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The writeoff's over, and my story ("110%") came away with first place! But there was a bit of sad news to report, too: of the (several!) body-function stories which people submitted, not one person guessed me as the author of any of them. You all know what this means, right? I'm going to have to write a story about poop, so that folks won't be so confident about not guessing me for gross-out fare.
But let's move on to a story in which the words "fibrous nuggets" never once appear next to one another. Click below for my review of Vanner's One Last Quest.
Impressions before reading: I read this one a long time back and loved it--it's an older story, and it'll be interesting to see how it's held up since then. Hopefully well, but we'll see; sometimes, getting the rose-tinted glasses ripped off is an unpleasant experience.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Four ponies who have settled comfortably(?) into their adult lives are uprooted and sent on an Equestria-spanning quest by Celestia.
Thoughts after reading: The writing on this story is a real letdown. There are a significant number of editing errors, to start with. The early part of the story has a fairly spare style, but thereafter large parts of their quest (or rather, the explanations of what they're doing and what they're looking for) are communicated mostly by exposition. And there's a decent amount of repetition; often character actions are stated twice, for example, both before and after a piece of dialogue.
One thing which isn't a mistake here, though, is that everything is connected. Everything. This is probably where reader opinions are going to diverge most on the story. I can easily see people being put off by how even the most minor details are resolved fully, and how every tiny bit of characterization gets some sort of arc. Truly, there's nothing in this story that doesn't come back, and which doesn't end up mattering. That can easily fatigue a reader, because it can make the story feel artificial; in real life, not everything ties together, and it makes the world the story takes place in feel very small.
I thought it worked well in this fic, though, because one of the main points of the story is that everything ties together. This story has a very specific, coherent vision of how Equestria works, and while that view has become rather untenable with subsequent seasons (this was written pre-S2), the strong setting here sells the whole premise. By "strong setting," I don't necessarily mean in terms of traditional worldbuilding elements (though those are present as well), but in terms of creating a consistent, clear, easy-to-understand tonal environment which fits with but dramatically builds upon what "Equestria" is like. It is for this reason that, despite (and in fact, because) everything fit together. That might be unbelievable in real life... but what Vanner does is make sure that it makes sense within the world his characters inhabit.
The story keeps up a good pace, skipping hours, days, and more with abandon in order to move from key point to key point while not leaving the reader in the dust. Sometimes, I found this a little abrupt, but the jumps fit the style of the storytelling, and are never hard to follow.
As for the characters, they're at once the most interesting and most frustrating parts of the fic. Cheerilee, Pokey, Redheart, and Medley bring an unusual twist to the "unlikely adventurers" angle, given that the focus here is primarily on how they're all adults with lives, responsibilities, etc., who've suddenly been thrust into a quest that's going to take them far away, for a long time, with some danger involved to boot. I have to say, I found it a refreshing change of pace from the many stories where the unlikely hero might have a lover or a parent or something waiting at home, but is seemingly perfectly able to disappear on short notice without issue. All four have a couple of key characteristics, and these are clearly presented and used to effect to play off one another. They also each have their own hangups, motivations, etc., and while these give the fic some of its best moments... well, I can't say much without spoilers, but Pokey's resolution fell flat for me. Again, everything in this story ties together and resolves, and Pokey's situation was the one out of the four that felt like it really couldn't come together as cleanly and completely as it did. That said, Pokey spent the rest of the fic being a grizzled samurai warrior-turned-chef-turned warrior again, which was at once one of the strangest ideas for his character I've seen, and also a great foil to the other three.
This is a story that's really let down by its writing, but behind that there's a great adventure, a classic journey setup, and an impressively buyable tonal setting.
Recommendation: It's not a story for those sensitive to poor editing, to be sure. It's also one that readers sensitive to narrative contrivances (tonally justified or not) may find unpalatable. But for readers looking for a unique take on the idea of an epic quest undertaken by unlikely parties, this would be a good fit.
Next time: To Be a Better Stallion, by Autumn Wind