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The last of the sequels to previously reviewed fics that still needed reviewing is finally reviewed! Click down below the break for my take on NickNack's Summer Days and Evening Flames.
Oh, before you go, one thing: what with the Tour de France underway, I'm once more getting blog hits from people searching Google for "Thomas Voeckler fanfiction." Just remember, my offer still stands. And on a Tour-related note... sorry, Mystic. I'd say "better luck next year," but, well, Cadel Evans isn't getting any younger.
Okay, now on to pony-related stuff!
Impressions before reading: I was reading this as it was published (at the time, it was one story: Summer Days and Evening Flames), but dropped out after a few chapters when a round of rereading-requiring revisions convinced I'd be best served waiting for a finished product before committing myself to any more of it. I understand that the changes, at this point, have been pretty significant, so I'm not sure that my previous opinions are all that likely to hold water in this case. I will be reviewing both stories together, however, since they form a single narrative arc.
What I do remember, and know hasn't changed, is that these stories are sequels to Heart of Gold, Feathers of Steel. You'll need to read that story first; this isn't one where you can jump into the later work without a grounding in the former. So you'll want to start there, or failing that, read my review of the first story and see if it's the sort of thing that would interest you.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Having accepted a job as a member of the town guard in Farrington, Gilda slowly begins to learn about love, friendship, and how to fit in in a world where she's seen as an oddity at best, and a irresistible target for hate at worst. Along the way, she'll need to come to grips with her relationship with her father, her clan, Rainbow Dash, and the ponies she now works alongside.
Thoughts after reading: As always, a lot of what was in the first story is also present in the sequel. Here, as there, the technical writing is beyond complaint; here, as there, a huge amount of intriguing worldbuilding about griffons, ponies, and the main characters is present.
So what's different? For starters, the narration (which was previously entirely first-person from Gilda's point of view) now shifts between about a half-dozen characters. Given the broader scope of the sequels, this choice is a good one; it allows the town of Farrington and its denizens a presence which telling the story strictly from Gilda's perspective wouldn't have. That said, transitions are occasionally hard to pick up; several times, it took me multiple paragraphs to figure out who was talking. However, this was the exception to the rule, and the changing perspectives gave the author a chance to show that he was equally comfortable in all his characters' skins.
That last bit's important; I was consistently impressed by how Nick was able to make show multiple sides of an issue through his viewpoint characters. For example, Starfall (a lieutenant in the guard) and Gilda have an altercation at one point in the story, and their subsequent POV segments show clearly how both felt they had been obviously wronged, and forced into action. That kind of pan-empathy is the mark of well-developed characters, and I have no trouble saying that Nick's characters are all very well-developed. Seeing as a romantic relationship figures prominently in the story, this strong characterization is especially welcome; although the characters may have acted naive or even downright idiotic at times, they did so in believable, human ways, and I never really questioned the mechanisms of the romance.
That's not to say that there weren't issues, however. Particularly, pacing is a major problem throughout the story. There are two issues with the pacing, and one of them semi-contradicts all the nice things I was just saying about characterization: the ponies (and griffon) in these stories have a maddening tendency to solve their issues based on internal debate, and absent any immediate catalyst. The problem here isn't that this isn't realistic--it is--but that it's not dramatically appropriate. One character in particular re-evaluates his entire life at one point, with major, story-altering implications... while going out to get a carton of milk. The lack of synthesis between action and reaction (he had plenty of reason to re-evaluate his life, sure, but the relevant events were weeks or even years behind him at that point) does cause problems.
There are also some problems with the worldbuilding. It's not that it isn't interesting and/or plausible within the story; it almost always is, on both counts. It's that often, this worldbuilding is woefully incomplete. By way of example: Gilda, at one point, recalls that she once saw her brother romancing with another male griffon, and it's made very clear that this was incredibly taboo and would probably get both lovers killed if they were discovered. What isn't explained is why, Are griffons homophobic? Is it a matter of genetic succession (griffons in the story are both very few in number, and predominantly female, so regularly losing breeding males because of gender preferences would be an issue)? Is this just something to do with their psychopathic father? Too often, there just isn't enough context given for some of the worldbuilding elements to have the impact they're clearly intended to have.
I should also mention that these stories, particularly Evening Flames, do go to some dark places. If you've read Heart of Gold, I don't think that the tone will come too far out of left field. Still, if a pony world where a mafia-esque underground plots regular murders is more than you're willing to accept, consider this fair warning. This is in no way a gratuitously or inappropriately grim pair of stories, but it is rather more unpleasant than the show's Equestria.
Star Rating: ★★★☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Compared to Heart of Gold, these stories are much grander in scope, both in terms of characters and world vision. There are, unfortunately, a number of problems conveying that story clearly and excitingly to the reader, but Summer Days and Evening Flames are so full of vivid portrayals and setting that it remains an enjoyable read.
Recommendation: As I said above, these stories are only for those people who read Heart of Gold, Feathers of Steel first. However, I imagine almost anyone who enjoyed that would want to continue on to these. Even folks who don't typically enjoy romance fics will find a lot to like here, although anyone particularly put off by incomplete (and more to the point, insufficient) explanations may disagree.
Next time: Transcendence, by Corejo
An incomplete 6-star just finished! It's pretty short, so I shouldn't have any trouble getting it in before I leave on vacation.
On an unrelated note, I can still remember when I thought 60k words of ponyfiction was just plain ridiculous, rather than "pretty short."