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I don't really have any opinion about the upcoming fifth edition of D&D; as a DM, I'm still perfectly happy with the original AD&D books, and as a player, I figure it doesn't really matter what the system used is. A good DM's gonna make it his or her own no matter what, right?
I will say, though, that I've got a bit of a twitch after hearing that Kender will be an available race in 5e. They were one of the worst things to happen in 2e; why on earth would you bring back a race composed entirely of kleptomaniac halflings whom you're somehow not supposed to get mad at when they steal your stuff?
Below the break, my review of Sharaloth's The Archer and the Smith.
Impressions before reading: I've heard a few things about this story prior to reading it. On the plus side, I've heard that it's beautifully written, and contains vivid descriptions and setting; that all sounds good to me. On the downside though, I've seen several people complain about Lyra lacking any motivation, and the story not doing much to explain its (supposedly so nice!) setting; that doesn't sound so great. The cover art's quite nice though, so I'm gonna call that the tiebreaker and say that I'm hoping for good things going in.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: The Shaper is a smith; the best in the land. Her skills in weapon forging are beyond compare, but even they are tested when a pony comes to her seeking a weapon capable of slaying a dragon.
Thoughts after reading: Even as I had heard, the setting and writing are indeed wonderful--especially so because of the way they support one another. This story is set in an Equestria straight out of one of your more "gothic" fairy-tales; a land of darkness and loss, but not one devoid of hope, nor beyond redemption. The writing style evokes a fairy-tale feel without being beholden to the conventions of that genre, and this gives the story a sense of antiquity without making it feel quaint or trite. The descriptions are florid but not excessive, and do a good job of placing the story's weight where it needs to be. The confrontation at the end of the story was the only weak point from a construction standpoint, and even here the flaws are relatively minor: the setup-less switch to Lyra's POV and a combat which at times bogs down in blow-by-blow accounting don't significantly detract from the quality of the piece.
However, it's a long stretch from the world in which this story is set to the show's Equestria. The story takes place in the not-to-distant future after a hinted-at upheaval, but doesn't concern itself with the whys and hows of that event. That's fine, in and of itself--the story's not about the upheaval, after all, and an exhaustive history would be totally out of place--but the presence of show elements like Ponyville, hints of the main six, and Lyra herself all tie this story a bit too closely to the source material for comfort. I think it would have been better for Sharaloth to use an OC in the archer's role and to excise some of the more referential material, as these encourage readers to ask how things got the way they did in this fic, at least as relates to those characters and places. Those are questions that have no satisfying answer, at least in this work.
Speaking of referential material, I found it odd that some of Lyra's more, let's say, "human-centric" fandom elements were included in this fic. To be clear, there's no obsessing about humans or wishing to grow hands or the rest of the sillier stuff, but even muted references to a very jokey fan-interpretation seem an ill choice when it comes to setting the mood. That said, I want to be clear that the silliness issue is entirely on a meta- level: the only goofiness to that aspect of the fic is what the reader chooses to read into it.
In sum, though, I enjoyed this story a lot. It has a simple message about the timelessness of hope, one I thought was all the stronger for not being overbearing in its presentation, nor for being delivered in either a ham-handed or jaded manner. The lack of worldbuilding may make it hard for the reader to imagine what might come after the fic ends, but the ending is no less satisfying for that.
Star rating: ★★★★☆ (what does this mean?)
Much like the previously-reviewed The Glass Blower, this fic is at its weakest when the characters and elements it references are too closely tied to the show (and in this case, its fanbase). However, The Archer and the Smith is still full of vivid worldbuilding, writing which fits that worldbuilding like a glove, and a strong but not overbearing or blunt moral. There's a lot here to like.
Recommendation: Although the writing and characters have somewhat more expression and depth than a typical fairy-tale, I imagine this story will be liked (and disliked) by the same people who like (and dislike) those.
Next time: Pipsqueak's Day Off, by Chuckfinley