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Okay, here we go! My review of BillyColt's This Nearly was Mine, below the break.
Impressions before reading: Well, it seems to me that "This was Nearly Mine" would be the more normal phrasing for the title--hopefully that doesn't augur poorly for the rest of the fic. Just looking at the picture and the title, it does seem a bit odd that the story's seemingly about a male pony regretting that he didn't make a move on a lesbian (yes, I know, bisexuality is a thing too. I'm just saying that when a girl tells me she's dating a member of the opposite gender, my first reaction isn't "if only I'd asked her out sooner!"). But those are both minor things--hopefully I'm just nit-picking.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Frederic Horseshoepin is a down-on-his-luck pianist living in Canterlot, trying to make ends meet and maintaining the stoic unflappability on which he prides himself.
Thoughts after reading: This story could also be summarized as "Frederic is miserable about/is made miserable by things beyond his control for 13,000 words." Thankfully, Billycolt doesn't pile on disasters to unbelievable extremes, so the reader is never left wondering why the universe seems to be out to get the protagonist, but this fic is essentially just a litany of the tribulations of a Canterlot pianist.
I don't mind that by itself--most fiction is based around conflict, and conflict usually requires some discomfort on the part of the main characters--but the fact is that there's not much here beyond sadness. Really believable, well-written sadness... but still, that's about it. This story doesn't build to any particular revelation or insight. Frederic doesn't really grow as a person (pony) over the course of the story. The ending doesn't really address any of the issues brought up during the fic, except on the most basic level. Story-wise, there's just not a lot here beyond a sober look at the life of a talented but struggling musician.
If you can accept that lack of purpose, though, there's some very nice elements here. BillyColt shows a knack for portraying a depressing situation without resorting to credulity-straining devices (there are a couple of credulity-straining devices, but these mostly relate to Octavia's and Scratch's relationship), and character voices are largely clear and consistent. Furthermore, the musical descriptions and attitudes are either informed by real-life experiences, or very well researched: I've known a couple of pianists whose attitudes towards art vs. skill, the need for faithfulness to a composer's vision, and towards "singers" match his to a tee. Indeed, there was very little in the musical descriptions and discussion which I took exception to--a rarity for me, when reading fanfics.
The writing is mostly good, ranging from unobjectionable to significantly above-average; again, the musical descriptions are clear and effective, and the way Frederic's personality and biases come through in the text is very nice. I was a little bothered, though, by the preponderance of weak scene endings in this story. Scene breaks throughout tend to peter, or to end on tangents unrelated to the main focus of said scene. This wasn't a major issue by itself, but when combined with the lack of thematic purpose to the story, these kind of focus issues are magnified.
Star rating: ★★☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
This fic does a nice job as a mood piece, but it never does anything with the potentially tragic, potentially redemptive, and potentially affirming setting it creates. A story doesn't need to tie up every element it introduces in a neat little bow at the end... but as a rule, there ought to be some sort of character growth or thematic development to define the work. Otherwise, what's left is enjoyable for its technical prowess and strength of setting, but not for much else.
Recommendation: This is a nice piece for fans of believable sadness, and musicians will find this story much more true-to-life than most fanfiction. Readers in search of character or story development will be disappointed, though.
Next time: Somewhere Only We Know, by PatchworkPoltergeist