Monday, November 11, 2013

Fandom Classics Part 19: Of Mares and Magic

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

Just a note to those of you wondering about Silent Ponyville 3 and why it hasn't been reviewed yet: although the story is "complete," I figured I'd wait until the alternate endings were done as well, since they've been a consistent (and, I thought, kind of neat) feature of the previous stories.  There's at least one side story I'll be hitting up along with it, but in the meantime I don't want you to think I'm blowing y'all off.  On a related note, I've been delaying on reviewing Dresden Gets Schooled because it's an Equestria Girls spinoff, and I'm still dragging my feet on seeing that, but I'll get to it eventually.  Just in case you were wondering why there were finished 6-star stories (well, sequels) that weren't getting reviewed!

For now, though, you can head below the break and check out my review of GanonFLCL's Of Mares and Magic.

Impressions before reading:  I read this story about a year ago, I believe--it was significantly after the story was completed, anyway, but neither was it terribly recent.  I remember enjoying some parts of the story quite a bit, at the time... and being terribly disappointed by others.  On re-read, I'm hoping that the former outweigh the latter, but we'll see.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Still stinging from her humiliation during the Ursa Minor incident, The Great and Powerful Trixie returns to Ponyville to challenge Twilight Sparkle to a magical duel.  At stake: the title of Great and Powerful: a sobriquet which, in fact, is more than just a bit of self-styled aggrandizement.

Thoughts after reading:  Actually, my memories of the first time I read this story proved to be spot-on, at least as far as my reading experience was concerned: this is a story which manages to vacillate between fascinating and infuriating time and again.

Of Mares and Magic is at its best when it focuses on the unicorn dueling and associated worldbuilding which consumes the majority of the fic's length.  The conception of magical competition, and the attendant worldbuilding which GanonFLCL puts in, often show a great deal of creativity.  There's very little repetitiousness in these elements, and the shifting strategies and character plans are consistently interesting.

But there's a whole lot here besides the contests themselves, and those elements were often less impressive.  Several significant digressions dot this fic, the most notable being a (very) extended homage to the MLP fan-game Story of the Blanks, and while some effort is made to integrate these events into the fic, they mostly feel tangential to the story being told.

Then there's the matter of the shipping: this fic plays heavily on the "Trixie and Twilight are in mutual lust" angle which was/is so common in fanfiction.  While I was never sold on the presentation here (nor on a secondary shipping line--yes, there's plenty of PG love storylines here), it would also be fair to say that the romantic angle was neither unnecessary, nor egregiously poorly executed.  And I will give the author credit for not treating Trixie's transition from "I must prove my worth by besting Twilight" to something more amorous as a flip-the-switch moment; even if the beats of their romantic development didn't ring terribly true to me, this fic avoided some of the most improbable pitfalls to which shipping lends itself.

I mentioned that I really enjoyed some of the worldbuilding in this story, and that's true, but I also need to point out that a lot of the worldbuilding doesn't make a lot of sense.  Or rather, the events as presented don't mesh cleanly with what we know about the characters and setting, either from the show or from earlier in the story.  How common, and how commonly-known, information about dueling and titles is in modern Equestria, seems to fluctuate as is convenient to the needs of the fic.

And finally, I need to talk about the epilogue.  First thing's first: it's not really an epilogue, it's the last chapter of the story.   A lot of fanfic authors seem to think that "epilogue" is just fancy-speak for "the last chapter" and it always bugs me when authors misuse it.  The "epilogue" here is unambiguously a direct continuation of the preceding chapter.  Beyond that, though, it left a really bad taste in my mouth... but I can't really get into why without breaking out the spoiler tag.  If you don't want to know how the story ends, you'll just have to take my word that it seriously undermines its characters, and is unsatisfying from a narrative standpoint.  For details, click the tag:

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

At its best, Of Mares and Magic is downright compelling.  At its worst, it actively insults the reader's intelligence and emotional maturity.  "Its worst" is bad enough that I seriously considered one star here, but looking back at some of the stronger contest scenes... there was a wonderful fic struggling to break free here, and in places, it did.

Recommendation:  Readers who like magical feats, plenty of surprises and unexpected detours, original worldbuilding, and "Twixie" will probably love this.  Readers who like logical and consistent characterizations, worldbuilding which fits with said characterizations and/or the show itself, and a narratively-satisfying conclusion will want to stay far, far away, however.

Next time: Bureaucracy is Magic, by Pen Stroke


  1. You haven't seen EqG either? I'd thought I was the only one. Season 4's less than two weeks away, though, and I vowed to see it before then... ugh, not looking for to this. I am, however, looking forward to that next review! How many stories have "mariachi" as a tag?

    1. I only saw it when I stumbled across it on German TV on a slow weekend, dumped somewhere in the mid-afternoon on Saturday and Sunday. And they showed it way before season 3 aired here (they only started with that last week), so I guess quite a few of the viewers who haven't seen the original must have been a tad confused as to why Twilight suddenly has wings for no apparent reason.

  2. Chris, you spoiler tag seems to be one paragraph too early.

  3. One of the very first "shipping" stories that I ever read in this fandom, and if the story hadn't been labeled as such, I wouldn't know that it WAS a shipping story. For most of the fic, it plays as an adventurous competition and it was FUN. Even when the romance part of the story started creeping in, it wasn't as big a deal as it didn't play into the major goings on for a while.

    I will say that the ending didn't bother me as it apparently did everyone else. I read the story all in one go, so I didn't have to wait for the conclusion like others did. I said, "Okay, if that's how you want to end it," closed the tab and went on with my life. Apparently, I was the minority because this ending INFURIATED some readers to levels unseen until the "Derpy" thing, the season 3 finale, or Equestria Girls.

    Honestly, I didn't think it was that bad, but like you said, it could have ended with a much more meaningful impact. Eh, live and learn I suppose.

    Nice review.

    1. I'm kind of the same. I did feel disappointed by the ending and I had just the same problems that Chris did, but it wasn't really fic-ruining for me. I just thought it a rather strange choice and I shrugged and moved on.

      Though, if I recall correctly, I think the author only added that ending because his commenters begged him to. I think it actually was intended to conclude how it looked it would, but everyone complained so hard about that resolution that he changed it. I think. I read the comments at the time as I read the story, and I remember the author saying something to that effect in a comment reply.

      If that is the case, it's kinda depressing that he had to do that, but I may just be remembering it wrong.

  4. I came away with pretty much the same view. The epilogue ruined an otherwise excellent ending. The references were godawful and unnecessary, as references tend to be. I was disappointed it was Twixie and not something more interesting like Pinkxie, because at the start it was really open and there were signals coming from everywhere. (I'm so glad I keep track of stories I read now, because I can go back and find out what I thought about them!)

  5. Equestria Girls is streaming on Netflix if you have it.

  6. The epilogue really stunk for me as well. I remember there being a lot of hate for the non-romance ending, which may have pressured Ganon into giving the whiners (not complainers) what they wanted. As I am wont to do, I imagined myself an alternate ending that ignored the "epilogue" where, after several decades, Twilight recieves a package. Inside it is Trixie's hat and cape, along with a note about how Trixie died shortly after facing down a dragon attacking a township. With Trixie having died undefeated, the title of Great and Powerful is officially discontinued, meaning she was successful in proving her worthiness to posses it.
    Or something of that ilk, it's been a while since I mused about it and can't bother myself to properly recall it.

  7. Remember, kids:

    Your audience has no idea what makes a good story. The bulk of them are just obsessed with making ponies get busy. Ignore them!


    1. You would think that this specific audience would have taken to heart the lesson from "Suited for Success", but apparently not.

    2. But we did pay attention. All we ever want is indecision, all we really like is what we know. I kinda stopped paying attention after that, but the episode validates that, doesn't it?

  8. I remember the absolute s**tstorm the original ending provoked. The 'epilogue' you speak of was essentially dragged out of the author by the digital equivalent of a pitchfork-and-torches mob. It really was a stunning and impressive ending, but a large number of fans simply couldn't accept Trixie tossing away her relationship like that.

    So if you prefer, just pretend the story ended there. That's how it was originally intended to be.

    1. Of course it would never have been an issue at all if there had not been any shipping.

    2. I know this comment is on a post over a year ago, but I feel I want to respond in the off chance anyone does read this...

      The epilogue wasn't dragged out of the author at all. Look at the comments for the story on Equestria Daily at the time (have to use Internet Archive to dredge them up due to them all being deleted when the comment system was changed). When people were complaining about what was perceived as the final chapter (Twilight and Trixie not getting together), he said that he did have an epilogue for the story and regretted not posting it with the "final" chapter because it gave people the incorrect impression that that's where the story was supposed to end. In other words, according to GanonFLCL, the epilogue was not done in response to the criticism. It appears that he just didn't really understand what an epilogue was supposed to be, which led to all of the confusion and backlash.

      Now, it is possible that the epilogue was actually written in response to the criticism and the author was just covering himself with the claim--some people did accuse him of this--but the official statement from the author was that the epilogue was always intended and was not done done in response to the criticism.

      Of course, the epilogue also received its own share of criticism upon release. Really, the shipping angle should've probably been left out of the story altogether.

  9. Thanks for the Heads up on Silent Ponyville 3 and Darkness Scoots Chris. When you do get to it though, how about including some of these other spinoffs and side storys in the review.

    Fallout Equestria: Silent Ponyville
    by ReifuTD

    Silence of Ponyville
    by HHarlequin

    Zero Delving Lessons
    by HHarlequin

    Silence of Ponyville: The Shop
    by HHarlequin

    Silent Ponyville: Last breath
    by Thegodhand

    Silent Ponyville: Iced Over
    by Quadraginta

    Silent Mane: 1 & 2
    By: Tyr's Hoof

    Room of Angel
    by Dilectus Noctis

    1. Don't you think that it's kind of pointless? I mean, Reunion is one thing, because that story is canon and in fact central to the main series. The way I've heard it though, most of these are just alternate continuities, what-ifs, or reinterpretations of the same premise. I'm not saying that they're bad or not worth reading, but I don't think they're worth reviewing for Chris if they're just a whole bunch of mostly unrelated asides.

      I mean, we wouldn't ask him to review every Fallout: Equestria spin-off just because he did the original, would we? The others of the big four alone would take most of a year, and two of them aren't even done yet.

    2. What are the two complete of the Big Four?

    3. The big four are the stories that got their own posts on EqD rather than being grouped together in compilation posts. Those are (in the order they were posted) the original, Project Horizons, Pink Eyes and Heroes. Pink Eyes is so far the only one aside from the original that is complete. The other two are still ongoing and update once every month or two.

      If you plan on reading Pink Eyes, I should warn you ahead of time that it's a dark comedy (which doesn't bother me, but some people take more of an issue with "inconsistent tone" as they call it), and that if you're easily bothered by grammar mistakes then it'll annoy you.