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I just noticed that a couple of my fanfics have recently hit milestones. Going Up passed 500 upvotes, and Wyrmlysan became my fifth fanfic to make 1000 total views. Not shocking numbers, at least compared to the "big boys" of the fandom, but they always make me boggle when I stop and think about them: a thousand people is a lot, and even if that includes repeat views and/or people who didn't finish the story, it's still a stunning number of people to have shared something so personal with (well, okay, some stories are more personal than others, but all of those stories are ones that feel personal to me).
Speaking of "big boys," how about a story with a very respectable 15,199 views and 1656 upvotes, as I write this? Click down below the break for my review of psychicscubadiver's The Dresden Fillies: Strange Friends.
Impressions before reading: I read the first two chapters of this back when it was first being written (coming up on three years ago, now... time flies), but was pretty unimpressed with both Dresden's characterization, and some writing choices I saw. I've heard pretty uniformly good things about it since then, so hopefully either it's better than I remember, or I just didn't make it to "the good part."
Zero-ish spoiler summary: After accidentally taking a shortcut to Equestria, Harry Dresden meets Twilight and the gang... just in time to help them when Spike is kidnapped, and a new/old threat to the land rears its head.
Thoughts after reading: Although I try, as a rule, not to compare fanfics directly to one another when I'm reviewing, it's impossible not to make at least some mental link between this and the fandom's other long-form Dresden Files crossover, which I reviewed back here. As it happens, My Little Denarians and Strange Friends don't have a lot in common beyond "Harry + main six save world(s)" in terms of plot or style, but they do have one thing in common: they both start out poorly, before getting much, much better.
That fact is more pronounced in this story, because the first two chapters simply aren't very good. They're well-edited, certainly, but a number of frankly disappointing writing and characterization decisions are present. Harry's trademark wit is mostly absent (although he does get in a couple of characteristic quips), and his expository moments are decidedly textbook. Meanwhile, the regular POV shifts come with a baffling amount of overlap; it's not uncommon to begin such a shift with a half-page of what is, essentially, filler, before something new is introduced. The author also paints Dresden in decidedly overdramatic terms; Jim Butcher sometimes falls into this trap, too (especially in his most recent books), but Twilight's soulgaze with him (for the non-Dresden Files fans: in Butcher's books, if you stare into a wizard's eyes, you can see the nature of his soul via vision/metaphor--and he can see yours) is ridiculously over-the-top.
Oh, and Pinkie has a gratuitous fourth-wall moment in chapter three, which probably bugged me more than it should have. I know that's her thing (and was even more so in early 2012, when that chapter was written), but I still hate seeing it outside of random comedies and deconstructions. Oh well, it's just the one.
But all of this improves, and improves quite dramatically, as the story goes on. Harry soon grows into the snarky problem-solver he ought to be, and the villain(s) find a nice balance between fitting into the semi-idyllic setting and being genuinely frightening. He also provides a nice contrast to the main six, and the differences between Earth and Equestria come through nicely in how he and the ponies react differently to threats, to things amiss, and the like.
More than that, though, this is a genuinely fun action/adventure romp, once it hits its stride. While not particularly in the style of either its sources material (a phrase I type with pinkie extended), Friends draws upon both the broad-but-versatile characters of the ponies and the crisis/clever trick/repeat setup of which Butcher is so fond to craft a story full of dramatic rises which never feels exhausting or unsustainable. Right up until the (final) climax, this story kept me going; although the first few chapters took me several days to get through, the rest I pounded down in one uninterrupted afternoon.
I'm still not a fan of telling people that "it gets better," but sometimes, that's just the truth. This is a story which is fun, exciting, and all-around enjoyable... even if it's not obvious at first.
Recommendation: If you're a fan of The Dresden Files, this is an excellent crossover. Even if you aren't, there's not a lot you need to know other than "Harry Dresden is a modern-day wizard," and if you're looking for a solid action/adventure and don't mind a weak opening (in my reading, I marked the start of chapter 6--about 1/3 of the way through by length--as when things "got really exciting," but my issues with the first two chapters had mostly vanished even before that), this is one to check out.
Next time: Still a Better Love Story than Twilight, by meme-asaurus