Monday, February 22, 2016

Fandom Classics Part 151: The Three Sisters

To read the story, click the image or follow this link.

Recently, a site I regularly visit has been running the same "sponsored ad" every time I got there: "You won't believe these websites really exist!"  I haven't clicked the link yet, but I've been thinking... what if OMPR is on there?  Wouldn't "this man reads fanfiction, then writes lengthy reviews of their style, structure, and content.  And he's been doing it three times a week for four and a half years" be the sort of thing a normal person would react to the existence of with befuddlement and disbelief?

Well, if my site is on there, then all I can say is that they need to up their advertising budget.  I don't know who else they're showing that ad to, but I haven't seen a flood of new visitors from them yet.  Anyway, add one more to a list of fanfic reviews that's already "weirdly long:" my thoughts on Wanderer D's The Three Sisters, below the break.

Impressions before reading:  This story's sequels are regular features near the top of FiMFics all-time highest-rated stories (although the list is volatile, both sequels are among the top ten all-time as I type this).  That top-ten list is, at the moment, an eclectic mix in terms of "what Chris thought of them:" it's got one story that's 4-starred, and another that's an RCL inductee, but it's also got some stuff that I'd call "typical feature-bait."

That's all a long-winded way of saying "this story's pretty popular, but it may or may not be good."  Never say in 12 words what you can say in 78, right?

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  The love-blast which sends Chrysalis and her minions flying away from Canterlot also reveals that Rarity is, herself, a changeling.  Locked in a Canterlot prison and faced with demands to tell Twilight and the girls where the "real" Rarity is, she tells the story of how she came to be who--and what--she is today.

Thoughts after reading:  The story plays coy, at first, with which of the main six is a changeling, though I'm not entirely sure why.  It keeps Rarity's name in abeyance for the first scene, which as far as I can tell serves no purpose except to muddy her last line (making it seem like "don't let my sister see me" is referring to Chrysalis, rather than Sweetie Belle) and to generally make the opening difficult to visualize.  Once past that, though, the story smooths out, insofar as "makes sense" is concerned--at least, somewhat.

The larger part of the story switches back and forth between Rarity telling her story, and the story itself, but "the story itself" starts two scenes before Rarity begins telling her story, which seems to me a supremely odd decision.  It rather undermines the story-within-a-story idea, leaving it feeling more like an intermittent flashback than anything else.  Yet, the conceit is explicitly that this is being told in-character, with ponies interrupting to ask for additional information and the like.  The result is that movement between scenes is awkward, with it often not being clear how the reader ought to interpret something (as fact, in-universe narrative, or strict recollection).

The story itself is essentially a vehicle for an interesting bit of headcanon, though the pieces used to explore it are rather lackluster.  The titular three sisters are each given a clear personality trait, but little else to define themselves; (young)Rarity's role in the story is entirely reactionary; the diamond dogs take on (with surprisingly murderous tendencies, considering their sole canon appearance) the role of psychopathic baddies; and back in the "present," the story plays through all the typical beats (yes, they were already typical in mid-2012 when this was published) of a "the main six discover that one of them is a changeling" fic.  There's nothing wrong with that last bit, of course--at least, not when there's something else of interest to carry the story beyond the level of paint-by-numbers, as is the case here--but combined with the rest, it makes for a story with well-defined but fundamentally uninteresting characters.

Still, there is at least the "something else of interest to carry the story," to whit: the explanation for how a) Rarity is a changeling, but b) she didn't replace the "real" Rarity somewhere along the line.  The explanation is an interesting enough one, and answers those questions in a satisfying way.  But where it falls short is in being anything other than a simple explanation.  It doesn't build on changelings as race, nor does it inform or shed light on Rarity's character.  It answers a question, but it never goes past that to tell the reader anything that's more than academically interesting.  Essentially, the story ends up being the literary equivalent of solving a problem that didn't exist until you created it; it's an interesting idea, but it doesn't tell us anything outside of the confines of its own creation.

Star rating:

Although there's an interesting idea here, that's ultimately all there is--and that interesting idea is more interesting in the abstract than in context.  Couple that with a variety of construction issues and the like, and while this might not be a bad story by any stretch, it's hard to recommend it too enthusiastically.

Recommendation:  For those who are interested in something in the "X is a changeling" genre that has a bit more to it than just, well, "X is a changeling," this might provide that.  Readers looking for strong story assembly or nuanced characters should probably give it a pass, though.

Next time:  Arachnophobia, by Dennis the Menace


  1. I wasn't expecting a fantastic rating, but neither was I expecting a one star. Though, now that this one is out of the way, I have to ask - have you got any plans to cover the sequels? Because if you ask me, the sequels would make for very good reviews, since their flaws and merits are entirely different than those of the original.

    1. While I typically prioritize new stories over sequels (the logic being that, once a person's read or not read a story based on my review, they're usually in a fairly good position to judge if they want to read a sequel on their own), I've had both sequels to this story recommended to me specifically as being worth reviewing on their own merits. That being the case, I'm thinking that I probably will.

  2. Be glad you didn't hear the audiobook about Princess Poopa. <.<

  3. Hm, the only part I'd openly disagree with is that they were "already typical", TTS was one of the first M6 is a changelings fics in fimfic.

    Other than that, thanks for reviewing it, Chris!

    1. I distinctly remember seeing several (i.e. more than one or two, but not necessarily a LOT more) circulating after the Canterlot Wedding episode, but before the school year ended (first week of June, around here), but fair's fair: I went and looked through the other "early" changeling stories I've reviewed, and none of them predate yours. At the very least, I'll gladly concede that yours was one of the first "X is a changeling" stories to go big.

      Glad you appreciated the review otherwise!

  4. It feels like your ratings don't correlate as well with my appreciation of a fic as they used to. I read this one almost two years ago and liked it well enough (though I didn't feel it was Fandom Classics material). I guess that does fit your description of what a one-star rating denotes (maybe closer to a two), but it definitely doesn't match my original experience with the rating system, which was pretty close to how I would personally rate a fic. Do you feel your standards have changed at all in the 4-1/3 years you've been running OMPR?

    1. I think there are a few factors in play. First off, while I think my standards haven't changed conceptually, it should be clear from even a cursory glance at my early reviews compared to my more recent ones that my ability and focus as a reviewer aren't the same. The former is a wholly positive change (my early 6-star reviews were... not all that great), but the latter is more subjective. People change as they get older, and maybe early-30s Chris sees the world--and, more relevantly, fanfiction--a little differently than late-20s Chris did.

      On this particular fic, there's also the fact that it fell into that always difficult-to-evaluate "interesting bit of headcanon, but not much else" category (Mood Wings was another story that I ended up giving 1-star to for similar reasons, though that story and this one aren't really comparable in any other regards).

      And, of course, there's also the fact that I didn't used to be able to review stories that were three and a half years old, because the fandom itself wasn't that old. Maybe if you re-read the story today, you'd feel differently about it than you did when you first read it.

      ...Or maybe not. Or maybe you'd like it even more! My point, though, is that introducing a lengthy gap between when one reads a story and when one reads a review of it means that there's plenty of time for one's opinion of the story to change, via rose-tinted goggles, hype backlash, and whatever else. I'm not saying any of those are at work here specifically, but if my ratings aren't matching up with what you think they ought to be as well as they used to, it's a potential culprit.

      There's (at least) one more possible explanation: that I wrote a bad review. I certainly do that from time to time, and I'm lucky enough to have had some of my shortcomings pointed out to me in the past--one nice thing about the review culture around ponyfiction is that it extends even to reviews themselves. Of course, I'd HOPE that's not the issue if we're talking about my reviews in general rather than about one in particular, but it's possible.

      Does any of that ring true to you?

    2. I don't think you wrote a bad review. It has been awhile since I've read The Three Sisters, but everything you've said about it matches an old comment I made shortly after reading the fic and what little I can remember of it. The only issue is the rating itself, though it's perfectly in line with what you've stated a one-star means

      If you gave me a list of the criteria from your Star Ratings: What They Mean post, but without the accompanying stars, I'd probably go with the two-star description (possibly one-star. Like you said, I could feel differently about it now). So I agree with your review and (sticking solely to your criteria) the rating

      Maybe the problem's that I've changed. Maybe 2011 Oats would've clicked the thumbs down button instead of saying "meh, it was OK"