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I've been having fun--for a particularly OCD definition of "fun," anyway--watching the "fandom classics" tag climb up the category list on the right-hand side of the blog. It's right behind "episode talk" and "actual books" and gaining fast!
..."6-star reviews" looks like it'll stay in the top spot for a good long while, though. Anyway, click below the break for my review of Wynneception's Once Bitten, Twice Shy.
Impressions before reading: Ah, it's been a while since I've reviewed a main six shipping story. On a very fundamental level, I just don't "get" sexually pairing platonic friends who've got an established history of interacting closely without showing any signs of romantic interest in one another. Given that fanfiction of that exact sort makes up at least a third, often more, of any given fandom, I sometimes wonder if the problem is me. Be that as it may, I've found several shipfics in my time within the pony fandom which I enjoyed, my own misgivings notwithstanding, so I'm hopeful that I'll be able to add this one to the list.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Twilight's head-over-heels for Fluttershy, but doesn't know how to tell her. Enter Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie, to help her sound the waters and find true love.
Fluttershy's head-over-heels for Twilight, but doesn't know how to tell her. Enter Rarity and Applejack, to help her sound the waters and find true love.
Thoughts after reading: So, this is another one of those fics that assumes rampant lesbianism and previously unhinted-at sexual desire as a starting point. So if you were looking for some reason for all that stuff in the summary, it ain't here.
If you can swallow that though, or if you can at least accept it long enough to read a fic predicated on the premise, then there's a lot to like about the story. "Progressively disastrous first date" and "meddling friends on both sides" are both romance/comedy standbys, but Wynneception does a nice job of mixing situational humor and social awkwardness in consistently entertaining ways. Twi and Fluttershy flub and fail their way through the day, but never do either feel so targeted that the humor begins to curdle. The other four, meanwhile, are well characterized despite their supporting roles in the story. On a few occasions their bits fell flat (Pinkie's fourth wall breaking being the most obvious example), but for the most part their "contributions" felt appropriate and were amusing.
The story's pacing was also excellent (again, assuming one accepts the assumed premise), liberally leavening setup scenes with one-liners and brick jokes while giving key exchanges their full weight. For a story that might look kind of generic on paper, I can honestly say that I was never bored with Once Bitten, Twice Shy.
Unfortunately, the writing quality wasn't nearly up to the conceptual standard. The author uses "epicenter" to mean "at the exact center of," and that's just wrong. The epicenter is above the center, for goodness sake!
...Well, that, and some other, broader issues. I'll pull out one quote in particular which highlights three consistent issues throughout the story:
"Hmm. I understand," Twilight nodded, willing to acknowledge she had a darn good point.First, there's the dialogue tagging. The author uses dialogue tags over-liberally, which wouldn't be a major issue by itself. But when you start substituting "nodded" or "winked" or the like, it's very noticeable. Even if one were to leave aside the fact that you can't "nod" a sentence (I admit, the occasional odd tag doesn't bother me), ending every other line with "she implored," "she declaimed," or whatever else, calls unwanted attention to word choice, at the expense of the narrative.
Second, there's the narrator's voice. Simply put, it's all over the place. Sometimes, it's third person limited, following a character's thoughts and borrowing from her lexicon. Other times, it's omniscient, a detached presence with a neutral voice. And still other times, like here, it's doing God knows what. "A darn good point" isn't something Twi would say, and it doesn't fit the vernacular used by the omniscient narrator.
Finally, nearly every line of dialogue contains a complete explanation of the speaking pony's logic in saying it. This got positively silly by the end of the fic, but as a general rule, they were never more than superfluous; the dialogue was well-written enough, on the whole, that character logic was plainly transparent without spelling out that Fluttershy was quiet "because she was feeling nervous" every single time.
Star rating: ★★☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
This is a pretty poorly written story, really. But I'll give it this much: it's consistently entertaining despite that. Many, many fics are reduced to dull unreadability by similar issues, and it's a testament to this work's pacing and humor that it can still be enjoyed despite its flaws. Of course, it'd also be that much nicer without said flaws, so there's that.
Recommendation: This isn't a story that's going to change anyone's mind about shipping, so those who aren't fans of the genre needn't bother. Anyone who's looking for a well-conceived (if hardly revolutionary) light romantic comedy though, and who doesn't mind some clunky, redundant writing, will find this a suitably rewarding experience.
Next time: The Combinatorics Project, by Ringcaat