To read the story, click the image or follow this link
I've occasionally let slip that I'm a bit of a luddite (a bit luddish? Luddidic?), so it should come as no surprise that it's taken me until this week, in the middle of the year 2014, to get one of those fancy smartphone dealybobs. Now I can do things with my phone like surf the internet, take, edit, and e-mail HD photos, and... text. Yes, this is also the first phone I've ever owned that had texting. I guess now I'll finally find out how, exactly, it's more convenient than just calling someone is.
In unrelated news, they say you're as old as you feel, and I'm apparently your great-great grandpa. Anyway, my review of WovenWord's Wonderbolt, below the break.
Impressions before reading: Dark, romance, and alternate universe tags? This definitely isn't the sort of story I'd normally pick out for myself--not because those genres are bad, or even because they can't play well together, but because the last two are subjects I don't have an inherent interest in in ponyfic, and the first is often difficult to write well. But I can't say I see anything that specifically worries me going in--the description's not giving me any bad vibes (or any at all, really, though vague descriptions don't really bother me), and the number of places that have featured/spotlighted it is reassuring, at least as a first impression.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Rainbow Dash needs to ask Twilight something, but she--and their world--might no longer be a place where such questions can be asked.
Thoughts after reading: I would describe this as "mood fiction," in that it exists primarily to create an emotional setting (though thankfully, one at least a bit more complicated than just "sad"). The central conflict, the characters' backstories (what little is revealed of them), and the world history (ditto) are all geared towards creating an atmosphere of loss, grief, and malaise, which combine to give the fic its emotional impact. For the sake of spoilers, I'll avoid saying what direction that impact lands in (tragic, uplifting, etc.), but suffice to say that the setup does a pretty nice job of creating the appropriate space for it to happen in.
What I wasn't so certain of, as I read, was whether that mood was, strictly speaking, necessary to the story. The fact is that there are a lot of worldbuilding touches sprinkled liberally through this story, but the conflict they're propping up is a fairly simple one. I don't think it needed the level of support it got--or rather, I think that the single-minded focus of every detail needn't have been on supporting that one moment. While I appreciate worldbuilding as much as anyone and more than many, the history and events suggested here are so unrelentingly dolorous that they start to feel artificial, even over the fic's short length; it's the same narratively convenient element, repeated in a hundred variations.
Likewise, the fact that the conflict is resolved so quickly, so seemingly completely (the emotional, and primary, conflict, not the world stuff) feels a bit too artificial, where something a bit less definitive might have seemed more real. The problem in both cases is that there's a certain obviousness about the piece which is likely to undermine the enjoyment of many readers. There's a delicate balance between inspiring an emotion in someone and dragging them through it headfirst, and few people enjoy the latter. To be fair, this is a far cry from the gross contrivances of the worst offenders in this category (and those offenders are manifold), but these issues did tickle at my suspension of disbelief more than once.
I will admit to being a little frustrated by the lack of explanations for all that worldbuilding, as well. Not because I felt they should have been explained more fully (in a story like this, lengthy histories would have been woefully out of place), but because they bring up several elements which cloud the finale. Without knowing more about what Equestria's like and where it's going (or rather, what Twilight and Rainbow know about the same), it's difficult for the reader to gauge if their ultimate decision is one of triumph, affirmation, weakness, or simple lassitude.
That notwithstanding, I want to repeat that Wonderbolt does do a good job of creating and maintaining a rich, evocative atmosphere from start to finish. Moreover, it shows a remarkable thematic consistency, considering that it's weaving together a global calamity and an awkward pseudo-conversation as equal story partners. This story definitely does use all three of those tags I was worrying about to good effect.
Although it does strain credulity at times, this story does deliver what so many mood stories fail to: an evocation of complex emotion.
Recommendation: If you are looking for a story which will elicit an emotional reaction in few words, then this is an extremely good example. If you're particularly sensitive to being led by the nose, you might find some issue with it, though.
Next time: Fiddlesticks!, by Tigerhorse