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For those of you who aren't active on FiMFiction, they've got a new project: The Royal Guard. If you've got any interest in trying your hand at this reviewing thing, this looks like a good place to give it a go in a structured environment. And if you've got a story you think is up to snuff, they've opened up submissions, so go give it a shot!
Below the break, my review of Blissey1's A Novel Tale.
Impressions before reading: I really like the premise, though it sounds more like a comedy (-of-errors) than a SoL, which is how it's tagged. Either way, though, I'm hoping that the titular protagonist's tribulations don't become too repetitive; a 50k word story can get old fast if it just plays its concept without variation.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Novel Tale, a changeling living as an author in Canterlot, decides to include a changeling as a character in his newest book. Everyone's impressed by his originality... but when Chrysalis and her hive attack Equestria, it doesn't take a genius to realize that his portrayal is a little too close to the real thing to be coincidence.
Thoughts after reading: This story is basically an excuse to expound upon the author's headcanon about changelings, it seems to me. Not that there's anything wrong with that: worldbuilding fics are a major element of any fandom, and I personally have a soft spot for expansionary and extrapolatory fics as a genre. But there are two things such a story needs to do: first, its worldbuilding should not only be intrinsically interesting, but should fit (or be made to fit, at least) within what we know about Equestria. Second, it should never come at the expense of the story itself, whatever form that story takes.
On the first count, A Novel Tale definitely succeeded for me. Blissey1 lays out a detailed, internally cohesive vision of changeling biology and society which was, without a doubt, the selling point of this fic. From feeding habits of social norms to the hierarchy/organization of hives, I found the expansion of the race both a strong, natural fit with the world in which they're placed, and interesting in its own right.
I was less impressed, though, with the story surrounding it. The broad strokes of the story are interesting, but characters too often resort to lengthy monologues detailing their moods, or engage in extended conversations which may allow the author to develop her headcanon, but are an ill fit for the characters between whom and situations in which they take place. While one changeling expounding upon his hive's sense of honor duty may help fill in the world, that does nothing to change the fact that his dialogue sounds like it was lifted verbatim from a particularly dry schoolbook. Oddly enough, a pair of interludes taking the form of research notes on changelings prove a far more engaging way to present information about the race than via dialogue, both because it doesn't break immersion and because the dryness there is obviously deliberate (and well-executed).
"Dry" is a recurring problem with the dialogue, in fact. Much of this ties back to the telliness of character conversations; a stilted unnaturalness which is a repeated issue. This unnaturalness fades when the subject shifts away from worldbuilding and to the characters themselves, though. Novel's slightly-panicky, affable put-upon-ness comes through clearly in these cases. Also, on a semi-related note, the author has a nose for the kind of puns on which the show thrives, though they're as inconsistent as the dialogue--some are clever, but I could have lived my life without "Leonardo Da Hoovsie."
What really bothered me about this story, though, was the lack of direction to the story itself. That seems an odd problem to have, considering that the premise provides such a strong hook and direction, but there are a number of questions throughout the story which the characters are remarkably incurious about. For example, it's literally not until the last chapter that Chrysalis's reasons for attacking Canterlot in the first place are addressed with more than a "I dunno" and a quick change of subject. Throughout the story, though, characters too often focus on whatever the author wants to talk about rather than what circumstances dictate they might want/need to discuss.
Star rating: ★★☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Although I enjoyed exploring Blissey1's vision of changelings as a race, and found Novel a likable enough protagonist, I found that characters too often became unconvincing emotional automatons ("I feel upset!" "Even though [the wedding] was really exciting, I guess I still really don't like that changeling queen," etc.) and that the story direction more often followed the dictates of authorial whim than the needs of the narrative.
Recommendation: This is a classic case of "...if you like that kind of story." If you're interested in an intelligent, detailed expansion of changelings, this story will not disappoint. If not, though--or if you're neutral toward the whole matter--there aren't a lot of other big selling points here.
Next time: Spitfire’s Day Off, by Artimae