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It's almost Valentine's Day! I love Valentine's Day; I always do singing Valentines with a quartet, and there's nothing more fun than watching someone turn fifteen different shades of red while you croon "Heart of My Heart" at them, as all their co-workers look on. Makes it kind of a bummer that the holiday fell on a weekend this year, actually, but it'll be fun nonetheless.
But enough about holidays! Instead, let's talk about RK_Striker_JK_5's The Elements of Harmony and the Savior of Worlds. Review below the break!
Impressions before reading: I can't say I'm too inspired by what I'm seeing from the get-go. A story which crosses over (to varying degrees) multiple iterations of MLP, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and more is going to be a tough sell for a reader with little to no knowledge of the last two, and the fact that the sequel is a Conversion Bureau story (but this one isn't) leaves me a bit confused going in. Speaking of confused, it's hard for me to know what I'm in for when the story's tagged slice-of-life, but the description promises a "hopefully epic tale of past, present, and future." On the other hand, I've come across a couple of G1-G4 crossovers that I've enjoyed while doing these reviews, so it's not like this is a hopeless premise or anything.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: When a Twilight teleportation and an RD Rainboom collide, a hole is ripped in the fabric of the cosmos, reconnecting Equestria to the human world, where only twenty years have passed compared to 1500 for the ponies... and leading right into the backyard of Megan Richards, whose adventures with the ponies in her youth formed the basis for modern Equestria.
Thoughts after reading: Distinct personalities are the lifeblood of any character-driven story. Even in novels with some other primary focus, it's important that the primary characters stand out from the crowd. So I'm going to start with what I consider the greatest weakness of this story: I can say almost nothing meaningful about any of the humans in it.
Sure, I can describe a bit of Megan's personality, but if you asked me how she was different from her childhood (and universe-hopping) friends, I couldn't tell you much beyond gender, hair color, and other physical markers. Likewise, Megan's two daughters are almost interchangeable; yes, one of them wants to brush everypony's tale and the other doesn't (or at least, doesn't try to), but if you asked me to describe their differences in terms of how they think or how they might respond to some situation, I couldn't. Megan's husband, again, I can only describe either in terms of appearance/aptitudes (he can fix things!) or broad platitudes (he loves his family!). This is all somewhat ameliorated by the fact that the story is also full of ponies, who have pre-defined personalities to fall back on, and these give some definition to the character of the characters (heh). Nevertheless, the main (human) characters in this fic are so generic as to be practically invisible.
On a related note is this fic's disappointing tendency to allow the needs of the narrative to dictate events, rather than any sense of internal logic or character consistency. Almost all stories do this to some extent, but it's still very apparent that Applejack flying into a mindless, murderous frenzy when she thinks Twilight's been killed by a dragon, or Fluttershy deciding to angrily confront a (different) dragon for "showing off" when it landed (!), only happen so that Megan and the other ponies have something to go chasing after and so that King Spykoran has a chance to demonstrate his power, respectively.
Those issues are exacerbated further by the fact that characterization is frequently questionable even when not (seemingly) required to advance the plot. Fluttershy taunting woodland fauna stuck out in particular, though most of the issues were grounded in dialogue. I can't imagine a teenager uttering the sentence "[The machete] wasn't swung at me, but at the cord tying me up, Dad!," nor can I see Celestia tossing casual "What the hay are you talking about?"s around while addressing one of her generals. On the whole, characters' speech tends rather definitively toward the stilted and unnatural.
Interestingly, both the slice of life tag and "epic" in the description do apply to this fic. For the first three quarters or so of its length, Savior of Worlds is almost aggressively low-key; despite piling on foreshadowing (some of which comes back, and some of which is completely forgotten by the end) and offering plenty of chances for high drama (dragon attacks, human government agents discovering the portal to Equestria, etc.), the larger part of the story keeps its focus firmly on parties, cutie mark crusading, light shipping, and other banalities. Things abruptly shift gears toward the end, where all the non-pony crossovers start coming out of the woodwork, along with some high-stakes villains. The two parts actually work relatively well together; while the second part feels a bit short compared to what comes before, it's still given enough space to breath that it doesn't feel perfunctory, and the extended "early going" prepares enough of the setting and later events that it doesn't feel superfluous. Pacing is still an issue through the SoL section (large amounts of time are spent simply wrangling and keeping track of a wide-sprawling cast, often with little payoff), but my point is that the section itself didn't feel like a waste of time to what came after, nor did the battle(s) feel mood-breaking compared to what came before. Some of the crossover elements toward the end were problematic, however; even a reader who knows nothing about G1 ponies would have nothing to fear on the comprehension front while reading this story, but when G.I. Joe characters start showing up, the author resorts to tossing hyperlinks into the fic to explain who they are to people like myself, rather than working them into the story in a more cohesive manner.
I think what I ultimately found most disappointing about this fic was how much their could have been to like, here. There's lots of interesting worldbuilding surrounding dragons and, to a lesser extent, ursas, but until the end of the story this is mostly used as an accent to less interesting, more artificial drama (a remarkable amount of the "tension" in this story comes from characters inexplicably deciding that "now's not the time" to talk about who they are/what they're doing/what happened in the past, then doing nothing important and/or nothing that inhibits conversation for several hours). Likewise, Megan having a family, and the dynamic of them finding out Equestria is real (and going there) has plenty of potential for drama, but nobody ever seems to react to this kind of revelation with anything more than a "Wow, I didn't know this was real!" (and, of course, another "we'll talk about this later"). In the end, there are a bunch of great ideas here; unfortunately, a lot of the best ones were underplayed or subsumed entirely by less interesting, less convincing story elements.
It would be a lie to say that I enjoyed this story, but to be fair, I didn't particularly dislike it, either. It strikes me as the kind of story that's too easy to put down for its own good (after typing that sentence, I did a quick check; the last chapters of this story have about 1/16th the views of chapter one. More typical numbers on the longfics I've reviewed are between 1/4th and 1/8th), but which isn't likely to actively drive readers away. It's often bland and doesn't use its characters well, but it's pretty inoffensive for all that.
Recommendation: "Inoffensive for all that" isn't much of an endorsement, I admit. Still, if you're specifically interested in reading a story which combines pretty much every Hasbro franchise, and don't particularly care how the characters are written or presented, this might at least be worth a look.
Next time: Words Failed Her, by Nonsanity