes all the risks and the lumps.
    The jovial one gets depressed.
    The nice one is forced to be mean and then suffer in repentance.
    The central one is traumatized.
    It's rote.

    Plus there was no need for any real character development and bonding between the protag and the ponies, because he's a freakin' brony.

    That's not to mention the content, which I find questionable at every turn.

    And what finally made me throw in the towel? Twilight, with all her spells and abilities, fights by teleporting people to the moon. Seriously? She shouldn't be able to do that. Celestia can't do that. She used the Elements to seal the Lunar Avatar in the moon.
    And Rarity, with all her control, finesse, and wits, uses telekinesis to turn some enemies' guns on them. Seriously. It's RARITY and all you can think to do with her character is go "Magneto"?
    Characters are massively underutilized, with frustratingly blunt mechanics. A true crime for such versatile characters. The way characters are depicted in this story is metaphorically akin to what happened with Discord in the actual episodes this is based on. Twilight with no magic, or Dash with no flying. The characters have no flair and are utilized like action figures in a child's stereotypical fantasy.

    Go read the Dresden Fillies stories by psychicscubadiver instead. They're actually good.

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  8. I also disliked this story immensely.

    True, I write a rival series, so I am hardly unbiased, but I will freely admit that 'Forever' is one of the best (if not the best) one-shot crossover I've ever read.

    This? This was considerably less so.

    I read up to chapter five or so before putting the story down and walking away. It doesn't help that I hated the premise from the beginning (canon clearly invalidated the 'fictional world' Outside long before Cold Days) but I was willing to stick around because of how much I liked 'Forever'. I think the breaking point (SPOILER WARNING) was when he asspulled Lash out of nowhere and she and Mab then destroyed Lasciel.

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    1. "'Forever' is one of the best (if not the best) one-shot crossover I've ever read'

      Personally I prefer Lord of the Rings: Return of the Ponies but "Forever" is a close 2nd.

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