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The Alps are up starting today! Even if you aren't a regular Tour de France viewer, you might want to check it out for the next few days; mountain stages are always the most fun, and because of a few key injuries, this is the most wide-open the race has been in years. Cycling, woo!
Okay, okay, back to things you all care about (Mystic, I miss you and your cycling-caring-about): my review of The Descendant's The Song of Syhlex, below the break.
Impressions before reading: Well, I'm usually a big fan of TD's stories, and I do like well-written poetry, so I'm pretty optimistic going in. In fact, this is one I've been meaning to read for a while now, and have had recommended to me before; I've just never gotten around to it until this review. Hopefully it lives up to my high mental billing.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Spike and Twilight read an ancient poem which paints Celestia in a much less peaceful, placid light than they've ever seen her before.
Thoughts after reading: As I often do with stories I really enjoyed, I'm going to start with the bad/less good, so that I can get on to the good stuff. I had one real issue with this story: Spike's reaction to the poem seems a little perfunctory. Spike and Twilight exist in this story mostly as trapping for the titular poem, but Spike's reaction to seeing an apparently heretofore unimagined-by-him side of Celestia is a little underwhelming, especially given the race relations in play.
That's about it for issues, though. Twilight and Spike make otherwise excellent window dressing, and the brief introduction via them does a lovely job encapsulating both the restlessness of deep winter (a feeling I know all too well), and that feeling of importance that overcomes you when you read an old book by the firelight. One thing I don't like about fanfiction on an e-reader: there's no way to read it in an ancient hard-bound tome, to smell old paper and hear the pages crinkle. Anyway, I'm digressing; the point is, Syhlex evokes that feeling.
The meat here, though, is the in-story poem, and that was fantastic. The poetic form is basic--it's just seven-line stanzas without defined interior stucture--but does what so little free verse-ish poetry (at least, in fanfiction) does: it uses its structure, and line breaks, in a natural manner which nevertheless wouldn't translate directly to prose. Moreover, the vernacular used is consistently antiquated but not archaic, and this consistency gives the story a feeling of age and temporal placement without being distracting. Incidentally, it also does a nice job of ameliorating and/or justifying The Descendant's propensity for dense prose; this is a style that plays to his strengths as an writer, it seems to me.
In terms of plot, the poem is a short epic, and deals with creatures and events in mythological terms. The storytelling touchstones present (e.g. seven sons, each of whom have a defined trait) help establish the style, and also mark this as a very traditionally structured tale. Everything about this screams "from another time (in a well-established fictional universe)," and the fact that it's able to sell itself thus so well is important, because it's ultimately a story about Celestia. This poem wouldn't resonate as well if it was about a generic goddess, or without the conceit that the (in-story) readers of the poem know her, and have seen her, in such a different light. That meta-conflict may, as I suggested in the first paragraph, be underdeveloped, but it still casts a dual light on the story as both a legend and as a bit of character expansion, and that double-duty makes for a thoughtful, rewarding bit of reading.
I don't know why it took me so long to read this, but now I wish I'd gotten to it earlier. "Epic mythology" and "well-written poetry" are weak points of mine, and this one hits them both, all while being an excellent story in its own right.
Recommendation: This is a must-read for fans of poetry and mythology. Even people who normally find poetry affectatious and/or dull should give this a try, though. It's short and accessible enough that the style isn't a deal-breaker, and it uses its form to good effect.
Next time: Synchronicity, by A Hoof-ful of Dust