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It's still cold and snowy out. That means it's basically Christmas. And that means that this review is seasonally appropriate! Here's Lucky Dreams' Yes, Apple Bloom, there *is* a Santa Hooves, below the break.
Impressions before reading: I like Christmas, but I hate corny tripe, and let's face it: a lot of Christmas-themed stories are corny tripe, across all mediums. But this is the same author who wrote In the Place Where Wild Horses Sleep, a story with which s/he demonstrated an impressive ability to tell a simple children's story without being cloyingly faux-sentimental. I really hope that ability will be on display here as well.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: When Apple Bloom writes to Santa Hooves to ask for a cutie mark for Hearth's Warming, she gets back an unexpected--and unexpectedly brusque--answer, setting off a chain of letters to and from the north pole.
Thoughts after reading: Thankfully, my pre-reading prayers were answered: this story is sweet and perhaps even a bit sappy, but it's a refreshingly sincere sweetness--the same sort that helped get me and a lot of people into FiM in the first place, I'll wager.
The real appeal here isn't the story, which is basically an excuse to get several characters to put pen to paper; it's the letters themselves. This is a story you'll want to read on-site, rather than via download, as each letter is an uploaded, (mostly) handwritten image, and the different writing styles, stationary, and the like are a very nice effect. Even without such physical markers, though, character voices come through clearly in the letters. This was all the more impressive to me, because the author also did a nice job of limiting the content of those letters to something the characters would actually write; I've said this in regards to epistolary stories before, but I find breaking format or using "crossed-out" text to tell the reader something the character can't or wouldn't say is a very distracting form of cheating, and that was basically absent from this work.
The one area I felt a bit let down by, oddly, was the spelling. Several of the younger characters have poor spelling, which is fine... but said poor spelling is pretty transparently artificial. Maybe it's just that I read lots of writing by poor spellers for a living, but it was far too obvious to me that the spelling mistakes were artificial, and sometimes it seemed like the author was just picking words at random to mess up, with no rhyme, reason, or consistency to the errors each character made.
Well, and Twilight's writing was a bit sloppier than I'd have expected. I guess she's used to having Spike transcribe everything for her, though.
There's not much to say about the plot; it's a straightforward story of remembering who you are via friendship, and while very competently put together, it's... well, like I said: there's not much to say about it. I definitely appreciated that the humor of the story (and there is a fair bit of humor, especially in the early going) is of the uncynical variety. Make no mistake, cynical humor can be wonderful too; it's just that it would have been a poor fit for a story of this sort. Thankfully, this is a light but sincere bit of letter-writing, which perfectly complements the overall tone.
This was a rather hard one to rate; how much weight does one put on things like presentation and physical design, which are clearly selling points here? However one decides to weight that, though, the fact remains that this story is amusing and sweet even if read in its text-only version, and the final letters managed to bring an unironic smile to my face despite it being the end of February.
Recommendation: That said, a significant chunk of the appeal is in the presentation; if getting to actually see the "hoofwritten" letters doesn't sound charming to you, then the appeal here will necessarily be diminished. If that does sound at all interesting, however, I definitely recommend this as a bit of light but memorable reading.
Next time: Iron Hearts: Book 1 - Planetfall, by SFaccountant