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I'd like to submit a proposal to the Powers That Be in reality TV programming: put the Tim Gunn Rescue into every reality/contest show. Tattooing shows, cooking shows, King of the Nerds, whatever; in every season of every show, Tim Gunn should come on at the end of one episode and announce that he's bringing back whoever just lost and is about to go home. Let him be the glue that binds a fractured cable TV audience together! Until then, we wait.
...And to pass the time while we wait, feel free to click down below the break and check out my review of bookplayer's The Appledash Project.
Impressions before reading: Well, I know bookplayer's a good writer, which is always a good start. On the other hand, shipping is something I'm generally indifferent to. However, the premise is nothing if not audacious: to sell the reader on Applejack and Rainbow Dash having a behind-the-episodes romance during seasons one and two would be an impressive feat, and I hope to be impressed here.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A series of short scenes set shortly before or after show episodes, detailing the titular relationship and how the two ponies spend their downtime.
Thoughts after reading: "Sell the reader" is not, it turns out, something this story does at any point. It requires of the reader that they accept, almost from the start, that Applejack and Rainbow Dash are in a serious, intimate relationship--during most of seasons one and two. And that trysts, makeout sessions, and dirty talk fill most of their time together... just not the bits from the actual show.
To be fair, that's obviously a near-impossible sell, and bookplayer does make a valiant effort to explain why their behavior toward each other (alone or in groups) is so different in the show than in her story, but ultimately it's something that the reader just has to accept: Dash and AJ are an item, and here's what they do. I found the constant episode backdrops made that impossible for me, but that's obviously a "your mileage may vary" impression; if you can swallow the concept, then... well, you'll probably enjoy this if you're a shipper.
If you're a shipper--that is to say, if you enjoy seeing two ponies paired romantically for its own sake--then this story has a lot to offer. It's often funny (plus, horse puns! I love a good horse pun), has a good balance between intimacy and relationship "meat," and offers a highly nuanced take on both of its main characters.
If you're not a shipper, though, this is more of a mixed bag. The humor is still there, and the thoughtful but open-ended way this story handles some of the heavier questions it poses is refreshing. On the other hand, much of the "intimate" stuff is pure fluff--kissing, nuzzling, and (much) more without any narrative purpose. That's not to say that all of it is without purpose, of course; this is a story about a relationship, and it would be awfully odd if the two characters involved were totally chaste. But significant chunks of verbiage are devoted to kisses which don't lead to or from anything of interest to anyone not inherently interested in reading about those kisses, and several chapters end up being almost overwhelmed by sexual banter and its aftermath.
With that said, those kisses and that sexual banter are largely well-written (several chapters have noticeable homonym and comma issues, but this is in stark contrast to the majority of the story). Also, it's clear that bookplayer has a strong, concrete vision of both of her main characters, and even if some of the specifics don't jibe perfectly with the show (I've never understood how "Applejack never lies" has remained a fan-imagining for so long), the issues are minor enough, and the presentation solid enough, that it's easy to go along with.
In the end, I think this is something that will appeal greatly to a not-insignificant subgroup of readers, but doesn't sell itself particularly well outside of that subgroup.
Recommendation: This is definitely something fans of shipping should check out--even those who don't particularly care for Appledash. For the rest, this might be worth a look to those interested in seeing a well-realized take on the interests and insecurities of Dash and AJ, but those unwilling to bring a heaping helping of "just go with it" to the table will probably want to look elsewhere.
Next time: Cracked Beauty, by Slate Sadpony