Monday, September 30, 2013

Fandom Classics Part 11: The Archer and the Smith

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

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


  1. It's been awhile since I've looked into D&D Next, but what I saw then and everything I've heard since has been terrible. I've had to accept the fact that WotC will never make another edition I like, so instead I've resolved to make my own - one much closer to the '74 rules with a blend of some later stuff (mostly the Gygaxianisms, but 3.0's got some features I just can't do away with). There'll be some more original features as well, but even these will largely be inspired by older versions of the game (including its pre-published state!)

    This story certainly sounds interesting, and it's nowhere near as long as I was expecting! Welcome to the queue, Archer ^_^

  2. Wait, what? The Archer and the Smith had a moral? One of my biggest gripes with the whole story it that it's essentially vacuous on an emotional level. Lyra offers no reasoning for her goal, and maybe that's fine because the goal isn't really the functional purpose of the fic. No, the focus is the relationship between Lyra and the smith, and, frankly, I found that interaction to be tepid at best. She never speaks about her reasoning, and so the whole reason for them coming together at all smacks of nothing more than 'because the author thought it would be nice'. There's no chemistry, no motivation, and not a scrap of emotion or rationale that I can find.

    Add to that that I found the whole 'The Smith' thing extraordinarily pretentious. The picture on the cover shows you who it is. There's nothing clever about it and it felt like needlessly wasting my time with something that someone clearly thought was. Needless to say, that set me up to be in a bad mood from the start.

    So basically, I think the characters were soulless and dull, which, for a story based on said characters, is terminal:

    "Hey, you. make me stuff."
    "You're insane."
    "Yeah, but make me stuff because I'm emotionally blackmailing you."
    "That makes sense. I'll make you some stuff."
    [makage of stuff]
    "I made your stuff!"
    "Cool. Now I'm going to use it."
    "Hmm, in making your stuff I have developed an unexplained attachment to your unquantified, wafer-thin, mono-directional personality. Perhaps it's because I'm emotionally retarded and haven't spoken to another soul in three years."
    [Cue meaningless fight]

    That's literally as much as I can weasel out of this story. I'd love it if someone could explain what I've missed.

    1. You've missed everything in the story that is not character-based.

      Also, it really isn't possible to tell who the Smith is just by looking at the cover image. I was thoroughly surprised to learn her identity, at least.

    2. Going by the character tags, I could confirm that it was, indeed, the first pony I thought it was upon seeing that picture. I don't find her that difficult to recognize, honestly.

    3. Heh. I never even noticed the character tags--they're generally not something I usually pay attention to.

      As for 'everything in the story that's not character-based', There's plenty of it and it's very good, but without a purpose for it's existence, it's just pleasant filler to me. It doesn't have to be relevant beyond fleshing out the world the protagonist(s) are in, but I need to be able to care about the protagonists for that to be a pertinent factor. I believe the literary advice goes thus: "Always give the reader something to root for." There characters here felt like an excuse for the world building, not the protagonists of a story. I couldn't root for them; I could barely care about them at all.

      On a conceptual level, the world building was absolutely first class. I just think it needed a much stronger story to carry it.

    4. The Shaper forms this attachment because Lyra comes to her preaching hope, something the Shaper has long since stopped believing in. Furthermore seeing Lyra's intense dedication convinces her that hope is indeed there. It changes her outlook on life and Lyra's the one who showed her the way. Lyra's also quite friendly and cheerful (hence all the smiling) while the Shaper is serious and bitter (hence all the sighing and glaring). However Lyra's cheer slowly rubs off on the Shaper and at the end of the fic:

      "For the first time in years, the Shaper laughed in simple, genuine joy."

      As for Lyra's motivation, well, there's definitely some sort of tyrannical oppression going on. Where there's oppression there will always be a resistance. That's some tried and true motivation right there. Lyra also mentions that she lost everything and everyone she cared about in this mysterious upheaval, and her goal is the only thing left that's giving her purpose. On top of all that though, mid-way through the fic there's a whole conversation between the two of them about their motivations in which they pretty explicitly state all that I just said and more. With all that, I really don't understand where such complaints about lack of motivation could come from.


      As for the Shaper's identity, Though the colors are similar, I'm almost completely sure that the mare in the cover image was not intended to be Apple Bloom. Also, if I understand this correctly, for a long time, Apple Bloom was not added to the tags. So it was more of a mystery at some point. I wasn't completely clear on it myself at first.


      And yes, The Archer and the Smith indeed had a moral. As Chris stated, it's a simple message about the timelessness of hope. There's also a small hint about the power of teamwork in there too.

    5. I'm not even sure that counts as a moral. If there's a message there, it's more like "when everyone loses hope, try to murder something out of sheer belligerence and it'll perk people right up."

      Uh huh. I'll pass.

      And no, that's not motivation; that's a goal. Completely different issue. In fact, I have a sense that you've just pretty much confirmed all my issues with this story.

    6. They did not slay the dragon just for the sake of slaying a dragon, they did it as an act of rebellion to the Sorceress's rule. Furthermore, it's proof that they, the common pony, are able to rebel, something the Shaper formerly thought it impossible. All summed up by this quote here:

      "I prefer to think of it as hope," the Shaper replied. "Hope that we can make a difference, even in this fallen world. Hope that [the rulers] can be fought, and, even if it's only in a small way, beaten."

      "And no, that's not motivation; that's a goal."

      I disagree.
      Oppression is bad, M'kay? And some people/ponies simply aren't going to sit there and take it. Surely, you've run into many a "FIGHT DA POWUH" Stories wherein that's the main motivation of the protagonist. I know I have, though I can't think of any off the top of my head that you'd recognize. It's very common in video games anyway.

      ...Actually, I've not seen it myself so I might be wrong, but doesn't Star Wars fall under that category?

    7. I'm sorry, but you haven't seen Star Wars? Go. Change that now. You're only required to watch the (pre'-97) original, though Empire and Jedi are good, and you definitely should skip the prequels. Don't return until your task is complete

    8. Also, Deft: please remember as you watch A New Hope (nee Star Wars) that you are watching one of the best blockbuster spectacles of all time, which is somewhat different than saying it's one of the best movies of all time. It's got great effects (you know they're great because many of them hold up almost 30 years later), some clever dialogue, a pretty straightforward character arc for the protagonist, and lots of little flourishes for fans to pick apart later.

      It's also pretty corny in places, handwaves a bunch of the "sci" part of "sci-fi," and doesn't concern itself too much with realism, in a lot of ways. Expectation setting is important, and while this is a great film, it's not some arthouse character study.

    9. Mmmmm yes, that's what I've come to expect from what I've heard about it.

      But no! Nuh-uh, No way, no how! I refuse to watch it. Because... reasons.

      Also, I returned without completing the task. WHATCHA GONNA DO 'BOUT IT, PUNK!?

  3. My first exposure to this story was a reading by Illya Leonov. And I say it works really well as he read it.

    "These [referential materials] 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."

    And I'm perfectly fine not knowing. It's the perfect amount of ambiguity to leave the reader wanting more, which if you ask me is a good thing to do, without resorting to thinly-veiled sequel bait. I could make a non-perfect analogy to elements within Friendship is Magic such as how Discord once gained ruling power, Why Princess Cadance is a princess, Why the Everfree Forest is how it is and what's with that castle in the middle of it? These questions are never given a satisfying answer and yet people seem to love imagining the possibilities. All of it would have little effect on the story being told.
    Also, in my opinion, that was the best use of Lyra's human fascination ever!
    Oh and this story is just full of that magical wonder stuff that I can't get enough of.

    For those who enjoyed this fic and want to see more of the world that was built, I cannot recommend enough Sharaloth's other story, The Heart Theif also set in the same world. This time it shows what Scootaloo's been up to. Be warned that this one is most definitely dark, but man, for me it's like the fic or the month right there.

    Sharaloth is also apparently working on a third one and I just cannot wait!