To read the story, click the image or follow this link
As of Sunday evening, my fantasy football team made the playoffs! It was a hard road; despite being the third-best team in a twelve-team league by points scored, I was barely scraping a .500 record, and needed a win last night to advance. But, despite starting Andy Dalton at QB (total week 14 contribution: 1 point), DeAngelo Williams and the Carolina defense carried me over the top in a nailbiter. Woo!
...Yes, I know, nobody cares about other peoples' fantasy football teams. But a man's got to celebrate a little, you know? That over and done with, let's move on to my review of Sunchaser's A Finer Vintage, below the break.
Impressions before reading: A romance in which Celestia and Luna are the only tagged ponies--even if it's also a comedy--really doesn't sound like my kind of thing. On the other hand, the description says that the T rating is for "tipsy princesses" as opposed to, say, "incest," so hopefully I'm misinterpreting the tags/cover art. More broadly, "drunk ponies" isn't really my favorite genre, but if this story uses that as a vehicle to look at Celestia post-changeling invasion and/or to make some jokes more obvious than the usual slurred speech/lowered inhibitions/general playing-against-type that are the default for "drunk pony" stories, that would be something I could absolutely get behind.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Celestia sneaks off from Cadence and Shining Armour's wedding reception early, and Luna follows. Together, they drink and discuss how their plans for the wedding went all wrong, Celestia's guilt over Nightmare Moon, the last time they've felt their hearts flutter, and more.
Thoughts after reading: This is a very unfocused piece. At the beginning, I thought it was going to be a simple (but not necessarily unenjoyable) dry comedy, but over the course of 8,000 words it also took turns at showcasing chessmastery princesses, sincere emotional breakdowns, drunken pranking, shipping, and finally to slice-of-life cuteness. None of those are necessarily bad things, but they don't all play together well here.
Take the shipping as an example (did you think I was going to start anywhere else?). This story takes the "Celestia and Luna aren't actually sisters, they just call each other that because they're both thousands of years old" tack, which actually doesn't bother me... but this idea isn't well incorporated into the rest of the story. Leaving aside how it's not brought up until after the girls start making out (I'd have liked to establish the relationship between the two first, under the circumstances), and how its abrupt introduction feels more like an assurance to the reader than a bit of in-character conversation, there's the matter of how this recasts the first two-thirds of the fic. Simply put, the two act like sisters of the literal sort, and refer to each other exclusively as such, throughout the start of the story, and re-reading those segments with the understanding that they're only figuratively sororal doesn't really work. Likewise, the ending is funny and a bit sweet on its own... but only if one divorces it from the rest of the story, to which it's rather tonally inappropriate.
Consistency is also lacking when it comes to character voicing. Although alcohol might give broad lattitude to alter a character's speaking style, the ever-shifting formality (or lack thereof) with which Celestia and Luna speak is notable throughout the story. For example, in the space of a single exchange, Luna has the lines "That put a great weight on your shoulders, Celestia, one that you've been committed to bearing for so long that you perhaps, at times, forget how much it can strain you," and "I had my fling with crazy, and I got over it, and I'm not going anywhere." The sentiments may mesh well, but the speech patterns don't. On that subject, I should add that this story has some rather poorly-executed Ye Olde Equestrian in the early going ("Dear sister...why dost thee have about thyself three bottles of vintage?"), but thankfully Luna drops into modern vernacular almost immediately after she enters the story.
If this story doesn't hold together well, however, it's fair to say that its constituent parts are all relatively enjoyable. I liked the matter-of-fact presentation of Celestia's decision to get drunk. Although I didn't find the explanation for why Celestia's behavior during A Canterlot Wedding was all a clever ruse to be convincing, I liked the idea of it well enough, and thought it was a good springboard to look at her self-doubt and recrimination. And as mentioned, I didn't hate the shipping, and thought the end was fine when treated as an independent entity rather than a conclusion to a larger whole. Part of this is generally high-quality writing; although perspective wanders (outside of the intentional perspective shifts between Celestia and Luna, I mean), and there's one egregious moment where the narrator breaks the fourth wall, word choice and sentence structure are for the most part strong points in this story, with an excellent balance struck between adding enough detail to sell the light humor of the fic, and not letting digressions or overlong sentences interrupt the story's flow. But even on a strictly conceptual level, the core impetuses (I'd like it to be "impeti," but sadly that's not even slightly correct) of each scene are reasonably well-presented. The result is a fic that's fairly pleasant to read at any given moment, but not one that holds together well.
★★☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
I think the last sentence of the review proper synopsises my feelings about A Finer Vintage pretty well, actually. Re-read that if you want the executive summary.
Recommendation: Readers looking for a rambling, wide-ranging look at Celestia and Luna's responsibilities and relationship might well enjoy this, but those looking for something cohesive, or which simply follows up on its developments and themes, will probably find it unsatisfying.
Next time: Awakening, by solocitizen