Friday, August 1, 2014

Fandom Classics Part 65: A Dream of Dawn

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

I'm part of a CSA with a local farm this year; if you're unfamiliar with the premise, you basically pay a lump sum to a local farmer at the start of the year, and then every week you get a box full of whatever they're growing that's harvest-ready that day.  It's been fun and has rather drastically increased the amount of veggies in my diet (when your box has five different kinds of leafy greens, you end eating a lot of salads and sautees), so I guess if you're the kind of person who can handle that level of "healthy eating" (I put it in quotes because I tend to do things like cover my salads with bacon) and live near a farm that does it, I would recommend it based on my experience.

Click below the break to read my review of Starsong's A Dream of Dawn.

Impressions before reading:  An AU tag always frightens me a bit, but the premise certainly has potential: Nightmare Moon beats the Elements, but is then defeated by Discord shortly thereafter.  I'm going to guess going in that how well Discord is characterized is going to be what makes or breaks this fic; if he's bland or just plain generic, this could go south fast.  But, if Starsong can make him chaotic and conniving while still growing him as a character and unlikely hero, there's a lot of promise.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  In an Equestria where Nightmare Moon defeated Twilight and her friends, and where Celestia never reappeared, the massive amounts of disharmony free Discord early, and after defeating the Nightmare he discovers that he's Equestria's savior.  But Celestia's still missing, and together he and Twilight plan to find her.

Thoughts after reading:  I'll start by saying that I think this is a great example of what an AU story should be: make one significant change to canon (in-show or just implied), then extrapolate and explore the ramifications.  So, idea-wise, I have no problem with the setup.  Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of other positive things to say about this fic.

The writing is a letdown on multiple fronts.  Misused or (unintentionally) irregular words are not uncommon, and the best way to describe the narration is "dutifully telly," stolidly informing the reader of the focus character's thoughts time and again, sometimes in almost excruciating detail.  Dialogue, meanwhile, suffered a number of problems, from a frequent absence of contractions (making characters like Dash sound stiffly formal, albeit only in places) to overwritten accents (again, perhaps more noticeable because it seems to come and go) to a really awful Zecorah ("You seem to have a way with fauna... but you don't have to explain if you don't wanna").

Characterization is a little harder to judge in broad strokes, because it varies so much over the course of the fic.  Sometimes, this is unambiguously unfortunate (Applejack is the designated doubting Thomas throughout the fic, to the point where her opinion of other characters seems to change more than once simply so that she can express disapproval of whomever happens to be in charge at the moment), but more often it's that there's a mix of good and bad.  Discord, for example, displays all of his trademark whimsy at times... but the story can't seem to decide whether the primary conflict he must overcome in order to be a good ruler is empathy, evilness, or just an inherent bent towards disorder.  While it's true that all three of these traits can exist within the same character, the effect here is that in some places Discord seems to be an attention-hungry villain who's playing nice because he loves attention (slightly) more than inflicting evil on the world, while in others he appears to be genuinely interested in doing the right thing but near-incapable of identifying what that is.

The plot was the saving grace of this story.  Although it takes a while for what I would call the "adventure" part of this story to kick in, that wait wasn't unwarranted, and the ponies' quest to find Celestia (and what happens thereafter) are regularly interesting, and show that some thought has been put into how Equestria would be different in a world subjected to temporary eternal night (my new favorite phrase) and sans its most stable ruler.  The wide-ranging quest(s) touches on myriad races and characters, many from canon, and is almost always interesting in how it extrapolates what could have been.

Star rating:  

I don't have any trouble seeing the appeal of this story: it's a clever take on a tired trope--what if Nightmare Moon won? was done to death within a month of the premier, and yet this story manages to feel fresh and original in how it uses and builds on that idea.  But the inconsistent characterizations and writing issues (along with the occasional odd extrapolation; although I've seen it in other fics, I've never really bought into the idea of Fluttershy as an animal-dominating wilderness "warrior") are telling me that this is more "good concept" than "good story."

Recommendation:  This is worth reading if you're mostly in a fic for the ideas it sells, and for the way it builds and expands upon its premise.  But readers interested a story that has more to offer than that won't find it here.

Next time:  On the Importance of Spelling, by Softly8088


  1. Couldn't agree with Chris more on this one. I read most of this story some months ago, simply because I found the premise so intriguing. It invoked the same feeling initially as It's A Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door, but as time went on I found myself drudging through the chapters. It's a shame because I wanted to enjoy the story so badly, if only the writting hadn't gotten in the way...

  2. Dang, I was hoping this would be a good one. As you say, it's a pretty good premise. And Griffin seemed to like it fine.

    Prediction for "OtIoS": 3/5 for a decent joke crippled by unnecessary innuendo.

  3. While I wasn't predicting a one-star, I think this review hit pretty close to what I was expecting. I do remember having issues with the prose and some of the characterisation. I certainly liked it just fine in spite of its issues, even if less than I was hoping to given its brilliant concept, but I really can't disagree with any of your assessments, Chris.

    I've read Softly8088's Pony and Prejudice before, but I don't think I ever read On the Importance of Spelling. I remember having no issues with Prejudice, and I think it came recommended by Seattle's Angels, but I also know that this author got a negative review from John when another fic of his hit the feature box a few months back. I honestly don't know what to expect at all.

  4. I tried reading through this once and stopped just as they were going out to find Celestia. It wasn't so much the characters or the writing that did it in for me, but that I found things to be increasingly dull.

    After the initial hook, which I thought was actually refreshing and exciting, I got the feeling that the author didn't know what else to do and was just meandering around looking for a purpose. I wasn't in the mood to slog through each chapter to get to more interesting parts. Too bad, since it started out so strong.

  5. I remember this fic. It was very good at first but then Celestia had to go and overrreact. Honestly, her actions in this fic are what killed it for me, and I say that as a huge fan of Sun Horse. Other than that, I'd say I agree with your review completely.

  6. Bacon is a spice. Any sensible person knows this. The only downside to CSA schemes is winter: I hope you really like squash.

    This fic has been on my to-be-read list for a long time, but I think I'll remove it now. As I've only added two stories to the list today, that's some sort of progress.

    That Zecora line might have to be enshrined as the worst of all time.

  7. Guess I will be dropping this one from my read-later list.

  8. That bit of Zecora(h?) dialogue nearly made me scream in a hotel lobby.