Monday, December 21, 2015

Mini-Reviews Round 112

Just two stories this time... but they're both Christmas Heart's Warming themed.  That's something, right?  Besides, they're a combined 40,000 words; surely, that's enough pony words for you, right?

Ah, who am I kidding; there's no such thing as "enough pony words."  Still, get my thoughts on a few more of 'em--words, that is--below the break.

A Hearth's Warming Wassailing, by Airstream

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight's followers, deep in the Everfree, are dangerously low on food and supplies as midwinter approaches.  In the midst of crisis, she must learn to be the leader her people need--and to trust herself.

A few thoughts:  This story left me seriously confused, at first; it turns out it's in the same continuity as a few of the author's other fics (Lines and Webs and Dusk's Dangerous Game), despite not being labeled as such.  So, the fact that Twilight is dating an pegasus from an Italian-themed paramilitary force, is in a state of ill-defined hostility with Princess Celestia (Equestria and Twilight's people don't seem to be at war, precisely, but it's unclear what the relationship between the nations/groups is), and that something undefined has happened to the rest of the main six (for example) kept me from fully appreciating this story.  But beyond my regular confusion, there was a lot to enjoy here.  Airstream does a good job of balancing slow drama with lighter fare and asides of every sort (from impromptu snowball fights to extra-cultural Hearth's Warming legendarium), and the writing is a pleasure to read in its own right.  This is a story that manages to convey a lot of "warm fuzzies," so to speak, without sacrificing quality or storytelling.  And even without knowing some frankly essential things about the who, what, and when of this story, Twilight's growth is still strong and believable enough to enjoy on its own merits.

Recommendation:  Far and away, my biggest "problem" with this story is that it's an unmarked sequel/side story.  Readers who are familiar with the author's other writing should definitely check this out if they haven't already, and those who haven't but feel comfortable with large parts of the setting/setup being undefined (and occasionally, all but unguessable) might want to give it a look if they're in the mood for something seasonal which is nevertheless engaging on its own merits.

Bonds of Glory: A Hearth's Warming Story, by Taialin

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A natural disaster leaves Ponyville facing darkness and freezing temperatures, with no end in sight.  As princess, Twilight must do what she can to help and protect the ponies under her care.

A few thoughts:  This may have a vaguely similar idea to Wassailing, but it's a completely different beast.  On the plus side, it can be read independent of anything else (well, except basic familiarity with the show, I guess).  On the downside, this is a fic that goes heavy on the over-dramatics to set mood and stakes, both in setting and in events.  There's also a very questionable understanding of the dangers of cold weather on display; things like Twilight not consolidating ponies to reduce the number of rooms that needed to be heated earlier I can at least accept as in-character mistakes, but the depiction of frostbite as, essentially, a disease (one you "catch" and which continues to progress even days after you've gotten out of the cold) made the dramatic apex of the fic feel frankly silly to me (I also found the juxtaposition between the high-magic, character-based storytelling with the story being kicked off by a sub-extinction-level asteroid strange, but that might just be me).  With that said, the characterization is a strong point; the situations the ponies have to react to might feel overly blunt, but the way they do react to them always felt true to character for me.

Recommendation:  This is a bit corny, and a bit heavy-handed, but I thought it was still sweet and well-paced.  Readers who don't mind a sometimes-strange admixture of magic and (sometimes wrong) science in their ponyfic, and who aren't sensitive to story events feeling contrived, will probably find this to be a pleasant character piece with more than a couple of heartwarming moments.

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