To read the story, click the image or follow this link
And so, the hastily thrown-together and almost entirely one-sided race against PresentPerfect ends in a resounding victory for team Chris, as I become the first reviewer (not counting any reviewer besides the two of us) to review this story! Ah, the sweet taste of success-at-reading-slightly-faster-than-someone-else!
...Okay, that was a little underwhelming. But the more important question is this: is RainbowDoubleDash's Boast Busted underwhelming, or does it live up to the hype? Find out what I think, below the break.
Impressions before reading: This is the first story written (though not the first chronologically) of the sprawling Lunaverse; as I understand it, an AU spanning dozens of stories by various authors which takes the premise that Celestia, not Luna, went crazy 1000 years ago and had to be banished, and that in this world some background ponies and minor characters ended up becoming the Elements of Harmony instead of the main six. That by itself doesn't sound too bad (it's certainly been used as the basis for plenty of fanfics, some of them quite good), but the fact that all of the Lunaverse stories seem, at a glance, to be "such and such episode, but with Cheerilee instead of Pinkie," doesn't have me feeling good; I'm worried that what I'm about to read will end up just being Boast Busters, but with Twilight and Trixie's roles reversed (and the short description, "A sort of reverse of Boast Busters. Read the long description," isn't inspiring much confidence, either). Hopefully there's more here than that, but this is the least optimistic I've been about a story in a while.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: When Trixie puts on a magic show at Ponyville's annual Eventide celebration, her performance is interrupted by a stranger from out of town. That stranger is a mare named Twilight Sparkle, who has spent years studying magic--and wants to know why the so-called Element of Magic isn't doing any real spellcraft.
Thoughts after reading: I'm very pleased to report that my worst fears didn't come to pass; in no way can this story be written off as just a Boast Busters retelling. True, it does follow the same general beats (an interrupted performance, an Ursa being drawn into town, a letter to the Princess at the end, etc.), but it deviates significantly from the episode as dictated by both the different characters involved, and by the change in setting. In fact, I would hold this up as an exemplar of how to write one's own version of something: the connections are both abundant and apparent, but they don't constrain the story, nor rob it of its ability to stand on its own merits.
With that said, this story doesn't do a terribly good job of handling its broad premise--that Trixie and her friends are the Elements of Harmony. This story is necessarily predicated on the reader's familiarity with the source material, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it does mean that the reader should be expected to question anything that isn't either a match for canon, nor its opposite. The fact that Corona (evil Celestia) apparently wasn't reformed by the EoH as Luna was in the show, and has escaped to wage covert war against Equestria, for example, is obliquely shown a few times, but never expanded upon. Given that this doesn't match up with what the reader either knows or expects, some sort of minimal explanation, or at least an account of what happened, would be appreciated (I suspect this is addressed in one of the many other -verse stories, but Boast Busted leaves the subject awkwardly aside). Other matters, like the absence of Spike or a Spike analogue, needn't be addressed directly since they're never directly mentioned, but more than once, an incongruity with reader expectations is introduced, then left totally untended, which makes the setting somewhat harder to envision than it ought to be.
For the most part, characterization is a strong point; Trixie comes off recognizably showboat-y and narcissistic, yet tempered by both her new friends, and her tutelage under a Princess who clearly wasn't afraid to pop her ego when it over-inflated. Raindrops, Carrot Top, and Derpy--the three other Element-bearers who feature meaningfully in this story--get distinct personalities without the author having to resort to verbal tics or narrative checklists to demarcate them, and the "original series" Element-bearers who are mentioned still seem to be themselves. The question mark, however, centers around how Twilight is portrayed in this story, with her lack of social graces turned up to 11 and a callous (albeit, not particularly malicious) disregard for anything standing between her and her studies evident. To a certain extent, I could buy this: this is a world where she doesn't have Spike or Celestia, the two creatures in the show who consistently pulled her back when she became too antisocial, and who repeatedly encouraged her to come out of her shell (one could argue that her brother belongs on that list, too, but I refuse to believe he could have had that big an impact on her, if she could go two years without once mentioning him to any of her friends). Even allowing for that, however, the way her time in Ponyville concluded felt jarring to me, and was one of the few times I felt like the author was following the formula from the show, rather than the dictates of the story he was telling.
There's also the matter of how the story seems to go out of its way to speak ill of the main six (not just Twilight); while I certainly don't have a problem with their flaws being mentioned in the context of the story, it's very noticeable that almost all the verbiage dedicated to Rainbow Dash points out how lazy she is, or that AJ and her family are cast in a mysterious but unmistakably negative light, and this is without getting into Twilight's depiction. To a certain extent, I didn't mind this--I certainly didn't feel any need to see them praised and elevated despite not having saved the world recently--but it gives the entire story a strong whiff of "take that" against canon, which is largely avoided when the subject isn't centered on one of those three ponies.
The biggest thing I can say in praise of this story is that it shows how to adapt a story to its chosen medium. Boast Busters is, of course, a cartoon show, and Boast Busted manages to borrow several of its iconic elements while modifying them to fit a written medium. Time and again, I was impressed by how the undercurrent of humor was kept constant through both dialogue and narrative asides (it was about the time Trixie's narration featured a parenthetical aside wondering about the proper pluralization of "Raindrops" that I realized RainbowDoubleDash and I seem to have similar senses of humor), or how a description of how Trixie fought(/distracted) the Ursa kept the tension high by avoiding overly-detailed lists of events, and instead focused on the flow of character action. Technically, this is a very well-written story (even if it does have a couple of overly goofy construction elements; I didn't need the words "side story" written out before a PoV shift), but more than that, it's an excellent adaptation of something conceived for a very different medium, which hews to the spirit of the original while utilizing the strengths (and avoiding the weaknesses) of a text-based format.
This was, overall, a very enjoyable story, and one that successfully navigated the most dangerous waters it attempted to navigate. That said, it does come across as a rather mean-spirited response to canon in places, and doesn't always do a terribly good job introducing the AU it's set in.
Recommendation: For readers who are actually interested in seeing Twilight taken down a peg, I suspect this story will scratch a vindictive itch while still feeling like a quality product, rather than a mere guilty pleasure. For those interested in exploring the Lunaverse, this serves reasonably well as an introduction thereto. And for general fans of "what if it was somepony else?" premises, this is a solid choice. I wouldn't recommend it to readers at all put off by a sense of authorial malice toward canon characters, however, nor to those looking for something that feels more like a complete piece than an "episode one."
Next time: The Cough, by Ebon Mane