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Every now and then, I'll think of something clever to put up here above the review. And without fail, when I actually sit down to type it out... it's gone.
Oh well. Click down below for my thoughts on CouchCrusader's Wingmares, unalloyed with any pith.
Impressions before reading: It is one of those strange quirks of my reading tendencies that, upon seeing a story, I'll save the link and come back to it after an unspecified length of time--even if I'm actively in the mood to read, I almost never read something on the spot. Now, stories can sit there a while, but once one's been in the "to read" pile for more than a couple of months, it tends to stay there for the long haul, whether or not I find the premise intriguing.
This is all buildup to explaining that I saved a copy of this story on my computer more than two years ago, and it's been patiently sitting there until now. Time to see if it justifies the long wait! For the record, it looks like it has promise as a childhood viewpoint story, and I hope it doesn't get too cloying; I've found that that's a pitfall "childhood stories" are prone to.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: The story of the Summer Flight Camp where Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy met, from their less-than-amicable first encounter to Dash's first sonic rainboom.
Thoughts after reading: This is a very predictable story; obviously, we know how it's going to end (Dash and Fluttershy are fast friends, Sonic Rainbooms, etc.), and the major beats throughout are guessable from the summary alone. But then, this story isn't trying to surprise; it's trying, as DPV111 put it in the comments on my last review, to be a "feel-good fic." And on that count, it definitely succeeds.
Dash in this story is recognizably the Dash of the show--brash, arrogant, anti-authoritarian, and so on--but is even more self-absorbed that her future counterpart. Fluttershy is, if possible, even more passive and timorous than in... well, than in the episodes where her being passive and timorous isn't the central plot point (seriously, I'm so over using "Fluttershy learns to be assertive" as an episode theme. Okay, okay, back to the review). That they both learn and grow from one another is a given, but the execution here is believable, natural, and enjoyable in its own right.
One issue with this story, though, is an occasional wavering of focus. Not on tone, which is delightfully consistent, but on characters. The story seems to alternate between being Dash's story, and being Dash and Fluttershy's, with the result being that despite Fluttershy getting some significant development in the middle of the story, she's all but forgotten by the end--a natural result of the fic being from Dash's PoV, but one which also leaves her role feeling incomplete. That said, the story is consistent in its viewpoint, if not necessarily in its emphasis; it's just a bit jarring that, once the Rainboom race starts, Fluttershy isn't seen again until the epilogue. There's also the question of using significant chunks of dialogue directly from the show. To be fair, these are spiced up nicely with some scene-setting and the like, and are probably necessary given the nature of the story, but I still found them dull by comparison to the rest of Wingmares.
Language is also an occasional issue. Overly flowery language shows up near the beginning of the fic ("Every breath of [the air's] petrichor galvanized her heart...") and occasionally thereafter, where precise but more laconic language is the rule (and the better fit for the story, frankly) through the body of the work. That said, the vocabulary was at least properly utilized throughout; I rather suspect the issue was the author's native vocabulary creeping in where it was unneeded, rather than thesaurus abuse or the like. And beyond that, the technical side of this story is excellent, eminently readable throughout.
CouchCrusader also shows a knack for many styles of writing, from action-heavy race descriptions to heartfelt conversations. One thing I can absolutely say about this story: despite its simple structure and lack of surprises, it's not only engaging, it also shows remarkable breadth.
Star rating: ★★★☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Although it does have its flaws, this story succeeds at being syrupy-sweet without feeling (excessively) contrived, and at being interesting despite its predictability.
Recommendation: This is a great story for anyone looking for a well-fit, tonally consistent expansion on canon (not to mention one that, surprisingly, has basically held up all the way through the middle of season four). I'd call it a "comfort food" fic, though, and while I don't mean that as a disparagement (indeed, if you're looking for such, this is one to read for sure), readers seeking more challenging or exciting fare should look elsewhere.
Next time: Princess Celestia Gets Mugged, by BronyWriter