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Although I didn't plan it that way, it seems appropriate to review a vampire fic as we approach Halloween. Go me! Then go below the break, to see what I thought of My Roommate is a Vampire, by Dennis the Menace.
Impressions before reading: Well, this is one of the most-read fanfics in the pony community, with over 4000 thumbs-up, over 5000 comments, and over 36,000 views (as of this writing). Popularity may be no guarantee of quality, but all things being equal I still consider it a good sign.
On the other hand, I have to imagine that the simple fact that this is a TaviScratch romantic comedy (always popular with this fandom) with vampires (trendy!) accounts for a fair bit of that popularity. But hey, credit to the author for coming up with a concept that would be appealing to lots of readers; mass appeal may not be something that every fanfic writer strives for, but the ability to come up with something that will interest lots of readers isn't nothing.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Inspired by a combination of bored observation and a trashy novel, Octavia begins to suspect that, well, her roommate is a vampire. When it turns out her suspicions are on the money, it turns her life upside-down... and marks the beginning of a star-crossed relationship.
Thoughts after reading: Excessive meme use is typically viewed as a bad thing in fanfiction, but the truth is that use of memes is just a internet-bred form of referential humor, and can be done well. The problem many authors have is that, rather than utilize a meme in such a way that a) it works in the story whether or not the reader is familiar with the meme, and b) the meta-level of the reference reinforces the tone of the moment, they just toss a fan gag in without much regard to how it fits into their story, or whether the "joke" even makes sense in context. Because poor use of memes is so pervasive, though, it's easy to view it as an inherently bad thing.
My Roommate is a Vampire is full of memes; unfortunately, they're mostly bad. Often, they're "just" non-sequitur gags that only make sense in a meta- context, but Dennis the Menace actually manages to use several in such a way that they inhibit comprehension. For example, an early chapter ends with Vinyl gasping as Octavia offhandedly pulls a half-eaten sandwich from the fridge and offers it to her. Why? Because that's a thing that happened in Epic Wub Time, presumably. Regardless, neither the sandwich nor the reaction are never mentioned again, which (considering the position of emphasis which they're given, as a cliffhanger chapter ending) leaves the reader grasping for meaning where there turns out to be none. Sadly, this was not an isolated incident, though it's true that most of the references (fandom or otherwise) were just the "regular" type of bad.
I do want to praise the author for coming up with a solid, appealing concept. This is a story about a rocky supernatural romance, which uses vamiricism and lycanthropy (and fairydom) to draw direct parallels to homosexuality--an ultimately empowering message about how to be who you really are. Along the way it looks at parental pressures and dealing with your inner demons in a comic yet (mostly) respectful way, and even has a shadowy secret organization and an inscrutable villain to throw a bit of adventure into the mix. At the idea level, that's great.
Unfortunately, things break down when it comes to execution. The writing is a letdown; the author's decent vocabulary belies repetitive word choice (and incredible redundancy: "[it] was basically your basic run-of-the-mill..." is used without comic intent, and it's not an isolated incident), and tense slips, missed words, and the like are disappointingly common. As the first-person narrator, Octavia's voice and temperament are muddled, leaving the reader to discern her personality primarily through her actions.
And those actions rarely have much impetus. Things have a distressing tendency to happen in Roommate for no obvious reason, save that the plot demands it. It's hard to give examples without delving into spoilers, but Octavia's life-changing event towards the middle of the fic is only the most obvious example of something happening with no foreshadowing, no really good explanation, and in a manner which defies suspension of disbelief. This problem also extends to character logic, as Octavia initiates and then moves through various stages of her relationship with Vinyl based mostly on the needs of the plot. Far too much of this story consists of incidents which form a narrative arc, but lack any logical connection to give that arc resonance.
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
There's a good idea here, as plenty of readers have clearly found. But too often, the story stops at "here's what needs to happen next," rather than proceeding on to "...so how can I logically get to that point?" instead opting to simply move on to that event without any explanation. Couple that with some adequate but unimpressive writing, and you have the recipe for a tolerable but ultimately underwhelming story.
Recommendation: Readers who are fond of YA romance may find this to be in a similar vein, albeit with rather worse word use and narrator voicing than (most of) what you're likely to find in the realm of published fiction. However, those who are looking for tight plotting or believable characters, or who rightly abhor poor use of memes, are unlikely to enjoy this story.
Next time: Princess Celestia Hates Tea, by Skywriter