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Don't forget your taxes, everyone! You're almost out of time, and if you're like me, the 15th has a way of sneaking up on you. Get those returns filed! Alternately, if you aren't American or don't pay taxes, enjoy your 15th (jerks). Either way, feel free to drop down below the break to check out my review of Raugos' Integration.
Impressions before reading: Is it just my imagination, or have there been a disproportionate number of changeling fics among my Fandom Classics reviews? Either way, this is one I considered trying out several times when it was being written, but I always put it off--incomplete fics are pretty low on my priority list, given that I never seem to have a shortage of things to read regardless. The premise is an interesting one, anyway, and that's half the battle.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Caramel travels to the changeling hive after the attack on Canterlot, in search of the changeling he fell in love with when he thought she was a pony. A changeling whom, he's sure, loves him back, and for whom he's prepared to make any sacrifice.
Thoughts after reading: Since it's apparently a law that every changeling fic ever needs to involve heavy worldbuilding (if only to explain how changelings actually work, since their single canon appearance leaves so much open to interpretation), let's start there. Integration draws on insectoid, hive-mentality themes in creating a distinct changeling culture, but hits a sweet spot between "completely alien" (which wouldn't have worked well in a fic about Caramel trying to join their society) and "ponies with black shiny skin." The story does a good job of lulling the reader into thinking of the changelings in familiar terms, via Caramel's perceptions of the same, only to throw a wrench in those assumptions down the line. In fact, the entire story plays upon Caramel's assumptions; in the beginning of the story, he has no real concept of what he's signing up for, besides "reuniting with lost love." The story slowly introduces the reader to the changelings' habits, biology, sociology, and history, just as Caramel is slowly introduced.
Peppered through the story, at the start of most chapters, are also bits and pieces of Caramel's own history. While these seem aggressively generic at first, they actually provide a nice counterpoint to the meat of the tale as it proceeds. The sheer uninteresting normalness of his life, friends, and the like help to sell the hive as somewhere in which he is completely out of his depth.
From a technical standpoint, Raugos does tend to resort to excessive summation at times, especially near the end, and especially of Caramel's own emotions; although it might broadly fit within his character, Caramel standing around and listing his feelings about this or that gets old fast. This never degenerates into the kind of interminable "telling" which so many fanfic authors seem to struggle with, though. And that aside, the writing is crisp, clear, and demonstrates an excellent vocabulary on the author's part--not to mention a knack for painting vivid imagery, both in regards to scenery and, more importantly, character actions.
Integration does a wonderful job of painting an outsider learning to adapt to a new society, and attendantly, of not giving the changelings a moral pass (I mean, they did stage a hostile invasion of Canterlot...), and is at its best when Caramel is exploring the hive and the different roles which changelings play therein, or is discovering just how far removed changeling mores and/or biology are from what he's used to. Unfortunately, the ending is a letdown in both regards. Without getting into spoilers, it tries to bring about too broad and sweeping a denouement for the two chapters into which it's crammed, and it undermines some of that delicious alien-ness which makes the rest of the story so interesting and, occasionally, surprising, in favor of a disappointingly paint-by-numbers conclusion. It wasn't by any means a fic-ruining experience, but it was something of a letdown, considering how excellent the rest of the story had been.
Star rating: ★★★★☆ (what does this mean?)
Ending notwithstanding, this story crafts an interesting interpretation of a flexible race, uses its protagonist's limited knowledge and, more importantly, his underlying assumptions to good advantage, and is unrelentingly interesting.
Recommendation: This would be a good one for readers who like exploration/discovery stories, and for fans of worldbuilding in general.
Next time: The Sky Is Falling, by Bronius Maximus