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Sorry for the missed update on Monday, guys. I spent my weekend getting prepped for the first day of school on Tuesday, and since my task hierarchy places "job" second only to family, ponyfic reviewing got the shaft this time. If it's any consolation, there's something I've been working on for a while now which is achingly close to completion (read: still probably, like, a month away). More to look forward to, if you look forward to me doing stuff. But for now, click down below the break for a smaller installment of my stuff, to wit: my review of Pride's Arddun Lleuad.
Impressions before reading: So... this is a human in Equestria fic that ships said human with Luna. I've got to admit, that premise is not inspiring a lot of confidence right off the bat. Still, I've heard good things about this story going in, and if the story description's promise that it "attempts to combat the intense stigma of giving a human and a pony a meaningful, romantic relationship" reeks of protesting too much, it also suggests that the author has given some thought as to what the pitfalls of dropping a human and a pony into a "meaningful, romantic relationship" might be.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: One day, Chester Llewellyn finds himself mysteriously transported to another world; a world full of monsters out of myth and legend, mind-altering magics... and talking ponies.
Thoughts after reading: I know I've mentioned before that I'm not much for "shipping" as a genre. I don't mind shipping in stories--at least, not inherently--but stories which are centrally about shipping two characters together tend to do things that don't work for me as a reader. Things like have someone become completely, utterly infatuated with someone they've never even met, and have the story imply that this is not infatuation, but genuine, unreserved love. Things like having two characters who've met only hours ago proclaim their undying love for one another with complete sincerity. Things like suggesting that family, friends, and life ambitions become irrelevant at best, and unwelcome distractions at worst, as soon as one's True Love has been discovered. These things are present here, and in many, many other primarily romantic works, and I can't help but find them creepy and unrealistic.
Now, to be fair, Arddun Lleuad does at least have the courtesy to try and justify those instances when the Romance train jumps the Logic and Realism tracks, albeit those justifications can basically be summed up as "it's magic!" But even if I were to accept that, okay, Luna and Chester are now soul mates, I can't get over how much of the story (the last half or so, anyway) is those two sitting around, fawning over each other. In fact, large segments of this story read very much like Twilight*, in that they revolve around two characters chastely admiring one another, with an occasional hand brushing through hair/mane. I'm obviously missing something, if the popularity of Stephanie Meyers' books is any indication, but the appeal here is lost on me.
It was pretty disappointing for me, too, because I was rather interested in the story's initial direction. Chester plops down in the middle of the Everfree, without any idea where he is, nor what to expect from the world around him. Pride does an excellent job of painting the forest as a strange, alien landscape, and of showing Chester's precarious mental state (as a result of both magic and stressful circumstance) as he tries to figure out how to survive. Even his first encounters with ponykind have a welcome air of confused awe. This sense of alien-ness gets abandoned pretty quickly thereafter, however.
Sadly, the plot turns in the last half of the story are left almost entirely unexplained. For that matter, plenty of the story's early elements lack any complete or coherent resolution. There are three reasons for this: first, much of it appears to be sequel bait for a second story, Chwe Goleadau, which I understand was released in rough-draft form before the author left the fandom. Second, there are some apparent editing issues on a concept level (the actual writing is marred only by irregular typos and the occasional spellcheck error--"aside" for "across" and the like); "Mittens" comes completely out of left field in the epilogue, but the author's notes show how its addition could have been set up, and how it could have coherently tied in to the last chapter--information sadly lacking from the actual story.
But third, and I think most importantly: this is a romance novel(la). The setting which I liked so much at the beginning and which subsequently falls by the wayside, the ill-explained and occasionally seemingly motive-less machinations which spin the central "conflict" (I hesitate to call it such, because Chester seems to positively jump at the plot-mandated solution with few or no qualms every time), the massive amount of verbiage spent on cuddling... it's because this story is, first and foremost, a story about Chester and Luna being slavishly, dogmatically in love with one another. Anything else is subsidiary to this fact, and may be dropped or forgotten without preamble at any time. The dense, descriptive-heavy writing ("purple prose" would not be an inaccurate charge to levy against some of it, especially during said cuddling sessions; that said, the style's entirely appropriate to the story being told) invite the reader to linger over passages and to savor the deceptively trifling acts they describe, but in the end, this story mostly is just that: a few lovingly-described YA-suitable scenes of "Romance," onto which some story elements have been grafted, with varying degrees of success.
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
This is, in many ways, very much a "season one" fanfic: a product of a time when there simply weren't very many good fanfics, and quality writing pared with some interesting ideas was a rare treat. Sadly, unlike some other season one fanfics, this one hasn't aged particularly well.
Recommendation: Fans of chaste romance who are willing to overlook numerous plot contrivances and a general sense of story incoherence will find that the romantic elements are very well-written, for what they are. Those without a specific interest in "for what they are" might find the first few chapters to be of some interest, but are unlikely to be impressed if they venture much deeper into the story.
Next time: The Glass Blower, by Cold in Gardez
*Yes, I've read Twilight; no, this comparison isn't supposed to be a damning insult (though I admit I hardly intend it as a compliment, either)