Not every review can be filled brim-full the incisive, piercing clarity which I bring to my longer-form musings on fanfiction (read however much sarcasm into that sentence you see fit). Sometimes, time, circumstances, and interest dictate a more casual overview. This is one such time. Click down below the break for my thoughts on a few stories which I recently read.
1) Epic Unicorn History: The Beards of Harmony, by PresentPerfect
What it is: The epic tale of six beard-bedecked ponies (who may seem vaguely familiar), led by the already-legendary Star Swirl the Bearded, as they set off on an epic quest to save the fledgling nation of Equestria from an unknown but almost certainly epic foe. Epic.
A few thoughts: Only the first of a planned seven chapters have been published so far, but the story does a good job in its first installment of balancing comedy, parody, and legitimate adventure. I should also mention that I pre-read for this story, so my opinion may be biased. That notwithstanding, the first chapter handles character introductions deftly, bringing the dramatis persona together without ever feeling like a chore. Also, there are a number of excellent humorous lines and asides which the author generally manages to work in without turning the entire story or setting into a joke--no mean feat when you're writing a story about hirsute expies of the main six. I don't read many incomplete fics these days, but assuming he doesn't poop out on this one (don't you poop out on this one, PP!), I think there's a lot of promise here.
Recommendation: Those who fear incomplete fics... this is an incomplete fic. But readers who want to get on at the first stop will find a lot of promise here; promise of both comedy and adventure, without selling either short.
2) Pick-Me-Up, by Enter Madness
What it is: Twilight finds a pick-me-up spell labeled "bad idea, don't do." No points for guessing that she tries casting it anyway.
A few thoughts: This is a well-written story which has some very funny bits. Unfortunately, I can't say that I found the story as a whole particularly interesting. It's not bad, mind, but there just isn't a lot going on here, frankly. Twilight casts the spell, starts acting like she's on an acid trip, and then the rest of the fic is spent following her and the ponies following her as they run around town; that's a fine premise, but it's not enough to carry the story by itself. And while, as I said, there are some very funny bits ("[Twilight] could see each individual blade of grass on the ground or leaf on the trees and know exactly how they all felt. She could hear their cries as they were trampled and eaten, but even in her state, she knew she could not save them. It was the way things were meant to be. She shed a single tear for their plight. ¶Spike caught up with Twilight, who was staring fixedly at the ground and muttering something under her breath. ¶'Twilight?' he asked. 'Are you... apologizing to the ground?'"), there are also a number of scenes which drag, brick jokes which fall flat, and sexual innuendos which aren't really funny enough to justify to me their inclusion. I will give full credit, however, for resisting the obvious route with the story's ending.
Recommendation: This is, again, a well-written story with some very funny bits. I found that the ratio of funny bits to unexceptional passages skewed too heavily towards the latter for my tastes, but that's not to say those funny bits weren't there, and readers willing to accept that will probably find this unobjectionable. Also, anyone who finds references to sex and drugs inherently amusing will no doubt consider there to be a lot more "funny bits" than I do.
3) Words., by Dsarker
What it is: Prince Blueblood has a series of flashbacks, moments before battle.
A few thoughts: This is one of those stories that never sold me on its central premise, in this case: Prince Blueblood is a stoic but noble-hearted soldier, beloved and respected of his men, and prone to brooding silence because of his poor way with words. If you can wrap your head around that (the fic does nothing to explain this characterization, I'm afraid), then the story does make interesting use of tense shifts between the in-the-present scenes and the flashbacks... but I can't wrap my head around that. Plus, there's the whole smashing-griffon-skulls-with-a-mace thing, but since it was essentially used as an assumed backdrop, I didn't find the introduction of wholesale mortal melees into Equestria to be nearly as jarring as Blueblood's characterization.
Recommendation: You know, I can also see a lot of people tripping over Octavia's characterization, her big secret near the end, the whole afterlife thing that the story introduces... I'd only recommend this to people who are more interested in writing quality than in characterization or story concept. The writing is of quite good quality (and not merely in terms of editing), though, and that's something.
4) Everypony Dies, by a3V
What it is: Pinkie makes a spelling error when promoting Rarity's cloth-dying competition. Panic ensues.
A few thoughts: Ah, joke's-in-the-title fics; I can't seem to quit you. In fact, my reaction to this story can be summed up by this meme--and you know it can't be a good sign when I'm resorting to memes.
The fact is, this is a 6k-word story of which all but the last couple hundred words are devoted to repeating the same joke over and over: everyone thinks Pinkie's telling them they'll die, when she's really telling them to dye. It's not that that's a terrible joke, but it just gets repeated with minimal development, over and over and over. Also, I didn't care for the ending--to say that "it was all just a dream" manages to be accurate, to give a sense of why I didn't like it, and to not really spoil the "twist," so I'll go with that for a description.
Recommendation: I strongly recommend this to anyone who wants to see the single titular joke played without significant variation for the entirety of a story. Hey, nothing wrong with enjoying a repeated gag! But for readers who suspect they'd find that unenjoyable... you're probably right.