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I think we can take it as a given that I'll have something(s) to say about the season 4 finale come Monday, so y'all can just go ahead an pencil in a rant or two for the start of next week. For now, though, why not enjoy some fanfic review goodness? My thoughts on Daetrin's Apotheosis, below the break.
Impressions before reading: This is a sequel to Off the Edge of the Map, a story I reviewed almost two years ago. I really liked that one, so I'm pretty optimistic going in. Still, a shipping story with Twilight (this was written during S2, so pre-Twilicorn) and Luna as the only two tagged characters is setting off all kinds of warning bells--I've got a list of issues a mile long with the kind of age differences (and survivor issues) that mortal-immortal (or long-lived enough as makes no difference, if you prefer your princesses of the nominally transient variety) relationships.
Also, since this is a sequel, I'm taking the first fic as a given for purposes of this review--which means it may include spoilers for Off the Edge. If that bothers you, I suggest you either read it first, or read my review of it and decide if it's something you mind having spoiled.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Luna goes on a diplomatic mission to visit the new Dragon King, and Celestia arranges for Twilight to go along with her. Any hopes for a smooth visit are soon dashed when the two find themselves trapped in an unknown land, with no clear way home...
Thoughts after reading: Let's start with the stuff I didn't like: editing mistakes are rare, but often highly noticeable (sentences missing verbs, for example), there are a couple of spots where the passage of time--or rather, the fact that time has passed--is unclear, and setting description is occasionally rather sparse relative to the rest of the story's verbosity level. And... that's about it, really.
Apotheosis is a pleasure to read at the word level; Daetrin shows off an impressive vocabulary, but knows how to wield it to good effect, crafting vivid emotional imagery. This does occasionally edge towards overwritten (especially relative to the sometimes much less detailed physical descriptions), but is saved from this by its unerring relevance; though there are many grand turns of phrase here, none are overdramatic relative to the character or situation, nor wholly redundant.
The greatest strength of this story, though, is in its use of clever, evocative settings. That may seem odd, since I commented on the lack of attention to description in places earlier, but what this story does incredibly well is create just enough to give the reader a view of an expansive world, without showing so little as to frustrate or bore. From dangers out of ancient history to straight-up metaphors given shape and form (it makes sense that it exists in context), this fic is full of bits and pieces of a larger universe, and the result is a story which feels remarkably expansive for its length--and at 45k words, it's not exactly short. I could gush about each separate sub-setting, but the point is that each one works: it has a story role, feels like a part of the same narrative, and draws the reader in in its own right.
I feel I should pause here to note that, while this is a sequel, it's not heavily reliant on the first story. Reading Off the Edge first will set you up for some of the dragon lore (and a throwaway reference at the end), but I don't think there's anything here that a reader couldn't pick up diving into this story cold.
And now we come to the characters, and that shipping angle I was worried about going in. To repeat: this was written pre-S3 (and pre-most of S2), so we have Twi as an ordinary unicorn and Luna basically free to interpret, but definitely long, long-lived. And yet... I didn't hate this. Daetrin takes his time establishing the emotions of the characters, and his interpretation of Luna's initial attitude towards Twi is especially excellent--nuanced in a way that many fics which take a similar approach aren't. What I really appreciated was that the story wasn't just an exercise in laying a framework for the two to fall in love; that's a co-storyline at best, and yet, the progression to romantic feelings is a natural, logical outcome. I still may not feel it's the healthiest one (at least, at the moment it's revealed), but it makes sense in context, for both characters, and that's a big deal for me.
It seems like whenever I contemplate giving something this rating, I get caught up in a crisis of "what does five stars really MEAN?" I mean, it's the highest possible rating on my scale, but at the same time, it's not meant to be an unattainable ideal. I could nitpick this story down to four--I could with anything I've five-starred, really--but when I think about giving out this rating, I'm thinking of a fic that does multiple things so well that it makes me forget any flaws. And by that count, Apotheosis certainly fits the bill. Between the wonderful lore, the captivating hints of a larger world, and pulling off one of the most difficult kinds of ships in a manner that I (of all people) found perfectly palatable, this story does too much right to ignore.
Recommendation: I suppose readers put off by this story being completely at odds with present-day canon will want to look elsewhere. But for anyone looking for an engrossing story, and especially for fans of hinted-at depths, strong characterizations, and engaging ideas, this is absolutely one to read.
Next time: Foal of the Forest, by Moguera