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Question: has anyone written a ponification of The Red Headed League starring Carrot Top? Well, I guess starring someponies else as Holmes and Watson, and featuring Carrot Top as the titular redhead, but you get my meaning. I don't particularly want to write it, but I'd really like to read it. And surely there are enough Holmes crossovers out there for that particular story to have been done before. Right?
Well, let me know if you're aware of one. And if one doesn't yet exist, consider this an excellent way to get yourself on the Chris-review shortlist! Meanwhile, let's turn our attention from things I hope exist to things that demonstrably do exist, to whit: my review of N00813's Schemering Sintel. Check it out, below the break.
Impressions before reading: This is one that's been recommended to me several times, and in fact has been on my radar ever since it hit Equestria Daily... three, four years ago? Something like that. Anyway, I suppose my biggest concern going in is the plethora of tags (Gore, Adventure, Dark, Drama, Sad, and Tragedy)--my experience has been that average story quality begins to drop rapidly as the number of tags increases. But that's just anecdotal averages; I've heard enough postive things about this particular story that I'm going in hopeful it's an outlier, in a positive sense.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Ten years ago, Spike was stolen from Twilight. Now, she's finally found him, and she's going to save him--no matter what it takes.
Thoughts after reading: The first thing I want to talk about with this story is its age, and specifically the fact that it's a S2 fic. This is relevant in a few obvious ways (Twilight is still a unicorn, still lives in the treebrary at the time of Spike's abduction, etc.), and a few that are easier to forget. Specifically, after two seasons the girls had left Equestria exactly once (twice, if you consider Appleoosa "outside of Equestria;" I'm not sure whether a clear frontier analogue counts as "abroad"), and it was much easier to portray to larger world as a cynical, dark place. I say this because, in the wake of five-and-counting seasons of the show, the bleak, jaundiced portrayal of the world and its denizens feels insufficiently set up and discordant. Viewed through the canon to date, however, the setting becomes a grim but valid interpretation.
Some things haven't changed so significantly, however. Twilight's character and personality was well-established after two seasons, and where Schemering shines is in showing how an introverted, naive bookworm can become a cold, calculating killer. Also impressive to me is how Twilight's development as a character doesn't stop, or even really catalyze, at any one point; it's a slow, almost imperceptible change, and the story's most dramatic moments aren't necessarily built around when she changes, but instead are waypoints that show what she's become. This story makes the case that one tough decision doesn't define who someone is; rather, tough decisions demonstrate who someone is already.
I was surprised to find that the dramatic climax came just a little more than halfway into this story, and when I saw that, I felt more than a little concerned; having about 12,000 words left in an under-30k fic is a long denouement. But in general, I felt like it was used to good effect. Since this story is about showing what Twilight has become--and what she still is, after the climax has come and gone--it was important for the story to explore what comes after she's finally found Spike, after all. I want to particularly praise the story's very end for poignantly driving home its central theme, and elegantly emphasizing how much Twilight has changed--and what parts still remain the same.
The writing is strong in technical terms, with good word use and smooth-flowing action sequences. I occasionally found the descriptions on those action sequences overly-vague, but personally, I find that preferable to excessively detailed descriptions which bog down the pace (not ideal, obviously, but preferable). I did take some exception to the way the flashbacks were used in the early chapters, however. To be clear, I had no problem with the concept--the first few chapters frequently slip back and forth from the ten-years-in-the-future "present" to some of the relevant moments from her journey. These shifts are delineated with italics, so they're obvious enough, but I still found several of the jumps inobvious. Despite the fact that there were essentially only two timelines being followed at any point, more than once I needed several paragraphs to figure out exactly what was going on. The narrative coalesces eventually, and as I said, the flashback-ing is conceptually solid, but I found it was, on occasion, a detraction from my reading experience.
Despite how I started my review, dark and violent stories have and always have had a significant hurdle to overcome in order to be taken seriously; fiction based on a show whose tagline is literally "Friendship is Magic" is going to require some in-story justification to stray too far from the (very broad) tone of the show. Schemering Sintel accomplishes that with flying colors.
Recommendation: While this might not be a great choice for readers who don't want to read stories of the "shot to hell by later canon" variety, it's definitely one I would recommend to people looking for intelligent (entirely non-meta) commentary on characterization, and to fans of darker and more cynical--but still distinctly pony--stories in general.
Next time: Regarding the Need for Sex Education, by GaPJaxie