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Hey, a changeling story! It's been a while since I've done one of these for a Fandom Classic post. In fact, you'd have to go back to June to find the last changeling-centric review, and that was of a parody fic; the last review of a serious changeling story was from the beginning of May.
I mention this to pre-empt anyone tempted to glance at the cover art and mutter, "Oh great, another changeling fic." Say what you will about the rest of the fandom, I try my best to vary the subject matter of the fics I review. Now, head on down below the break for my thoughts on Nyerguds' Flitter.
Impressions before reading: Let's take the above-the-break bit as tacit acknowledgement that "[pony] was a changeling all along, and Chrysalis's invasion changed everything for them" is pretty well-traveled ground, and the description doesn't give me much clue what might separate this from the pack. It is nice that the story has an epub download linked in the description, though (one which preserves formatting and the like; seriously, why are FiMFic's native epub downloads still so messed up?), and I'm going to take the author at his word when he says in his bio that he's a "notorious grammar and spelling perfectionist"--while great technical writing can't save a dull story, it's not like it's ever anything but an improvement over poor technical writing. So, there's some positive signs going in.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Flitter has lived with his wife for years, caring for her and their son. But he's not what he seems; all the while he's been disguised as his wife's former boyfriend, who died on a trip many years ago. Then Chrysalis and her army invade, and he finds his disguise stripped away and himself love-blasted far from Canterlot. Now, he needs to figure what to do next... and how to keep his family together.
Thoughts after reading: First, credit where it's due: Flitter is indeed well-edited, and more than that, has a simple, strong structure at the sentence level. Textually, ideas are communicated clearly and concisely; the only technical issue which crops up regularly is a wandering PoV--which extends even into places where dipping into a second character's thoughts is actually impossible, such as when Flitter is recounting how he first adopted a pony form. But those dips aren't terribly distracting in most places, and are the only recurring issue I had on that general front.
No, my issues more often involved pacing and tone. To speak first to the former: the entire story happens at breakneck speed, to the detriment of both believable character reactions and actual physical events. With some of the physical events, it's difficult to tell if the issue is a poor accounting of time, or simply poor event description. Take this example, from the end of chapter one:
The shield blasted outwards like a giant purple glass wall, taking all changelings with it. Despite Flitter's best efforts, there was no way he could stay ahead of it. As the shield smashed into him, he felt his pony form burn away in purple flame. He desperately looked at his hooves as the last glimpses of yellow coat disappeared, making way for the dreaded shiny black of his changeling form.
As the last traces of purple flame vanished, the realization hit him. All his fears had come true. There was no way back; Swift Star was gone, forever.
Feeling utterly defeated, he folded his wings against his body, and let the shield blast him away. It was all over, anyway. He'd never be Swift Star again. He'd fulfilled his promise to the best of his ability, but after this, there was no point in struggling on. As he looked at the ground approaching him with deadly speed, he noticed that, ironically, he was going to end up in the same ravines where Swift Star died.
And now, he'd die there again.In those five paragraphs, Flitter is struck by the love-blast, loses his disguise, hurtles all the way to a distant canyon, resigns himself to death, and is rescued. When I first read the paragraph, I needed to re-read this section to make sure I hadn't missed something; the sheer speed with which the narrative rockets through these events is dizzying.
"Don't you dare leave me!" a voice came from behind him. A blur of pink and mint green shot over the ground into the ravine, collided with him, and shot back up.
Another problem is that, although there's an obvious overarching difficulty which Flitter is facing (undisguised changeling immediately post-invasion), he never faces any serious challenges as a result. His wife accepts who he is within minutes, his son and other ponies often don't even take that long, and even on issues where the morality of his actions really deserves to be questioned... it isn't. Flitter literally took a dead pony's place, by his own admission doesn't particularly resemble that pony in terms of personality or interests. And the question of what right he had to do that to the ponies who never even knew that their son/husband/friend was dead, or who wondered why he changed so much, is never addressed. Flitter simply assures us that he had the dying pony's permission, and while that's certainly good enough to explain why he thought it was okay, it's baffling that nobody else (even Twilight!) thinks this is worth so much as asking about.
On that subject, characterization of canon characters is very questionable. While I don't demand that Twilight be changeling-homicidal, the fact that she's barely even nonplussed when one shows up at her doorstep the day after the wedding, nor even particularly concerned. Voicing problems also arise (I have great difficulty imagining Pinkie Pie saying "Changeling genders must be rather odd"), but once more, the biggest problem is pacing. Characterization is also a problem for the OCs in the story, however; the most obvious example is how Flitter's snarkiness begins to really grate about halfway through the story, as he puts on a "woe is me" routine that he has to keep explaining to ponies that he's not the enemy literally 24 hours after a pack of changelings attacked Canterlot (not that he's being persecuted, particularly, since the ponies always stop putting up a fuss once he explains that he wasn't with the bad changelings; he's upset about what a tribulation it is to tell frightened or fearful ponies that he's a good guy). There's nothing wrong with a character having, in the fic's words, "a way of smoothly shifting between her actions that didn't permit others to say or do anything unless she wanted them to," but when the story rockets by at such speed that a pony meeting her for the first time is observing this before said character has said more than three lines--or has taken any actions--it feels less like one is reading a story than the outline of one.
There's nothing inherently wrong with the concept here--there's a reason "[pony] was a changeling all along, and Chrysalis's invasion changed everything for them" is such well-traveled ground, and that's because it's a strong, solid base to build a story on. But here, the story rushes through events and skips over important ideas too often for it to feel like more than that.
Recommendation: The "also liked" links on the story's FiMFic page point to, unsurprisingly, a lot of stories with similar premises, including several that I've reviewed previously (Thrown Abroad, A Novel Tale, Without a Hive). Fans of the premise, especially those who like strong technical writing and who don't mind filling in the blanks for themselves, might want to give this a look, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone looking for more than that.
Next time: Just Words, by Device Heretic