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I'm having problems with the squirrels in the backyard, lately. See, I put out an ear of corn on a tree spike every day for them, and in exchange they come eat it and wrestle each other for control of the ear and are generally adorable. But lately (and they do this every year, around this time), they've started pulling out the kernels, just eating the very inner tip (the white part), and dropping the rest on the ground. So after a few days, I come out and there's, like, a pound of barely-eaten corn kernels in a pile at the foot of the tree.
I tried not feeding them for a few days, on the theory that desperation would teach them not to get all picky with their food, but they retaliated by refusing to come be entertaining for me. Long story short, I caved first. But that doesn't mean I'm happy about it.
ANYWAY... click below the break for my review of GhostOfHeraclitus's Whom the Princesses Would Destroy.
Impressions before reading: I started this story once, long ago, and didn't really get into it--I think I gave up on the story within a page or two, though I honestly couldn't say at this point. It wasn't far, in any event. What I've heard since has been pretty uniformly positive, though, and I really like the quote/commentary at the very start of chapter one (which I couldn't help but read (help myself, that is--the quote didn't exert any agency on me (that I noticed)) when I downloaded the story). That's got to be a good sign going in.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A short-notice visit by Twilight Sparkle spawns a crisis for the Equestrian Civil Service, the bureaucratic glue which binds Equestria together despite Equestria's best efforts.
Thoughts after reading: As was the case with my first encounter with this fic, I wasn't immediately enamored with the story (aforementioned quote/commentary notwithstanding). The writing is a strange combination of "British comedy" dry and adverb-intensive, and there are a noticeable number of tense slips ("Getting cleaned up was going to be a nightmare as it is"). The latter problem persists throughout--the example quoted is actually from the last chapter of the story--but the tone eventually settles into a consistently staid level of wittiness. This turns out to be an excellent accompaniment to the story itself, which is very, very funny.
The humor comes in several forms. Snark and understatement are omnipresent hallmarks of the fic. There's also a fair bit of wordplay (referring to a room rendered uninhabitable after being coated in custard: "He gave he desserted tower a look..." Stars above, I love puns!), and I would tangentially add that word usage and vocabulary is excellent throughout (and is thoroughly British in lexicon; I suspect most US readers will find that this gives the story an air of pomposity appropriate to the story being told. Also , I now know that "courgette" is unamerican for "zucchini"). But for the most part, what's so wonderfully endearing are the asides which dot it. Often just a sentence or two, they're short enough not to distract from the story's primary thrust excessively, and add a wonderful level of whimsy to the overall product.
The story itself flits between several closely interconnected ponies, collectively giving a short glimpse into the eternal quest to keep everything running smoothly. That is to say, this is a story about the status quo, and the ponies that guard it. The situation escalates slowly but steadily throughout the fic, moving from pedestrian yet comic crises to extradimensional ectoplasmic horrors. The fact that the characters react to both, and to everything in-between, in approximately the same way, is at once hilarious and a key part of the characterizations.
And those characterizations are vivid, despite being incomplete. What I mean by "incomplete" is that all but one of the characters don't have motives or major personality elements developed beyond their defining one (dedication to preserving the status quo). However, this is not a story issue for two reasons: first, those motives and elements aren't necessary to the story being told. Second, all of the characters are given an assortment of minor tics and other secondary personality traits (often via humorous aside) which set them apart from one another and offer a bit of depth as well.
As mentioned, this story spends most of its length steadily building up increasingly ridiculous crises, before bringing the fic to two separate climaxes; an emotional one, shortly but not immediately followed by a resolution of the plot issue(s). These parts worked very well, both in terms of pacing and placement, but I wasn't as fond of the fic's ending proper. While it certainly wasn't story-ruining or any such thing, it felt uncomfortably like the punchline to a joke which the rest of the story hadn't bothered setting up--or rather, it felt like the punchline to a single, relatively minor theme within the story. Coming as it did at the end, it gave the work a slightly unbalanced feeling, but it certainly did nothing to detract from the sheer enjoyment to be had in the work as a whole.
Star rating: ★★★★☆ (what does this mean?)
Although the ending was slightly underwhelming and the beginning not immediately gripping, I found the in-between to be consistently funny, smart, and witty. And wouldn't you know it, I like all of those things.
Recommendation: Those who enjoy puns, wordplay, and other humor on the dry (but never boring) side will want to check this out--be sure to read the footnotes for the full effect. Anyone who believes that, as I've heard before "90% of a story is the 10% at the edges" is likely to be less impressed, though.
Next time: Variables, by The Descendant