To read the story, click the image or follow this link
Well, with this weekend behind us, my annual donation to the college basketball bracket pool at work has become 100% assured of posting a 0% ROI. Improbably enough, I was still alive after the first two rounds, but an Arizona-Michigan State final wasn't in the cards. Oh well; given my track record at this sort of thing, I probably wouldn't even know what to do if I won.
Check out my review of paleowriter's Of Age, after the break.
Impressions before reading: My initial reaction to the triumvirate of "Spike+Rarity+romance tag" is a very negative one; that edges far too close to pedophilia for my comfort. Never mind the authors who dive head-first into pedophilia; I've been assured this story doesn't. But in any event, I'm more than a little uncomfortable with that side of things going in.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: All Rarity wanted to know was how quickly dragons mature compared to ponies. But when she tries to ask Princess Celestia, she instead finds herself sent on a mission to broker a truce between the dragons and sea serpents before their conflict burgeons into all-out war... and the prospect of those races doing battle isn't even the greatest threat facing Equestria.
Thoughts after reading: This story does address my pedophilia concerns... sort of. While I can at least appreciate that the author (and characters) recognized the age difference, it bothers me that the answer is more or less "if a dragon is in love it's an adult, because that's how dragons define adulthood." That might be culturally relevant, but it doesn't really address most of my concerns about emotional or mental maturity. As such, I was never able to feel comfortable with the larger part of this fic--though I'll acknowledge that it doesn't go any unusually creepy places on that front.
That discomfort belied the strong, if shallow, characterizations given to both of the two. Both show little development outside of the handful of traits and personality conflicts which the narrative directly tackles, but it does tackle those competently for all that. Indeed, all of the major characters in this story are very clearly realized, albeit usually in a very un-nuanced manner. Minor players in the fic (for example, most of the named dragons and sea serpents) tend to fill roles more than function as fully-realized individuals, but this wasn't abused to the point where it became an unbearable distraction. On the whole, the ponies (and others) were perfectly adequate as-written.
The story held my interest at first; indeed, there's a strong hook here, and paleowriter wastes no time in setting up several interesting plotlines. This does lead to a bit of character-hopping, but on the whole keep the proceedings engaging. However, tracking who knows what across such splits can be a challenge, and more than once one character or another seems to know something which another character's discovered, despite the two not having been in contact since that discovery. Moreover, information seems to spontaneously generate within the story at times; to use the biggest example, the characters somehow make the leap in logic from "there's an asteroid falling to earth" to deducing a multi-stage plan for world domination. This "fact" doesn't have any particular evidence until much later in the story, save for the unerring certainty of the main characters. And yet, it turns out to be a precisely unspecious assumption: superficially implausible, yet improbably (based on what the characters knew, anyway) entirely accurate.
But the biggest issue here is tone. When it comes to adventure, this story lurches between show-tone shenanigans and the grimmest of grimdark. The latter, it's true, comes mostly at the end, but there's a repeated contrariety between combat scenes; in some, the kids-show aversion to bloodshed is explicitly present, while in others, paleowriter is clearly trying for something much grittier. The result is an uneasy teetering between the two, with the former feeling inappropriately silly and the latter far too vicious by comparison to one another. Similarly, the CMC's role in this story is appropriate to a lighthearted comic tale, but utterly out of place in a high-drama action story about the fate of the planet--and since that's exactly what this story turns out to be (in places, anyway), they feel woefully out of place past the first few chapters.
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Oh, also: the narration has a bad habit of directly stating character emotions ("[Luna] Talking about her transformation into Nightmare Moon had taken its toll on her carefully masked emotions"), important plot points have a bad habit of getting dropped (though, to his/her credit, the author does usually pick these back up... well after the characters rightfully ought to have, but it's far better than nothing), and I can't help but think that "Stef'an Ma'Ganette" is a really stupid name.
Okay, the last one didn't really figure into my rating, but I had to say it.
Recommendation: Looking it over, this review came out a bit harsher than I intended--to be clear, this is still on the upper end of a one-star. Assuming the Spike/Rarity thing isn't a deal-breaker for you, that you aren't too concerned with internal consistency, and that you're in the market for a wide-ranging story, this might be a good one to check out. If either of the first two don't apply, though, or if you're particularly concerned about how the wide ranges of the story actually mesh, I wouldn't recommend this.
Next time: Equestria From Dust, by Soundslikeponies