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In the lunchroom today, I was introduced to a new game: "Perkins or Porn?"
As I had never really noticed before but immediately realized was true upon having it pointed out to me, there are two kinds of stores--at least, in the Midwest--that regularly have absurdly oversized American flags flying above them. Those two types of stores are, of course, Perkins' and sex shops (those of you who don't live in the US will have to trust me on this). The way the game works is that, when you see an absurdly oversized American flag in the distance while driving down the highway, you and the passengers all have to guess whether it denotes Perkins or porn. Obviously, you can't play it on well-traveled routes, but apparently it's a good way to pass a long trip.
...I have no good segue out of that. Instead, let's just go right on to my review of Trinary's Rainbooms and Royalty, below the break.
Impressions before reading: AU fics aren't really my thing, as a rule, but the principal here seems solid enough: Dash is Celestia's personal student instead of Twilight. Depending on how it examines the results of that change, I can definitely see some potential here.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Ever since attracting the Princess's attention with an incredible Sonic Rainboom, Rainbow Dash has studied under Celestia's personal tutelage. Canterlot's not a welcoming place for a brash young pegasus, however, and as much as Dash loves her, she yearns to escape her mentor's shadow.
Thoughts after reading: In terms of overall plot, this is basically all the highlights of the first two seasons of MLP, told through an AU version of the Nightmare Moon crisis. And insofar as that went, I thought it was well-conceived; although the cramming strained credulity at times, it never felt too ridiculous, and it gave the author plenty of ways to highlight how different paths can lead to the same, sometimes unlikely, locations.
This isn't just "FiM, but starring Dash instead of Twi," however. Trinary works in a number of original and semi-original creatures, locations, and events, and these often end up being the highlights of the fic. A swamp that literally drags ponies down with bad memories struck me as a particularly good fit for the setting, but there are plenty of other things I could mention.
I also liked that the story uses "Miriam" as Dash's middle name; I've always been fond of that bit of fanon. I mention that now, because it's basically the only other nice thing I have to say about this story.
The problems start at the technical level. Punctuation, especially coming out of dialogue, is a consistent problem, word errors are common (one hopes Rarity doesn't typically examine clients with a "jaundiced" eye)--this is especially noticable when Twilight "corrects" Dash on an I/me mixup where Dash was actually right the first time.
Just as a general aside, since I've seen this a couple of times (relatively) recently: an author making an I/me mixup is a bit annoying but understandable; Twilight making that mistake is both annoying and out of character. If you're going to have Twi correcting grammar, for goodness sake, make sure she's correct!
Back to the story: while the narrative tone is pretty consistent, the text itself contains plenty of questionable decisions. Specifically, I question the decision to use parenthetical exclamation points (!) in this style of prose... among other things. Moving on to more writing-based problems, this story is full of questionable saidisms and one of the most distracting cases of LUS (Lavender Unicorn Syndrome: the constant replacing of character names and pronouns with short descriptive phrases) I've seen in a while. Throw in an Applejack who occasionally borders on unreadable (Ah for I I've seen; allus for always is just silly) and a Zecora whose speech is so questionable that not even Dash's lampshading it makes it palatable ("Your presence is what is needed to use the Elements of Harmony to the fullest. Otherwise, they are just so much bits of rock, utterly useless"). On the whole, there's not a lot to recommend this story at the word- and sentence-construction level.
At the character level, the main characters are all pretty solid and recognizable (although Pinkie dives into the random/meta pool several times too many), but tend to be played to cutesy extremes. This is most evident in the case of Derpy, who plays a major role in the story which consists mostly of saying "muffins" a lot while hitting all the most popular fandom tropes as hard as she can, but all of the ponies play strongly to reader expectations throughout. To call it pandering would be too strong (these characters do exist as part of a coherent story wherein their character traits are relevant, after all; true pandering tends to ignore plot in favor of giving the readers what they think they want), but it's grating to anyone who either isn't familiar with the elements being used, or isn't enamored with them to begin with.
There are some issues with the ending. The last 20% of the story or so consists mostly of heartfelt conversations, and while these do address issues directly connected to the rest of the story, the sheer amount of time spent on long, soliloquy-laden confessions and confrontations after the primary action events have all been resolved makes the conclusion feel interminably slow. While pacing was generally a positive in the rest of the story, it grinds to a halt with about 20,000 words to go.
But my biggest issue with this story was the references. Now, referential humor isn't my favorite thing in most cases (and this fic has plenty of it), but it's generally not inherently story-ruining, because... well, it's supposed to make you laugh. It might be a bad story decision, but if it's still funny, then it's doing its job.
I'm going to go ahead and say, however, that there's no such thing as good referential drama. Time and again, Rainbooms and Royalty squandered what should have been its strongest moments with ill-advised out-of-story inclusions. Whether it was Princess Celestia's tearful (and surprisingly (and story tone-wise, needlessly) dark) farewell to Dash before Nightmare Moon's return being interrupted so that the two of them could recite the entirety of For Good from Wicked to one another, Twilight breaking out Superman's famous "world of cardboard" speech during her character-defining moment, or the story ending with the most painfully pointless and negatively-story-recontextualizing Dr. Who reference I've ever seen in a fanfic, time and again what could have been the best moments of the story were reduced to "hey, I know that thing!" There aren't a lot of places in creative writing where that's a good thing for your readers to say, but there are definitely some; the would-be dramatic apexes of your story are not one of them.
There were some nice elements here, and there are the bare bones of an interesting "what if?" fic. Unfortunately, a combination of lackluster writing and consistently questionable dramatic decisions rob it of most of that potential.
Recommendation: If you don't mind inappropriate references and are more intrigued by concept than construction, this story definitely has something to offer. If you're intrigued by highly setting-appropriate additions to MLP lore, this has a few that might be worth looking into. But for anyone not specifically in those two camps, this story is unlikely to enthrall.
Next time: No Regrets, by horizon