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You know how some ethnically/culturally insulting names lose the "insulting" aspect as society changes? Like, "french toast" was orignally a method poor people used to make stale bread palatable, but now that the food item's lost the connotation of poverty, nobody thinks of it as being a slight against the French?
I find myself wondering if, in the not-too-distant future, "going dutch" will also lose its stigma. As dating slowly, haltingly moves away from some of its traditional gender norms, e.g. "the man should pay for everything," will "going dutch" stop meaning that the guy's a cheapskate and just become a synonym for "fair?" Maybe! Who knows?
Okay, tangent over. Let's get on to the matter at hand: fanfiction reviews. My thoughts on Pearple Prose's Gods-In-Law, below the break.
Impressions before reading: Well, it's Twilestia, which is a ship I find ethically problematic for a whole host of reasons, so I'm not exactly optimistic going in. Still, this story was recommended to me by two different people who I know also dislike Twilestia (one said the shipping angle was "unnecessary," but praised the story's other elements), so I'm hoping that, if nothing else, this is a lot less abuse-of-trust-y I reflexively fear that it is.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: After a dinner with Twilight's family, Celestia reluctantly agrees to take her marefriend to meet her parents. However, there's a very good reason why Celestia doesn't talk much about her family...
Thoughts after reading: For the sake of clarity, let's talk about the reasons why I and many others find Twilestia an inherently problematic romance (at least, when the two are shipped at more-or-less show-contemporaneous ages, as they are here). There are two primary issues with the ship, which can both be filed under the heading "unequal partnership." First, there's the age difference: Twilight is a young adult, while Celestia is a thousand years and change old at the bare minimum. Second, there's the nature of their pre-existing relationship: Twilight has been Celestia's pupil for a large chunk of her life, and adding a sexual dynamic to a student-teacher relationship... well, hopefully, the reasons why people find that disturbing don't need to be expounded upon.
Both of these, ultimately, come down to "Twilight and Celestia can't/won't/don't see each other as equals," and any Twilestia story which doesn't want to alienate a large chunk of readers is going to need to do something to assuage the concern that Twilight isn't an equal partner--that she doesn't feel like she can say "no" to Celestia, that she still places Celestia on enough of a pedestal that their romance is or could be about doing what she thinks Celestia wants, etc. Something to ground it firmly as "romance" rather than "statutory rape."
Unfortunately, Gods-In-Law is a virtual how-to when it comes to writing inaccessible Twilestia. The relationship dynamic is basically "mother-daughter, but with the implication that they're shtupping," and Twilight's primary mode of interaction with Celestia is pleading and wheedling. Celestia, for her part, treats Twilight more as a tool than as a person (to the story's credit, it at least shows some self-awareness on this front), and shows an unwillingness to communicate with Twilight on any but her own terms which, given their "romance," made my skin crawl.
But even if we were to leave aside the shipping altogether--after all, this is an unambiguous Twilestia story, and there's a certain subset of shippers who find the power dynamics inherent to their relationship a draw rather than a character-destroying cringefest--there are a lot of problems here in terms of concept and execution. Well, the technical construction is excellent, but there's little else to praise here. The pacing is awkward, with the first half being light comedy and semi-drunken goofiness before abruptly transitioning to the meeting with Celestia's parents, who can perhaps best be described as a pair of Dr. Manhattans (Dr.s Manhattan? (Dr.s Manehattan?)), except even less self-aware. The second half is full of pretentious pseudo-ethical "debate," as Twilight gasps out blindingly obvious statements to the awe of everyone involved, and the ending leaves a beyond-sour taste in my mouth. Without getting too spoilery, it turns out her parents are of the "preventable mass deaths for the greater good" school of villainy, and Celestia reacts to this more as an embarrassing faux pas than as... well, than as them being a couple of genocide-enablers. Here's an an analogy I used to describe my feelings about it:
Suppose we wrote a story about someone whose grandfather regularly murdered homeless drifters and sold their organs on the black market... but he'd learned to do it during the Great Depression to make ends meet, and the main characters treated it the way Celestia acted at the end of this story. "Oh it's absolutely awful, and I hate how Grampa keeps killing those hobos. But, I mean, I get it. He's just never had to change, you know? Parents are dumb, amirite?"Celestia comes off as a casual sociopath (which, incidentally, only reinforces some of the Twilestia issues mentioned above), and the portrait painted of Equestria isn't so much "deep," or even simply "darker than the show," as it is "thoughtlessly, reflexively cynical." That by itself would be unfortunate, but when just a couple thousand words before the narrative was doing things like cracking jokes Celestia's drunken slurring and Cadence and Shining Armour's all-night-and-into-the-morning sexathon, it's a bizarrely ill fit.
★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
This is one of those stories that doesn't hold up well to more than a modicum of thought. Even for readers who don't have an issue with the central ship, there's a lot here that simply doesn't work from a narrative, character, or structural standpoint.
Recommendation: I suppose that if you are the sort of person who finds romantic power imbalances alluring rather than disturbing (or alluring because they're disturbing, for that matter) and don't care about consistent or sensible tone, then this might be tolerable enough. But I can't think of any group of readers I'd actively recommend this to.
Next time: Martial Bliss, by Skywriter