Monday, August 19, 2013

Fandom Classics Part 2: Mendacity

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

About three years ago, my sister and I picked up some coffee drinks--I forget if it was from Starbucks or somewhere else, but that's not important.  What is important is that they put those cutesy little stickers over the drinking hole on the lid, and my sticker was a cow.  I happened to be wearing a farmer's cap that day, so I put the cow sticker on the bill, thinking it looked mildly appropriate.

It's still there; I'm typing this while wearing that same hat, and the sticker isn't showing any signs of pulling up around the edges.  It's starting to worry me, in fact.  Just what kind of industrial adhesives were those baristas putting in and around my drink?

Below the break, my review of Dromicosuchus's Mendacity.

Impressions before reading:  This isn't a story I'd have picked up based on the description, but I've heard a number of good things about it coming in.  In particular, that it combines heavy worldbuilding with folklore--both things I'm rather partial to, myself.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Bon-bon is a changeling; Lyra doesn't know this.  But Bon-bon will risk the wrath of Unseelie to protect the pony she's fallen in love with.

Thoughts after reading:  Yup, that "impressions before reading" bit was pretty much spot-on.  Here we have a story which is built structurally as an action-adventure, but where that narrative is subsidiary to another purpose: to flesh out and showcase the author's vision of a fairie-world owing much to British (and to a lesser extent, wider European) folklore which exists within Equestria.  And insofar as that fairie-world goes... it's incredible.

I grant you that I'm biased; I have a great deal of both academic and aesthetic appreciation for the particular areas from which Dromicosuchus draws his inspiration for the other-realm which exists alongside Equestria.  However, I think that even readers who are less intrinsically inclined to view that worldbuilding favorably will find that the dark and refreshingly alien take on changelings and their ilk blend surprisingly well with the magical land of Equestria conceptually.

That conceptual blending is somewhat obscured by inelegantly dense prose, however.  Throughout the story, the author attempts to convey depth through language style, adopting a fairly formal, precise lexicon.  In some places, this works well (notably, when juxtaposed with one of the characters breaking that mood for comic effect), but too often the net effect is simply to add a few adjectives and maybe toss in a gem of a word like "tessellated" for good measure.  This effect is most noticeable in the first chapter, but is a persistent issue.  Character voicing is fairly weak in the first chapter or too, as well; the narrative lexicon has a disappointing tendency to bleed over at inopportune moments.

Past that early wobble, however, characterizations in this fic are uniformly excellent.  The ponies, as a group, are rather dull compared to the vibrant, extravagant, and above all different creatures which populate the rest of the fic, and Bon-bon does very credible service as the reader's bridge between these two worlds.  The narrative which binds the story together is simple and straightforward, but the constant stream of additions to the larger world, hilarious and/or genuinely thoughtful dialogue, and occasional pratfall buoy the story along very well.

There's also a recurring joke about Lyra crafting a mechanical hand to help her play the lyre, which was painful enough to bring a grimace to my face almost every time it was mentioned, but as that's pretty much the only misstep comedy-wise, I'm prepared to let it slide--though now without an angry glare.

That narrative, however, is a weak point.  Without getting into too many details, this story in very closely with the events of A Canterlot Wedding, and most of those connections are to the detriment of the fic.  Strip away everything but the bare-bones plotline, and what you have left raises more questions than it answers, and in any case is a rather shallow, stock adventure story.  Presented on its own, it would be unremarkable; here, the fact that it frankly doesn't gel very well with that episode (at least, in a couple of key regards) is probably the most notable thing about it.

But thankfully, the story isn't just "the bare-bones plotline," and it's the "everything else" about this fic which is the real selling point.  From comically vicious-ish kelpies to miserable (tommy)knockers to one of the best takes on a draconequus I've seen in fanfiction, this story is full of beautiful characters and legendarium, both borrowed and invented.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

This is a quintessential example of an "if you like that kind of story" sort of fanfic.  What I can definitely say is that the creativity and care which went into the world in which Mendacity is set is sure to delight the kinds of people who delight in that sort of thing.

Recommendation:  This is an absolute must-read for fans of rich backstory and worldbuilding.  For others readers, this one is still worth a look if you enjoy fics which can balance comedy and drama and which showcase vivid and unique characters at every turn.  Readers put off by pretentious writing (at least, in the first chapter) and questionable tie-ins to actual episodes will probably find this less to their liking.

Next time:  White Box, by Chromosome

17 comments:

  1. I was put off by the extreme depth of the world building, honestly. It becomes painfully obvious in places that the story just serves as a vehicle for said world building, and nothing more, and watching the plot drown beneath the mythology was a little baffling at times. But I can't disagree that it's fascinating, not to mention filled with great characters. I'm really glad I read this story.

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    1. Same here. I had the impression at times that the author was wishing really hard that s/he didn't have to include all that pesky "pony" business in his/her story, because the pony world is painted with all the vivid colour and life of the world of the living in the movie "Corpse Bride", probably to serve as a contrast to the faerie worlds.

      I also never got the feeling that the (supposedly) central relationship between Lyra and Bon-Bon was anywhere near as intense as the story tells us it is, or as intense as it would need to be for Bon-Bon to go to those lengths. Aldrovanda and Bon-Bon had far more chemistry than those two, and I say that as someone who found Aldrovanda incredibly irritating after a while, well-written or not.

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  2. I can't wait until you review this again 15 fics from now.

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    1. As much fun as that would be, I think I'll go back and swap out the doubled listing.

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  3. I felt that Mendacity was a bit of good and a bit of meh.

    Tye meh was mostly Lyra Bon Bon and thw romance between them. The rest was fantastic. I thing the problem is that the main characters were just taken too seriously. With the side characters there is this sense of them being unfettered and free to be who they are. With L and BB they feel like they are trying too hard to mean something to us.

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    1. Oh, DPV, you're such a harsh critic :P

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    2. Keep in mind I love the story and it is in my faves. I also consider LyraBon the only reasonable femship in canon. All I am pointing out is the one thing in the story that detracted from my ability to enjoy it. Unfortunately I have no idea how to make it sound less harsh.

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    3. The next time someone gives me flak for liking LyraBon, they're getting a face full of "BUT IT'S DPV APPROVED AND HE HATES SHIPPING" :V

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    4. Oh, PP, I don't hate shipping. I just consider it a joke without a punchline. Impossible to take seriously or respect, but not fun enough to like on it's own.

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    5. I think I've gone too far in to consider shipping a joke anymore. :/ I guess it's a virus in that case. (Well, I still appreciate crack shipping, at least.) I certainly disagree about the fun part!

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    6. See there are 2 kinds of romance in fiction based media. Romance for plot and romance for characterization.

      For example, In the case of the Cakes, their romantic partnership is a part of their characterization and only affects the plot in general ways. In the case of Shining Armor and Cadance their romance was for the plot and did not really factor heavily into their characterizations in any of their episodes.

      The problem with taking fandom shipping too seriously is that it tends to do neither. The romance is usually incidental to the plot and characters. It exists for it's own sake. It is a joke without a punchline.

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    7. (The punchline is horse kissing. :V)

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    8. That's not a punchline. That's lip service.

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  4. This is a story I'll probably always underrate just because it's fashioned out of such obviously gimmicky elements. British mythology? An over-the-top, debonair kelpie OC? A shrieky musical number sung by said OC? Yikes. Thankfully, it's well-written enough to acquit itself of any suspicions that he isn't taking things seriously, and even manages to string together a pretty quality story based on nothing but wispy fanon and archaic worldbuilding.

    The diction in this story didn't annoy me so much as the phrasing. It would have read significantly better if he'd dropped a lot of the commas. I can handle wordiness in my ponyfic so long as the story itself is suitably fantastic enough to merit it, and this one certainly was.

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  5. Being the huge sucker for worldbuilding that I am, I loved this story.

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