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If you haven't seen it already, the Royal Canterlot Library is doing something a little different to celebrate our second anniversary: we're going to feature a second story from an author who we've already spotlighted once before, and we're looking for reader feedback on what fic we should chose! Details over here--go vote for your favorite(s), or nominate one that hasn't been suggested yet.
And, once you do that, you can head down below the break to see my review of Bradel's A Filly's Guide to Not Making Headlines.
Impressions before reading: I read this story, oh, probably a couple of years ago, when it was still relatively knew, and I remember enjoying it. In fact, I was kind of surprised that I didn't have a mini-review of it up... but I don't, and here we are! As far as first impressions go, the cover and title are certainly eye-catching, which is always a good thing--at least, in and of itself.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Now that Twilight is a princess, the media is eager to report her every word... and unfortunately for Twilight, everything she says is all too easy to twist into a provocative headline. What's a Princess to do?
Thoughts after reading: A lot of humorous stories are based around escalation--either crafting a series of increasingly ridiculous events, or gradually taking an idea to its illogical conclusion. Filly's Guide goes almost the opposite direction; its first chapter opens with the press twisting Twilight's words until a casual observation turns into a virtual declaration of war. The second chapter, by contrast, is filled with Rarity, AJ, and the CMC helping Twilight role-play to practice speaking publicly without giving offense, which falls apart in an amusing but fairly character-humor-based fashion. The third chapter is played almost completely straight; other than a few quips and a snappy one-liner, its mostly a straightforward, comedy-free conclusion.
And it works surprisingly well. Although the middle chapter does introduce some pacing issues (it has about half the story's wordcount, and the majority of the familiar character interactions, to the point where it almost crowds out the setup and conclusion which bracket it), the de-escalation of comedy dovetails nicely with Twilight's arc transitioning to the primary emphasis of the piece--or rather, moving from "joke vehicle" to "narrative focus."
While the writing quality was generally excellent, I did find that character voicing was a bit of a letdown. While Bradel does a nice job of capturing the essences of the characters in their vocabulary and word choice, he ends up going overboard and into caricature territory in some places. Rarity's constant Darlings and Applejack's Sugarcubes become almost comical by the middle of chapter two to name one (two) example(s), with one or the other seemingly popping up in every third paragraph. On the other hand, the sisterly dynamic between Rarity and Sweetie Belle was very amusing and well-played, and the CMC in general were mostly well-utilized; although they're mostly used for comic effect, and are alternately played as deceptively clever and mind-numbingly incompetent to that end, they provide plenty for the adult characters to react to/against, which is what they're mostly there for.
I admit to being a little disappointed by the ending. In terms of plot, this is fairly straightforward; I don't think it's any spoiler to say that in the third chapter, Twilight gets a chance to try and redeem herself to the media. The author tries to play this shot at redemption in what I think of as the "normal" way: she incorporates elements of both Rarity's and Applejack's advice, before adding her own personal touch. The issue is twofold: first, Applejack's advice to Twilight essentially was "be yourself," so two of the three moments feel muddled together. Second, although Twilight incorporates some structural lessons from Rarity (couch criticisms in compliments, ask leading questions, etc.), the ending doesn't make any use of Rarity's worldview--that public speaking and decorum is a game to be played, rather than a problem to be solved. The result is that the ending doesn't really connect the previous parts of the fic as cleanly as it could. With that said, the conclusion is still satisfying; it's just that it fails to draw the lessons of the earlier going together as strongly as it could, instead "settling" for providing a clean and enjoyable resolution to Twilight's arc.
Even as this story transitions from comedy to... well, not serious, particularly, but to something less joke-fueled, it remains entertaining. It's also a fairly predictable piece which doesn't assemble itself into much more than a character growth moment, but it's an enjoyable journey to that point nevertheless.
Recommendation: I think many readers will find this enjoyable, but not particularly memorable; folks looking for a solid blend of comedy and slice-of-life will find exactly that here, and fans of show-style character arcs (if not story plots) will likely find that desire satisfied.
Next time: Flitter, by Nyerguds