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Nothing worth sharing up here, so have a joke I heard in the breakroom at work yesterday instead:
Pavlov is sitting in the bar, when the phone rings. "Dammit!" he yells, "I forgot to feed the dog!"
Okay, okay, once you've simmered down from the fever pitch of comedy that just got delivered to you (hey, I liked it), head on down below the break for my review of Sagebrush's In Her Majesty's Royal Service.
Impressions before reading: I read this story back when it was published, which I think was even before the FiMFic dates (at least, I read it in Gdocs via EqD), and absolutely loved it at the time. But even before I dive back in, there are some warning signs that this won't hold up too well; a lot of the humor was S1 stuff (making fun of pink Celestia dates a fic as much as anything, doesn't it?), and I remember having some major tone whiplash in the last chapter. That said, I did absolutely love it; maybe I should give it and myself the benefit of the doubt.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Storm Stunner wants to join the Royal Guard. Soon, he and the friends he quickly makes discover that Canterlot's elite aren't quite what they seem from the outside...
Thoughts after reading: The writing on this is a real mixed bag. On one hand, there's a lot of word repetition and "fluffy" sentences, entire lines which don't add anything meaningful to the proceedings. On the other, there are constant little touches of wordplay or words irregularly used to great effect (at the very beginning of the story, a pony who got poked with a bindle is described as "the smarted pegasus. That kind of deliciously droll phraseology is frequent throughout the story). I found myself thinking that the writing wasn't terribly good, technically, but enjoying it nonetheless.
The story itself is a mix of character-based low-key humor and out-and-out goofiness, including plenty of meta-references. The latter takes the form I appreciate, being perfectly enjoyable even without knowledge of what's being referenced (e.g. even if you had no idea that "pink Celestia" was a thing in the fandom's early days, the scene referencing that still makes sense, is still funny, and isn't obviously doing something that "you" don't get). In fact, I would point to this story as a specific example of how to do meta-references right. The character comedy, on the other hand, is less effective.
A lot of this is because of the characters themselves. Sagebrush tries to have it both ways with all of the major characters, using them as both comic devices and everyponies, and the result is muddled. Because all of them are supposed to be relatable, many character traits get underplayed (a problem which the minor characters here don't have), and a certain amount of personality same-ness permeates them. Although their motivations and, to a lesser extent, speaking styles are varied, they end up feeling the same, because they each keep coming back to the same essential role.
Moreover, several key developments that could have helped define these ponies are woefully underplayed. In the very first chapter, we learn that Storm Stunner doesn't know what his cutie mark means (he woke up in a hospital with no memory of how he got it, and nobody was around to see it). Besides giving him a reason to join the guard, that provides a great avenue for separation, and the fic occasionally toys with this. However, nothing much ever comes of it; the fact that he's unsure what his lot in life is is played with, but never fully developed.
Then, there's the last chapter. Without getting too deep into spoilers, it's not bad in the sense of being poorly written (compared to the rest of the story) or anything, but it makes a hard right turn from the character-comedy/comedy-comedy of the first 30k words to more of an action/adventure tale. In addition to not seeming to fit with what's come before tone-wise, it also stops playing to the strengths of the narrative (low-key wordplay and turns of phrase) and instead amplifies its weaknesses (lots of fluff). It's an odd note to end on, and while I didn't hate it, I certainly wouldn't call it a good decision.
★★☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
I liked this one, even on re-read, but it's got its fair share of issues. They didn't stop me from enjoying the nice bits, but I found that those "nice bits" were rather less consistent than I remembered.
Recommendation: If silly stuff + clever phrasework is your thing, and if you aren't going to be put off by excessive prose and bland characters, this has a lot of good moments and turns of phrase. But I wouldn't recommend it to someone looking for strong technical decisions, whether in the writing, characterization, or tone.
Next time: Dash’s New Mom, by ABagOVicodin