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I was recently introduced to the phrase "surrender cobra," which describes a pose, often adopted by disbelieving fans as their favorite team snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, wherein they place their hands on the back of their head with elbows out, not unlike a cobra's hood. I have no strong feelings about the pose itself, but I've gotta say: "surrender cobra" is an inspired name. Catchy, evocative, and descriptive, all at once. A+ phrase-coining to whomever came up with that name!
On an unrelated note, check out my review of Raugos's Night Guards, below the break.
Impressions before reading: The last time I reviewed a Raugos story for a Fandom Classics post, I came away very happy, so I'm hoping for a repeat experience on the quality front. Bat ponies aren't something I specifically feel need a lot of explaining--I've always preferred the "regular pegasai with enchanted armour" theory, and have found attempts to posit an entire other race of ponies who have never once been seen outside of the two guys pulling Luna's Nightmare Night carriage generally unconvincing--but that's down to personal preference. There's not reason to assume this won't be a good story just because it doesn't match my headcanon!
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A thousand years ago, when Princess Luna first became Nightmare Moon, her two most loyal guards stood by her side through it all. Nightmare Moon "rewarded" their loyalty with enhanced strength, endurance, and a terrifying visage--and entrusted them to serve her to their death.
Thoughts after reading: Turns out my pre-reading impressions were inaccurate: I read the description as meaning that this was about how Luna created bat ponies, when in fact this is a story about how she made two specific ponies her bat pony royal guards. Oops!
As for the fic: its greatest strength is in its depiction of the schemes of various characters, from Celestia and Luna down to the ponies that serve them (and some non-ponies as well), all from the limited point of view of Anvil (one of those two guards). The fact that we often only get to see the results of gambits, rather than their planning or even the logic behind them, is frustrating at times, but also gives the story a veneer of realism. Beyond that, it helps sell Anvil as a character, out of his element and in over his head in a world where Nightmare Moon has taken over Equestria and locked Celestia away, but forces both declared and hidden are working to overthrow her. It really does feel like the reader is privy to just one piece of a much larger story, which is clearly the intended effect.
Where this limited perspective causes problems, however, is in the way it makes some major events seem almost comically abrupt. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that the story mostly focuses on the action/adventure elements of the bit of history it's telling--a perfectly valid decision by itself, but one which results in the personal/emotional impacts of events often being understated, or even ignored. The major exception to this is Luna herself, but (to give the most obvious example) the fact that Nightmare Moon uses her magic to permanently, irrevocably transform two ponies into leather-winged, slit-eyed, strength-of-twenty-warriors-ed monsters is addressed solely in terms of improved physical abilities, and the fear they inspire in the populace. And the latter is mostly attributed to their easy association with Nightmare Moon! The point is, remarkably little is done with this, and other, events, which seem like they should have had a much greater personal impact than is shown.
In addition to events feeling abrupt, the action emphasis does tend to downplay ongoing effects in favor of fighting and/or magic. Since "the world is getting colder without the sun(or is it?)" is a continuing thread throughout the story, it's very noticeable at times that the effects of this temperature plunge end up being almost entirely informed effects. This also comes back to perspective (Anvil isn't out in the hardest-hit parts of Equestria, and considering his position he's unlikely to personally experience much privation from blighted crops), but it ends up taking some of the weight away from the larger-scale events which gird the story.
There's also a fair bit of disconnect between depiction and description at times, by which I mean that what characters say and (seemingly) believe doesn't seem to match up well with the facts as those characters understand them. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that Celestia ultimately banishes her sister using the Elements of Harmony (you ...you did know that was eventually going to happen in this fic, right?), and after she does, she (and everypony else) are quick to label the two night guards as traitors to the crown. Which, well, I can see why "the crowd" would go for the catchy line... but Celestia willingly abdicated to Luna in order to prevent Luna from killing a bunch of innocents when they fought. Anvil's (and the other guards') oaths were specifically to the Throne, not to a specific princess (nor, for that matter, to Equestria as a whole). It would've been nice for Celestia to acknowledge, at some point, that they were two of just a handful of ponies who didn't actively betray their oaths at some point in the story. This was the most noticeable place for me, but more than once I found myself wondering at how some character's portrayal failed to mesh with what was actually known about them.
Despite all that, though, this story still works remarkably well at the level of its protagonist. Although Anvil and his companion end up being defined mostly as "the goofy one" and "the stoic one," there's more than enough shades of characterization thrown onto those archetypes to make them enjoyable to read about. And the action in the story is quick-paced, and entertaining without wallowing in the minutia of combat. It's a very readable story, so to speak, and one where it's easy to enjoy the broad sweep of events... even when those events feel only partially conceptualized.
This is the author's first ponyfic, and when you compare it to some of his later works, it shows. With that said, this story is definitely enjoyable in its own right, and the choice of perspective and quick, light pacing neatly mask many of the flaws I've mentioned from a casual reading.
Recommendation: If you're looking for a guard's-level view of conflicts and machinations beyond his pay scale and/or comprehension, or if you're just looking for some light action, this is a good choice. Readers who are frustrated by a lack of answers, or by major events lacking narrative emphasis, may find it more frustrating than enjoyable, though.
Next time: Would it Matter if I Was?, by GaPJaxie