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Benman wrote a story for me yesterday; a 700-word vignette about Carrot Top being home for the holidays. Check it out if you need something short and sweet to top off your Christmas week.
If you need something a bit more substantial, though, today's review is of a novel-length tale. Is Comet Burst's The Golden Armor one to read? Click down below the break for my thoughts.
Impressions before reading: The description makes this sound like a classic straightlaced stick-in-the-mud + irreverent anti-authoritarian setup. There's a reason that's a classic: opposite personalities create plenty of opportunities for conflict, the lifeblood of storytelling. So, the idea is promising; as it so often does, this is going to come down to execution.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Comet and Angel are two very different ponies who have one thing in common: their desire to become guardsponies. Oh, and there's love triangles, hostile invasions, and tragic backstories, too.
Thoughts after reading: One of the more common pitfalls authors can fall into is allowing things to happen for no reason other than because the story demands it. At its best, this practice results in a series of suspiciously convenient coincidences which strain credulity but can be glossed over. At its worst, it results in characters enacting a series of non sequiturs which may form the outline of a story, but lack the coherence or reason to create investment.
The Golden Armor suffers from this problem from the start, where the two main characters are literally thrown together for no reason other than to show how wackily mismatched they are, are permitted to become recruits for no reason other than to advance the plot, and play teenage "do you like me?" games for no reason other than to establish some romantic tension. To be fair, this problem tapers off somewhat after the first few chapters, once the central conflict is introduced. However, essential elements of characterization and story events are all too often left without any sort of explanation outside of narrative need.
Characterization tends toward the extreme. Ponies (and griffons) are often defined by one or two highly exaggerated character traits, which plays well when the story is at its most slapstick, but proves a detriment when conversations turn more serious. Things occasionally become less cartoonishly black-and-white when the conversation turns to more dramatic topics, but even this is inconsistent--many of the things which could introduce nuance to the characters are under-utilized, mined for their drama but not fully incorporated into those characters' actions.
Writing is a weak point throughout. Repetitious word use, odd over-phrasing ("the pegasus pulled out a folded piece of parchment, which unfolded was a map of Canterlot"), and the occasional spelling error prove consistent problems. Moreover, perspective is a major issue in the early going, with the narration dipping into different characters' thoughts and vernacular seemingly at random, often shifting within a single sentence. This becomes less of an issue as the story goes on, the author instead breaking the chapters into sub-sections and keeping perspective consistent within each, but it's very noticeable at first.
There are a lot of interesting ideas in this story, from the major beats to the minor elements of authorial inventiveness (the idea that bat ponies are dying out as a race, and how this impacts Angel (a bat pony), is treated almost as an aside, and is much stronger for it), but too often these seem to exist in a vacuum. Whether it's the above-mentioned plot-necessitated events or the only occasionally relevant mini-infodumps which dot the story, there are plenty of examples here of what could have been a very enjoyable story. Unfortunately, a series of promising parts don't assemble into an enjoyable whole here.
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Although there were a number of individual story elements which held my interest, I often found my attention wandering as I tried to read. That's never a good sign.
Recommendation: Again, there's the bones of a very enjoyable story here. Readers who can overlook a lot for a solid concept may enjoy this, but anyone put off by major pacing problems brought on by underwhelming writing and excessive contrivance will want to look elsewhere.
How to Preen Your Chicken, by Drakkith