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If you haven't already, you all might want to check the comments section on my most recent post. There's a... thing being created down there, and I don't think I'm up to the task of describing it.
Looks like everyone's having fun, though, and who doesn't like fun things?
Speaking of fun things, click down below the break to read my review of Grey Prophet's Frigid Winds and Burning Hearts. After all, what's more fun than a fanfic review?
Impressions before reading: This one has the additional tags "political" and "history," which sounds like my kind of story; the meshing of great events and byzantine bureaucracy provides fertile ground for intrigue and intelligent surprises, two things I'm very partial to in stories. Looks like the author began writing this before season two, so I suspect we're in for some S1 Luna goodness. But, if the description is anything to judge by, I doubt this story's going to fall into the "sad Luna" trap. Overall, I've got high hopes going in.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Princess Celestia mysteriously vanishes, and ponies across Equestria begin to panic. Luna, meanwhile, finds herself under suspicion ("Nightmare Moon has returned!" etc.), and turns to Twilight and her friends for help finding her sister, and holding off angry, suspicious royal guards.
Thoughts after reading: Author tracts occupy a strange middle ground, it seems to me, between fiction and nonfiction. As an attempt to showcase and (typically) to justify a particular moral or political creed, they demand to be judged on the basis of their underlying principals, and they logic which is used to validate them. And yet, these works are also supposed to be cohesive narratives. That's a delicate balancing act to say the least, and although some authors can pull it off (George Orwell, Charles Dickens, and some of C.S. Lewis's works all spring to mind), more often than not an author tract turns into nothing but a bunch of straw men parading out self-important and ill-supported monologues at the expense of the story.
Frigid Winds and Burning Hearts is an unabashedly ideological work, using the chaos surrounding Celestia's disappearance as an excuse to discuss rights of governance and the morality of subjugation. Now, that's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I don't think it's a bad thing, in and of itself. What matters is the execution.
First, the good: Grey Prophet diligently ensures that multiple sides of every debate are heard, and are represented reasonably and intelligently, if not necessarily positively. Failing on this count is a shockingly common mistake in this type of writing, and moreover one which can quickly destroy the appeal of a work. It turns an intelligent debate into an echo chamber, where only the same talking points are endlessly heard, never to be challenged effectively. This story makes sure that all the ponies--royalists and republicans, pacifists and preemptive strikers--act the way they do for reasonable and sensible (or, in the case of the more deranged characters, at least believable) reasons, and that the ideological underpinnings which guide them aren't written off or brushed aside as mere ignorance.
Unfortunately, Frigid Winds (for some reason, I keep thinking the word is spelled "fridgid," and spellcheck keeps having to correct me) falls into another trap common to this type of story: it lets the story itself languish in favor of grandiose speeches and lengthy discourses. Although it never rises to Randian levels, much of this story is devoted to characters expounding upon the rights of ponies, the psychology of frightened mobs as it related to martial duties, and so on. Bad enough is that these speeches often come at wildly inappropriate times (a fact which is actually lampshaded late in the story, when Twilight is supposed to be hiding from a pony, but ends up revealing herself because she can't bear not to debate his moral proclamations), but there's also a distressing sameness to these parts of the story. Character vocabulary becomes notably uniform in these sections, especially for those arguments which the author seems to favor. At times like this, the story becomes so tangential to what's been written that it feels superfluous, which is never a good thing.
And, in case I need to say it, pacing suffers throughout. That's pretty much a given, when there's a new bit of philosophical discourse seemingly every other page, without regards to the rise or fall of action.
The story does have some editing problems, as well; although it's mostly in the early going, there's a fair amount of missing/incorrect punctuation. Moreover, there's some odd formatting issues with the first chapter--random line breaks and the like. On the stylistic front, dialogue sometimes becomes difficult to follow, as the author goes a dozen or more voice switches without any attribution. And the narration frequently resorts to regurgitating character rational laundry-list-style ("[Dash] felt a wave of anxiety pass through her, and it wasn't out of any concern for her safety. No, she was conflicted over whether she should listen to Twilight's letter and avoid the guard or give into her irrational temptation to race him. Rainbow Dash knew that there were few pegasi faster than the Royal Guard; it was not uncommon for veterans from the corp. to join the Wonderbolts or vice versa. It would be the ultimate test for the young aerial daredevil. Despite the possibility of setting up a match in happier times, Rainbow Dash was an impatient opportunist at heart. Her arrogant confidence also prodded her on..."), which exacerbated the sense of dullness created by the frequent monologue breaks.
Oh, I should add that one of the main characters is a brutally violent, foul-mouthed misogynist, in case excessive swearing or otherwise disgusting personalities in a major character are deal-breakers. While his role within the story made sense from an ideological standpoint, there was nothing about him that I thought benefited the story itself, or even felt particularly "pony." And when a character's narrative function is entirely subsumed by the author's desire to moralize, that's the sign of a failed author tract.
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Truthfully, I didn't feel I wasted my time reading this story. There were a few bits that made me stop and think; Grey Prophet clearly put a lot of thought into the reflections and debates which fill this story. But by any measure, there are a lot of problems with this story as a story.
Recommendation: Fans of stories like Starship Troopers, Atlas Shrugged, and the like may find this to their tastes, but anyone who isn't interested in moralizing at the expense of the narrative should steer clear.
Next time: The Somewhere Cycle, Volume 1: Wander and Green Brier, by The Descendant
Surprise! We're doing something a little different next. Don't worry, all will be explained come review time.