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I am sick. The good news is that it's not a pain- or body-fuction-based illness, but whatever it is, I've been absolutely exhausted for the past few days. I've been napping all day, and still feeling tired whenever I so much as contemplate getting up to fix myself a meal. Bah.
Well, could be worse, I suppose; "debilitatingly exhausted" is a much better thing to be than... well, than most things where the first word is "debilitatingly." Still, I've got this fic review all ready to post, so I figure I can at least manage to get an above-the-break bit typed up for it, sick or no, right? Right! Now, head on down below for my review of Vargras's Hiatus.
Impressions before reading: Well, I really like the minimalist cover art, and I think "what was Luna up to between the pilot episodes, and when she showed up in Ponyville on Nightmare Night?" is a premise ripe for exploration. I'm also interested to see how this old story (written back in 2011, and started mere weeks after the Nightmare Night episode) holds up, in terms of writing and design.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: After being reformed, Princess Luna discovers that she'll need to remain in Canterlot for a year before she fully regains her power post-Rainbow-ing. It's not what she was hoping to hear, but then again, she has plenty to do in order to prepare for her return to rulership.
Thoughts after reading: Although there are a lot of directions one could go with that premise, Vargras opted for straight slice-of-life; most of the conflicts in this story are low-stakes curiosities, quickly resolved, or both. The author makes this work by keeping chapters short and fluffy (each chapter is a different month), essentially setting up a series of vignettes connected by an overarching theme rather than a more strongly-connected plotline.
This ends up being a good setup for the story, not only in that it's a fine structure in and of itself, but because it obscures some of the plot's weaknesses. The most obvious such weakness, to me at least, was Luna's Canterlot grounding, i.e. the premise of the entire piece: simply put, there's no good reason, based on what we see of Luna and what she's doing, why she should be confined to Canterlot. Yet the fact that her inability to, say, visit Ponyville is wholly arbitrary, while frustrating in and of itself, doesn't sink the whole story the way it might in a more cohesive work. Other bits of capriciousness or story-necessitated idiocy (in the fic, Luna has a recurring dream of Twilight and "five other mares." it takes Twilight and Luna an embarrassingly long time to figure out who those five could possibly be) are likewise individually annoying, but not story-destroying.
What did give me recurring issues were the characters' voices. Luna, of course, is something of a blank slate during the time frame Hiatus takes place over, but Celestia is a pony with a pretty well-established voice, even at the time this story was written. Even allowing for the familiarity she might show to her sister in private, I still can't see Princess Celestia saying "Watcha writing about?" or the like. Too often, she and Luna are both written with the mannerisms and speaking styles of children--though again, this is primarily an issue when it comes to Celestia.
The story is heavily focused on being cute and straightforward, rather moreso than I enjoyed. This is the kind of story where Luna can sway the minds of all of Celestia's diplomats with a single heartfelt speech, and one in which tickle-fights are given place of prominence over and over. The end effect is one I think will appeal to more casual readers--readers who either enjoy unchallenging writing, or who don't do a lot of reading to begin with and who will find quick, fairly shallow solutions mixed with heavy doses of "D'aww" (yes, that's a fic quote) to their taste. On that last note, Hiatus does have a fair number of fandom shoutouts, some of which are dated enough nowadays that readers might not even recognize them as such. If you're the kind of person bothered by a "confound these ponies" or the like, fair warning. That said, I found these to generally be unintrusive in their presentation, which is the big thing I always want to see out of callouts like these.
★★☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Thinking about this fic, I'm reminded of Lawrence Brown's Moonbeam, which I reviewed... jeez, it was over three years ago. Anyway, I said of that story that it was seemingly written for a relatively young audience--for inexperienced readers. I think that this, too, is a fic that will have more appeal for intermediate and/or youthful readers than for people who read a lot of fiction for fun. That's not really something for me, but it's not something I'm about to put down, either. That notwithstanding, there are a number of issues with structure and characterization which exist no matter what one's reading level and experience.
Recommendation: If you're looking for a gateway fic--something to get someone started on fanfiction, or just on reading for fun in general--this would be a good choice for people looking for something light, fluffly, and with just enough of an overarching plot to give it some forward momentum. For readers looking for a more cohesive work, for some complexity of storytelling, or who are put off by voicing issues, this probably isn't for you.
Next time: A Filly’s Guide to Not Making Headlines, by Bradel