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Holy cow, two good episodes in a row! While a bit predictable (and while I'm not sure I'd feel at home in a place with the decaying remnants of my blown-up former house suspended over my head...), there was a lot of good humor in Castle Sweet Castle. Okay, mostly I just love Bulk Biceps/Roid Rage/Snowflake/whatever his name is these days having a day job as an x-treme masseuse. And having opposable pecs, which is amazing. Couple that with Dash being Dash, Angel Bunny being fluffbally, and Fluttershy continuing to exhibit character growth without suffering character assassination, and I'm pretty darn happy with the first couple weeks of season 5.
But enough episode yakking. Let's yak about fanfics! My review of Crosis's Heart to Heart, after the break.
Impressions before reading: Seeing a [sex] tag on a story always makes me leery, but the assurance that the rating is "for scattered innuendo" (coupled with the Teen rating) reassure me that this isn't one of those kinds of fanfics. Beyond that, the subject matter doesn't really look like my cup of tea, but the entertainingly-phrased description gives me a lot of hope going in that I'll enjoy this anyway.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A young Spike wants to know what love is, and decides to ask his and Twilight's foalsitter, Cadence.
Thoughts after reading: Before diving into the story, I thought I'd mention that this story is both introduced and concluded with authors notes of the expectation-setting variety. Personally, I find those a little off-putting, but it's not something I'm grading the story itself on. I just mention it because I've seen a number of "this is my first fanfic"/"hope this is good enough"/"well, I tried"-style comments, both in authors notes and in descriptions, in the past, and I can't help but think that they don't make for a good first impression (or last impression, if they're at the end of a fic) on the reader.
Anyway, at the heart of this story was a classic three-part structure: an establishment/introduction where Spike arranges for him and Cadence to be alone so he can ask his question, a middle where they talk about what love is, and a resolution where we see what fruits Cadence's advice has wrought. And at the concept-level, I really enjoyed Heart to Heart; I found it well-paced and solidly built, thematically speaking.
Beyond that, however, I was less impressed. The writing is serviceable, but is marred by occasional technical lapses (punctuation coming out of dialogue and tense sliding being the main culprits) and a tendency to over-narrate. Thankfully this never turned into unbearable expositionary slogs, but it did lead to some of the lower-key sections of the story (which, at its heart, is mostly "two characters talk to one another") feel a bit slow. On the other hand, the author sometimes utilized this explanatory tendency to excellent comic effect; when used for humor, I found I quite enjoyed the writing, but as a default narrative voice I was less impressed.
What really ended up bothering me about this story, though, were the ways the characters were portrayed. The broad strokes are all here, it's true--this isn't a case where one or more of the ponies is unrecognizable as themselves--but a lot of character behavior seemed to be dictated by the narrative, rather than, well, the characters. Spike's total naivete vis-a-vis "love" is the earliest example, making him sound more like a simpleton than a child in places, but more than a couple of times I found myself wondering why a character would think this, or would be so upset by that.
And on that note, I was rather disappointed to find that Cadence, in this story, plays a generic "teenage babysitter" role, at least in terms of her maturity and competence. Granted, she is a teen(?)age babysitter... but she's also the alicorn of love, and it seems very odd that this literally never comes up (I went back and checked, an that the text never specifically mentions her cutie mark, so I suppose this could be before her destiny was known... but even then, you'd think the author would play with the idea that she will be the ultimate authority on love, given the subject matter). This doubly bothers me because of the poor way Cadence describes love; I'll give the story full credit for showing that her description of romantic love as "friendship, but better" is a poor one, but that doesn't change the fact that I have trouble imagining Cadence saying that in the first place. And that's where this story falls down: although the author gets plenty of use out of the characters in peripherals (Twilight's note-taking, the way Spike looks up to Shiny), the main story actions are more often driven by the needs of the narrative.
Although it's (correctly) not marked comedy, the humor in this story gave me a few chuckles. But as either a story about what love is, or a look at Spike and/or Cadence, Heart to Heart didn't do a lot for me.
Recommendation: If a well-paced but generic "teaching a child what 'love' means" story sounds up your alley, this one will probably do the trick. Otherwise, while it's unlikely to offend (unless you're going to get really bent out of shape about some light sexual humor, I guess; then it might), it's probably also unlikely to excite.
Next time: A Draconequus’ Guide to Immortality, by Argonmatrix