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