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One more week of school! We're almost there, and you can bet that the kids know it; the checked-out ones are even more checked-out than usual, and even the on-the-ball ones have their attentions turned elsewhere. But while school may have a (fast-approaching) offseason, fanfic-reading sure doesn't! Click below for my thoughts on Princess Twilight Sparkle's 500th Birthday, by Autumnschild.
Impressions before reading: I am, like, 90% sure I've read this story before, and if it's the one I'm thinking of, I found it enjoyable but kind of ephemeral. On the other hand, it's not marked as read on my FiMFic profile, and I don't see a copy of it among my fanfic downloads, either. Maybe I'm thinking of something else.
...Yeah, this was pretty much the least informative IBR ever, wasn't it?
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Princess Twilight Sparkle, ruler of Equestria, spends her morning with her newest student... starting at two A.M.
Thoughts after reading: For a story with a such a declaratively hook-y title, this is a remarkably unfocused work. Each of its four chapters (one of which is temporally removed from the others, but the rest of which are basically scene breaks, chronology-wise) has one or two general foci, but those rarely have much interconnection. This story has some goofy bits, some wistful bits, and some cute/cuddly moments, but I'm not convinced that they combine into anything greater than the sum of their parts.
On the other hands, they mostly work well as individual moments. A few of the grosser gags didn't work for me, but that was a matter of personal taste rather than any story defining flaw--and in any case, the kind of "gross" I'm talking about is pretty mild. Meanwhile, Twilight feels equally at home trying to mentor, and in her more "homey" state. Besides that, there are a lot of small touches that show how she's changed and grown over these 500 years, while still keeping her personality clearly recognizable as Twilight Sparkle. That's a tough balancing act to pull off, but 500th Birthday threads the needle smoothly.
That does occasionally make me feel a little queasy about Twilight's rulership style--of the three reasons she gives for choosing her new student, the first two are essentially "whimsy" and "nepotism," which sticks in my craw a bit. But I can't argue that those aren't seemingly common traits of Equestrian government (and her third reason's better, anyway). In other ways, this story bothers me in the sense that it shows Equestria's rulers seem to care little for the lives or wellbeing of anypony whom they don't have a personal relationship with... but never in such a way that I can't at least acknowledge that the presentation is a valid interpretation of equine theories of governance.
The writing is a bit of a mixed bag. The big issue here is narrative voicing and PoV; the story drifts between its two characters' perspectives, as well as into a neutral perspective, every few paragraphs, and those changes are accompanied by a resultant change in narrative voicing; matching Twilight's vernacular, or her student's breathlessness. The problem is that those shifts aren't always readily apparent, and it's jarring to go from Twilight ruminating to a hyperactive run-on. Beyond this, though, the writing is a strong point: the character voicing is strong and clear, the descriptions vivid without being excessive, and the prose pleasantly undistracting.
To go back to the ruminations mentioned above: as might well be expected from a story starting Twilight and set well in the show's future, this story touches on most of her friends, as well as other bits and pieces of her--and Equestria's--past. These are usually pleasantly vague, filling in necessary touches without feeling clunky or over-exposition-y. One bit (Rarity) seemed rather incomplete to me, but to be fair, that appears to be sequel bait. On the whole, the way the story connects to the past, even as it tells the story of Twilight and her student, is an undeniable plus.
Although it's a rambling, unfocused trip, this story is still pleasantly readable throughout.
Recommendation: Readers who dislike frequent, sudden, or unclear PoV shifts will probably want to avoid this story, and some may find it too thematically groundless to draw a lot from. For readers who enjoy a SoL approach to their worldbuilding, this is an excellent choice, and more broadly, those seeking what we might dub a "comfy" reading experience should give this a shot.
Next time: A Perfectly Ordinary Day In Ponyville, by The Equestrian Gentlecolt