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I don't know exactly when I first watched Aladdin and the King of Thieves, but it was probably around the time when it was released on VHS, (1996). As part of a compare-contrast lesson (and so that the kids can watch a movie at the end of the year), a couple of my classes are watching it this week. There's a lot of referential humor in it that I definitely didn't get when I first saw it, and I was pleasantly shocked to discover that "that familiar voice" was John Rhys-Davies. But one thing leapt out at me: in the movie, one of the palace guards discovers the password to the Forty Thieves' lair, and brings a crew to ambush and arrest them in their cave... then proceeds the flub the line, crying "Open... caraway!"
It took me almost twenty years to get that joke, and it was in no way worth it. Whatever; my review of Cold in Gardez's All the Mortal Remains, below.
Impressions before reading: Well, I'm a big fan of CiG's writing in principle, but this one's new to me; on the other hand, I thought that the author's gimmick (which he talked about in a blog post I read) of "Twilight talks to each of the other main characters, each of which knows one truth and one lie about the subject," sounded pretty, well, gimmicky. Hopefully that's not the case, but regardless I still have high expectations for this one.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: In the aftermath of Tirek's destruction of the Golden Oaks Library, Twilight discovers an urn which had lain hidden in the basement since before she came to Ponyville.
Thoughts after reading: To start, the gimmick: to my relief, it was left understated, to the point where I might not even have noticed had I not a) been specifically forewarned, and b) reading for a review (as opposed to giving the story a more casual read-through). Twilight's conversations with her friends are short but natural, the "two facts, one of which contradicts or builds opposite a previous friends' assertion" setup being worked into actual dialogue rather than presented in a more blatant, less immersive way. On a similar note, despite this story belonging to the "pony visits each other pony in turn, each getting their own scene" school of storytelling, it largely avoided imparting the sensation that a series of boxes were being checked as Twilight moved through the story. With, perhaps, the exception of Pinkie, each scene from this section of the story feels like both an integrated part of the larger whole, and a logical, unforced piece of Twilight's week.
As I was hoping, the writing was excellent throughout; in addition to the strong dialogue, Gardez does some nice things with Twilight's narrative voice, using word choice to subtly emphasize mood. In places, this leads to swings which I found rather too abrupt. A very early example: the sentences "The whole world could have fallen to Tirek, and the future would have held nothing but ghosts and entropy, a wasteland named in his honor, and an unbroken silence extending on forever" and "I leaned over to place a quick smooch on his forehead before he could draw away – he hated that mushy stuff, especially in public" are separated by a single paragraph, and while they do draw a distinction between her ruminations on the fate of Equestria and her happily less-complicated relationship with Spike, the speed of that swing in phrasing immediately struck me. Still, the vast majority of the time, variations in word choice by Twilight-the-narrator were to the benefit of the story.
This is a fairly heavy story; the plot centers around Twilight figuring out what to do with another pony's remains, after all, and it also deals extensively with Twilight losing her home. To his credit, Gardez uses a light touch throughout, avoiding heavy moralizing (the ending leaves several questions blessedly unanswered, or at least open to interpretation). In particular, Fluttershy's scene could easily have come off as inappropriately dark, but the gentle handling here makes it feel like a natural outgrowth of her role in Ponyville.
My favorite element of the story, though, was the race-building that went into it. Throughout the story, the author weaves bits an pieces of unicorn, pegasus, and earth pony lore and culture; from the offhanded observation that cremation is more common among pegasi than the other races to much deeper cultural assumptions, there's a huge amount of "shading in the racial outlines," to borrow a phrase, going on in this story--and all of it around the edges. For a story that clocks in at under 10k words, that's important for two reasons: first, its presence gives the work depth that short stories sometimes struggle to attain. And second, the fact that it never becomes the fic's raison d'etre means that it doesn't muddy the focus. As it is, the twin foci are Twilight dealing with the destruction of the library, and the mystery of the urn. These two plotlines are kept carefully connected and play into one another well, even before the conclusion ties the two together, and the result is a story which feels tight-knit despite its dual narrative lines.
This is the fourth CiG story I've given a long-form review... and the forth CiG story I've given four stars ("This story was well-written, interesting, and engaging. It is an undeniably impressive bit of writing"). Cold in Gardez: king of Chris-review quality consistency.
Recommendation: Readers looking for a serious but not overwrought story about death and moving on will find what they're looking for here.
Next time: The Brief Reign of Princess Twily, by Forthwith