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So apparently, "dialog" is now an accepted alternate spelling of "dialogue." When, exactly, did this happen? I thought "dialog" was reserved for computer-enabled exchanges ("dialog box" and the like), and that using it to refer to people speaking was right up there with spelling through "thru." But it seems that my view is now a minority one, even among grammarians.
Doesn't mean I have to like it, though.
Click below the break for my review of TeaPartyCannon's Smoke and Mirrors.
Impressions before reading: Well, the cover art's pretty darn cute. I admit that's not the deepest or most meaningful of impressions, but it counts for something. From the description, it sounds like the premise is one that has a lot of promise, but the fact that it's got four different tags (sad, comedy, adventure, slice-of-life) worries me. Whenever I see more than two, maybe three, genre tags, it sends up warning flags; often, that's indicative of directionlessness and/or genre confusion within the story itself. Still, correlation isn't causation, and all that. I'm hoping there'll be a lot of the comedy-of-errors shenanigans which the picture and description suggest.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: After being blasted out of Canterlot with the rest of the changelings, Mirror wakes up near the outskirts of Ponyville separated from her compatriots, badly hurt, and with a broken horn to boot. Luckily, she manages to befriend Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie right away, and they agree to help her lie low for a while. Unfortunately, "laying low" isn't in the cards.
Thoughts after reading: Often, when reviewing popular fanfics which are novel-length or greater (Smoke and Mirrors clocks in at just over 100k words), I find that the quality of the story improves as I move deeper into the work. The reason is simple enough in most of these cases: most fanfic authors don't have a lot of experience writing fiction, and the amount one can learn from writing tens of thousands of serially published words is not insignificant. That's not to say that that's the only reason a story might get better as it goes on, of course, but it's something I've seen a fair bit of.
It is rather less common (at least, among popular fanfics--even with as much as I read, I can't speak to fanfiction as a whole) for a story to become progressively less well written as it progresses. Oh, there are plenty of stories that start out good and have terrible endings, or which go unwelcome or disappointing places as they progress, but to see a decline in storytelling quality is pretty rare. Unfortunately, declining quality is exactly what I found here.
Smoke and Mirrors begins with an decent conceit, and for about half of its length sticks mostly to a slice-of-life, show-tone approach. While I didn't find the writing quality terribly enthralling (the author's tendency to have the narrator inject every character's emotional state as an addendum to their lines of dialogue grated), it was serviceable. Meanwhile, the main six were all well-characterized, and Mirror's frazzled incompetence was enjoyable enough for what it was. A number of light-comic scenes fell flat or dragged--an extended "yackety sax" joke which had no place in a purely written medium comes to mind--but there were at least as many that did make me smile. Much as when I reviewed Moonbeam, I was coming away with the impression that this story might appeal to younger, less experienced readers--not something for me, but not a bad thing in and of itself, either.
Things get progressively worse from there, however. The emotion tags that I disliked from the first half only intensified in usage, and characters began displaying a distressing tendency to delve into exposition duty. The actual editing got worse (it was never bad, mind, but there were noticeably more errors in the last third or so of the story), and that's a real rarity in fanfiction. But the biggest problems lay in two areas: pacing, and setting construction. The pacing issue is easy enough to give examples of: for one, something like 20-25,000 words (around a quarter of the story) are dedicated to a single battle, most of which consists of various ponies and changelings monologuing at grossly inappropriate times. But where setting construction is concerned, it's a little harder to elucidate the problem.
You see, it's not that TeaPartyCannon's come up with a boring story, particularly. It's that too many times, s/he often leaves major developments woefully under-addressed, or else doesn't seem to have thought through the implications of some plot point. For example, Mirror mentions fairly early on that her kind is capable of using "conversion chrysalises" (on a side note, the author occasionally uses "cocoon" as a synonym for "chrysalis," which bugs me more than it probably should) to turn normal ponies into changelings, though the conversion is purely a physical one; the pony's memories and personality remain intact. At the same time, it's an important plot point that, although they feed on it, changelings are incapable of feeling love themselves--including so-called "synthetic changelings." While I can think of a few ways to reconcile these points, TeaPartyCannon never once addresses the issue, and in the final accounting manages to make the two ideas seemingly irreconcilable.
Moreover, character reactions to events are often inscrutable. To continue with the example I've been using, more than one pony is turned into a synthetic changeling over the course of the fic. How they and the ponies around them react to this ranges from mild annoyance(?!) to anger--but not, at any point, anything even slightly existential. I can't help but imagine that a one-way transformation into an insectoid creature with a hive-mind might inspire, say: dread, fear, a sense of lost identity... something. But instead, a permanent life-altering species change is regularly treated with all the weight of a broken leg: bothersome, but ultimately just part of life. And that, ultimately, is the problem with most of what happens throughout the story (even in the first half, though there it can mostly be excused thanks to the more comical tone and the lower stakes): things happen, but any sense of importance or meaning is all too often absent.
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
At first, I found this story a bit bland in places, but not unenjoyable. As it progressed, however, storytelling issues increasingly became noticeable, and many of the events and actions which drive the plot are questionable or simply unexplained.
Recommendation: The first half or so could easily appeal to someone looking for a low-key, slightly generic comedy/slice-of-life about a changeling blending in in Ponyville--I found it bland, but readers looking for something simple and straightforward might find it to their tastes. The work as a whole, however, has a fair share of issues, and I can only recommend it to those with a particular interest in seeing a changeling comically sputter a lot, along with an interesting, if not altogether internally consistent, portrayal of their history and society.
Next time: Once Bitten, Twice Shy, by Wynneception