I don't normally pay much attention to Equestria Daily polls, but I want you all to know I'm very disappointed in this recent result:
Characters like Vinyl or Lyra topping the poll? Sure, whatever, I get it--not everyone can have great taste. But How does Carrot Top get only 0.63% of the vote? How does she rank behind Berry Punch, aka "wine joke that the show will literally never make because it's for kids"? How does she rank behind Flitter, aka "I think she's from Hurricane Fluttershy, maybe?"? How does she rank behind Blossomforth, aka "...Wait, which one is she, I literally don't even know which background pony she is"? Seriously, I just googled Blossomforth, and I still don't remember where she's from.
And she still beat Carrot Top in this stupid poll. Fandom, you disappoint me. Whatever; short-form reviews follow, enjoy it (if you're capable of appreciating good things, which barely 100 of you apparently are).
Blackacre, by Princess Woona
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Thirty years before the show is set, an internal dispute between the Equestrian government and the semi-autonomous Blackacre region threatens to burst into full civil war. This is the story of dozens of different ponies, each with their own agendas, and of how intentions went both awry, and horribly right.
A few thoughts: With its six-figure wordcount, Blackacre is quite a bit longer than most of my "casual" reading, but I had had it on my radar for a while; in any event, I found I quite enjoyed the larger part of it. It's a rather bloodier, more cynical vision of Equestria than can be reconciled with the show (this is the source of the AU tag, rather than a specific event change), but it retains a sense of essential pony-ness, even beyond its equine trappings. It also does a nice job of flitting between a great many characters, some of whom are the focus of only a single chapter, in the service of the larger narrative; despite the large cast, I rarely found myself at a loss for any pony's role in the story (even if, as was somewhat more common, I struggled a bit to remember their specific character). What really bothered me, though--especially toward the end--was how important plot or character points seemingly went unresolved. For example, the entire reason the internal debate between Canterlot and Blackacre is important is because Blackacre's territory connects Equestria's southern territories (which can grow food year-round) with the northern ones, and a hard winter is coming on. Yet, despite the conflict between the two dragging on through spring, food issues are all but forgotten after the first third of the story. An open story such as this can accommodate some loose threads, but this fic abandons more than a couple of story arcs, never to return to them, upon which the larger premise hinges. The story also goes to some rather darker places than I was expecting, towards the end; as I said above, it's not a sunshine-and-lollipops story to begin with, but a few brief dips into gore and torture stuck out to me, especially since none of them had any particular payoff (that is, they weren't logical extensions of the story to that point, and weren't used as ongoing plot points). In the end, I found that while my reading journey was often quite enjoyable, too much was forgotten or ignored for me to feel satisfied.
Recommendation: If you don't mind a bit of military bleakness in your ponyfic, and are open to stories which introduce more than they conclude, this is definitely one to take a look at; it's consistently interesting, uses its many characters to good effect, and offers plenty of subtle (and not-so-subtle) nods to how show!Equestria came to be, some thirty years later. If you're looking for a cohesive reading experience, though, this will probably disappoint.
Fridge Horror, by Aragon
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Derpy and Vinyl accidentally summon an eldrich abomination, and the only way to save the universe is for Vinyl to use the magic of friendship to help Octavia. Well, that among other, more obviously universe-saving things.
A few thoughts: And, on the topic of that bit above the break, here's a sequel to Long Story Short, Things Went Down (which I reviewed back here) which features all of the main characters from that story except Carrot Top. Aside from that glaring misfire, however, I enjoyed this story for pretty much the same reasons I enjoyed its predecessor: it's a story about friendship, which functions not so much as a rebuttal of the show (or worse, as something totally unaware of the show despite sharing its nominal setting) as a friendly parody. Aragon sometimes gets a bit to meta for his own good, as when the characters lampshade various illogical happenings directly, and does dwell on shock "jokes" a bit too much for my taste (Lyra stabbing ponies is... wellt the entire joke there is "Lyra is stabbing ponies"). But for the most part the story maintains an air of nonsense-logic which gives the basically nonstop putdowns, wordplay gags, and brick jokes a breezy, irreverent charm.
Recommendation: This isn't for readers looking for anything remotely show-tone, or with a particular aversion to crudity. But those looking for a tightly-packed mix of punnery, deadpan snarking, and (as I put it in my review of Long Story Short) an "almost palpable glee in violating the constraints of logic" will probably enjoy it.