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I have Friday off, and thank goodness for that: I'm coming down with something monumentally unpleasant. Honestly, I probably shouldn't have gone into work today (Thursday, as I type this) at all, but I hate taking sick days on either side of a long weekend. I have this irrational fear that everyone will think I'm faking so I can go on vacation, or something. I know it's silly, but I guess I'm just a silly person. A silly person who expresses that silliness by hacking and croaking at people as they crack jokes about Ebola. Anyway, horizon's No Regrets, below the break.
Impressions before reading: Although I always seem to read something unintended into his stories (even when I'm reviewing them in writeoffs, and don't know he's the author!), I think of horizon quite positively as an author. So naturally, I've got high hopes. Alicorn princesses plus the sad tag is treacherous territory rife with melodrama, but I'm still tentatively expecting good things from this fic.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Celestia averts Nightmare Moon by offering to trade duties with Luna--to surrender the sun to her, and take over the moon herself. It's all Luna ever desired.
Thoughts after reading: This story does a nice job of being subtly but unmistakably off from the very beginning, hinting from the start that, summary above notwithstanding, this isn't really an AU fic, and that something is amiss. Unfortunately, the framing device for this story is kind of silly for such a serious piece, and I found the revelation of who's doing what (and with what) something of a mood-breaker.
That's pretty much my only complaint, though. And framing device notwithstanding, once it becomes clear why things are different from canon in this story, it puts that context to good use in pulling off an open-ended ending (still almost entirely so, even with the optional "letters" bonus material) that can be read as tragic inevitability, a triumph of anger and hate over love, or even as a seraphic sacrifice. I actually spent a while after reading this story trying to figure out how many ways I could "read" this story, in terms of how to interpret the conclusion, and found it deliciously open to interpretation.
That degree of "high-quality vagueness" is common throughout the story. Plenty of little hints of worldbuilding are given, and the reader gets plenty of suggestions of what the princesses trading places has done to the world and Equestria compared to lunar banishment... but these are kept to background trappings and in-character asides or observations, leaving much open to interpretation. All of that makes this a wonderful story to simply think about, despite the fact that it's never really obtuse. Moreover, it makes the work feel remarkably dense despite its short length.
What it ultimately is, though, is a look at Celestia and Luna, and their relationship, from a rather oblique angle. While it doesn't particularly add anything new to the common conceptions of their relationship (at least, nothing new that the reader doesn't read in him- or herself), what it does do is present a clever, well-crafted facade through which to examine that relationship, and sometimes that's just as important. After all, a good story doesn't have to be one which tells you something new; more often, it tells you something you already know, in a way that makes you realize you know it for the first time. I don't think many people will come away with a deeper understanding of the characters after reading this story... but I think they might come away with a deeper understanding of their understanding of the characters.
This is a well-crafted story which makes good use of its premise, and which packs an emotional punch despite its open-endedness.
Recommendation: This would be a great story for fans of exploring the post-NMM dynamic (I don't know if there's a word for those people, but they certainly exist), as well as fans of good writing and clever execution generally.
Next time: Forever Faithful, by Konseiga