To read the story, click the image or follow this link
I suspect this is a wild goose chase I'm about to lead you all on, but here goes:
When I was very young, early grade school-age or maybe even the year before, my mom read a story to me and my brother. I don't remember story itself, but I do remember the setup, more or less. It was about a young boy with some sort of condition or disease or something that left him bedridden and weak (and was going to be fatal), and his big brother would help him keep his spirits up by telling stories about the fantastical world where you go after you die. Then, there was a fire in the apartment where they lived, and the younger brother was trapped upstairs. The older brother hauled him to the window and jumped out with him, using his own body to shield the younger brother from the fall. The older brother died, I think I remember that the parents blamed the younger one for his death, and a short while (months, maybe?) after that, the younger brother passed away of whatever it was that afflicted him. Then, he woke up in the fantastical world his big brother had told him about.
Anyway, that's the setup, at least as I remember it. Does anyone happen to know what story I'm thinking of? I asked my mom, but she doesn't remember reading anything like that to us, and I have no idea where to even begin trying to find it. All I've got is a half-remembered (and probably mis-remembered, fair warning) first chapter or three, and no proper nouns. But on the off-chance that my painfully vague description is ringing any bells, I'd appreciate if you'd let me know what it is I was read. This has been bugging me for a while.
Below, my review of Redsquirrel456's Sword, Hammer, Stallion.
Impressions before reading: It may be my imagination, but I think that the average guardspony story is of somewhat higher quality that the average MLP fanfic. That is to say, I've come across a number of good guardspony stories (including a couple that I've reviewed on this blog), and far fewer awful ones than, say, awful TaviScratch, awful Luna (especially Sad Luna) stuff, awful Dr. Whooves fics, or what have you. I wonder why that is. Do first-time authors tend to shy away from guardspony stories for some reason? Do bad guardspony stories just get less press than bad stories featuring other characters? Am I just not seeing
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Reveille, a young stallion, learns through the lessons of his blacksmith father and the trials of life on the outskirts of Equestria how the tools we use, and how we use them, come to define us.
Thoughts after reading: Coming-of-age stories are, I think, one of the easier types of stories to write. Start with an immature and/or inexperienced character, add some life lessons, throw in a thematically appropriate obstacle or conflict, and demonstrate after or through these that the character has absorbed the life lessons from earlier. It's true that most plot types can be simplified down to a sentence or two if one really tries, but CoAs seem to me to be among the most straightforward plot archetypes.
Of course, that's like saying that bread pudding is one of the easier types of dessert to make. While true, it does nothing to diminish the fact that a good bread pudding is ridiculously delicious and wonderful (can you tell I'm writing this on an empty stomach?). Likewise, the fact that Sword, Hammer, Stallion is in many ways a very by-the-numbers fic should not be confused for irrelevancy or dullness. This is a story with an oft-recognized but still thought-provoking ideal at its core, and the way it showcases that ideal is both clear, and elegant in its simplicity.
However, many of the story elements which surround this central concept lack focus. To a certain degree this is an acceptable choice by the author: a concise, focused narrative can afford to gloss over some things. Yet elements of the story which could have fed into the main ideal, such as the evolving relationship between the protagonist and a schoolyard bully as the two age together, are treated so tangentially that they fail to mesh into a cohesive whole. While not an egregious problem, the lack of integration here is noticeable.
Also problematic at times, especially in the early sections, is the way the narrative's vernacular drifts. The story itself is told entirely in third person limited, but at times it's clear the author is attempting to channel the voice of Revielle ("The part [of history class] about King Sternwold Halfwing was mildly cool, mostly because he was evil and killed his family to stay king,"), while in other places the narrative holds a more impartial voice. These problems mostly disappear in the later sections, as Revielle grows older (or at least, it becomes less noticeable as the colt's vocabulary improves, and is thus less distinct from the author's).
One last thing I want to comment on: since it's kind of the point of writing a CoA, it's always surprised me that so many fanfic authors manage to screw up the part where the protagonist definably matures over the course of the story. Reveille shows clear, thematically satisfying growth over the course of the story, culminating in a fluid transformation from unfocused, naive youth to the realities of adulthood in a dangerous world.
Star rating: ★★★☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Despite a few issues with narrative voice and integration of secondary story elements, Sword, Hammer, Stallion is a great example of how to write a coming-of-age tale; it is simple, concise, and has a memorable focal ideal.
Recommendation: Well, it's an all-OC cast, so I suppose readers put off by that sort of thing will want to look elsewhere. Those looking for something short and focused, or who enjoy CoAs in general, will want to give this a look.
Next time: Daring-Do and the Ivory Idol, by Fedora