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As much as I love the winter Olympics in principle (well, the hockey, short-track speed skating, curling, and cross country/biathlon, anyway--the rest I'm pretty "meh" on), I'm having trouble getting excited for this year's iteration. Maybe it's the fact that it'll be nigh-impossible for me to watch most of the things I'm most excited for live (and if you aren't watching your sports live, what's the point?). Maybe it's that I don't know anybody competing this year; while I've never been good friends with an Olympian, I've always had some sort of minimal personal connection to at least one of the athletes. Maybe it's the pall cast over the games by the human rights issues which have been so visibly in the news lately. Whatever the case, I'm hoping that once the events I care about get going, I'll rediscover that spark.
Speaking of sparks (heh), click down below the break for my review of Ponydora Prancypants' The Fires of Friendship.
Impressions before reading: The only thing of Mr. Prancypants' that I've read to date is The Flight of the Alicorn, which I enjoyed quite a bit as a serial novel. So, I have high hopes going in. This one is a tiny fraction of the length, less than 10k words; it's always interesting to me to see how the same author handles long and short stories. Some seem totally comfortable with all sizes of stories... some, not so much. But in any case, the summary looks promising!
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Rarity and Applejack were the closest of friends, once, but the fug of an old falling-out has hung over them for some time. Still, they both want to put that behind them, if they can... and a crisis with Applebloom and Sweetie Belle only strengthens that impetus.
Thoughts after reading: Well, the author's note at the end is the epitome of sweetness; a kindly but sincere note to leave the story on. It's also not something that I'm evaluating as part of the story, but it left a nice taste in my mouth, so I thought I'd mention it.
Anyway, on to the story itself: The Fires of Friendship breaks into two essential parts. First, there's AJ and Rarity talking while having flashbacks; then, there's a more action-oriented section with them and their sisters. These two are seamlessly connected plotwise, but I did feel like there was a bit of a tone disconnect between the dramatic conversation interspersed with reminisces and the more energetic second half (in media res flash-forward opening notwithstanding).
Characterization was a bit of a mixed bag here. Some of the early going felt uncomfortably overwrought to me--even once the full weight of their guilt was made clear, Rarity and AJ still felt needlessly portentous in some of their conversations, to the point of silliness--but for the most part I felt like Mr. Prancypants did a nice job with both ponies. This applies not just to the broad strokes of characterization, but to things like the dialogue as well; young Rarity's malapropisms (and occasional straight-up fabricated mispronunciations) were both a nice touch of humor in a fairly serious story, and a good fit for her. And although they play a smaller role, I really liked the way Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belles' conflict was handled; without going into detail, it used an anticlimax to effectively bolster the story's theme.
I also enjoyed some of the touches of worldbuilding which crowd around the edges of the story, though these are minor and never distracting. In fact, I wish a bit more of that had been done, since the central conflict is a bit lacking, and that lack gives rise to some directionlessness in the flashbacking section of the fic. That AJ and Rarity had a falling out at one point is easy enough to believe (especially given that there was an entire episode in season one dedicated to showing how poorly they got along when forced into close quarters), but given that they're obviously friends whether or not they really deal with this issue, a lot of the wind is taken out of the sails right off the bat. I mean, they were able to power the Elements of Harmony on the strength of their friendship; obviously they're managing, even if not perfectly. And to be fair, the story doesn't pretend otherwise (except, as I mentioned, in some of the overdramatic dialogue). And also, the climax and resolution of that particular point are pitch-perfect: sweet and a little sappy, but in an utterly sincere, uncloying way.
Star rating: ★★★☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Although it does lack some impetus, especially in the middle (pre-little sisters) of the fic, the components of this story are all quite enjoyable on their own. "Sincerity" is something I value in both writing and TV (it's one of the big things that drew me to MLP, after all), and, at least at the end, this story has it.
Recommendation: Although I wouldn't describe this as being "episode-like," I think it would appeal most to readers who like their stories on the show-faithful side; from a thematic perspective, it's spot-on, and it does some nice things with its characters without forcing them far from canon stylings. At the risk of stating the obvious, though, folks not interested in that... won't be interested in this.
Next time: Sepia Tock: Adventures of the Ponyville Clockmaker, by CanvasWolfDoll