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So, somehow, I hadn't noticed that the "black" background at the top of each FiMFic page (you know, where the author and/or story information goes) isn't actually just black, but has a very dark close-up of the author avatar. So when I opened up my own page and suddenly noticed this glaring back at me...
...it gave me a bit of a start. Maybe I should get a happier-looking avatar, because that's a bit disconcerting. While I ponder that, feel free to hop down below the break and check out my review of Nonsanity's Words Failed Her.
Impressions before reading: I read this back when it was published (was it really two and a half years ago? Time flies...), and don't recall being terribly impressed with it. Then again, sometimes a re-read is kinder than a first impression, and Nonsanity has written stuff I've really enjoyed, so I'm not by any stretch gloomy about this fic's prospects re. my enjoyment.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: When a
Thoughts after reading: By (or rather, at) the end of chapter one, I'd remembered what didn't work about this story for me: it doesn't give its key dilemmas the breathing space they need to make an impact. The example in question involves what should be one of the most dramatic moments in the story: the revelation that the illiteracy spell Twilight cast on herself has no known cure.
Given just how big a deal Twilight doing something like that is (it's right up there with Rainbow Dash losing her wings, except unlike that, the fanfic community didn't beat the idea into the ground years ago), you would expect Twilight to have a pretty major reaction, both before and after casting the spell. Instead, she barely pauses to consider any possible alternatives beforehand, and the immediate fallout is restricted to a couple of tears before she gets to work finding a solution.
Now, lest the paragraph above give you the wrong impression, the problem here isn't that Twilight's acting out of character, particularly; I never had any serious issues while reading with what Twi was actually doing or thinking. The problem is that the story skims over dramatic, important events, here and elsewhere, such that the impact on the reader is completely out of proportion to the impact on the characters. My first impulse was to declare this a 20,000 word story trapped inside a 7000 word one, but that's not necessarily it either; it's just that momentous events and actions aren't given the weight, by dint of verbiage, thematic emphasis, or setup/denouement, that would match their momentousness.
However, there's still a lot to like here. The writing itself is strong but unobtrusive, and the third person limited perspective is a good fit for the story; in a story about Twilight not being able to read (and having to solve a crisis without being able to research a cure), a more omniscient voice wouldn't have had the same effect. And Nonsanity sprinkles some nice bits of humor into a relatively serious fic, especially in the narration ("[The Cake twins'] father dithered over them for a moment, perhaps counting to make sure they were both there").
It's also a strong story at the conceptual level. Although the impact may be blunted in places by the structural decisions, everything about the curse and Twilight's attempts to understand it are fascinating in their own right. As with so much in this story, the ending seems perfunctory to the point where it strains credulity, but behind that is a very sweet note to end on, and one which wraps everything up with just the right mix of complete- and openness.
Although it has much less impact than by rights one might expect it to, there's still a solid, clever, and enjoyable story here.
Recommendation: This wouldn't be a good choice for readers put off by lack of pace/importance synergy (or just those who are sensitive to pacing issues, period), but for readers who enjoy good writing and a clever premise, it's definitely worth a look.
Next time: Believing Stories, by Typewritererror