(Below the break, as always)
Snarkle follows up his heaviest story, after a fifteen month publishing gap, with his first FIMFiction-original story, and one of his lightest. “CMC ART” is a 1700-word comedy about what it says in the title. The punchline is pretty good, and there are some fairly funny lines along the way, like Pinkie’s “Now, this is sort of an emergency party, so I only have three different kinds of cupcakes and one kind of punch, but that’ll be okay! Let’s PARTY!” and, in narration, “The party lasted well into early evening.” But jokes were pretty widely spaced, and with only one story-level joke, I would have welcomed it if the story came closer to FIMFiction’s 1000-word minimum.
Mere days later comes the next entry, “Dream and Memory,” the only story closely tied to “Two Ponies” and a return to some of Snarkle’s key strengths. What’s new is the focus on sex: it’s a diary entry by Smudge sometime after meeting Cayenne, detailing a wet dream he had about Copper Key. Although certainly erotic, nostalgia for a love that at most might have been, but never was, is the main emotion I took from the scene. Although most of the text covers their foreplay and sex, the sense of time in the dream covered hours of the two merely sitting together, content and at peace with the sun and the stars.
It’s very worth reading for anyone who enjoyed “Two Ponies” and isn’t repelled by explicit sexual content in pony fiction, but it does contain the one case I noticed in Snarkle’s work where a writing error noticeably impinged on readability (otherwise there are some typographical or paragraph spacing errors, possibly related to FIMFic import problems, and minor mistakes like lie/lay or quotation marks at the end of paragraphs, and doubled words as seen above, but rare and easy to read through)—Smudge is at one point described as prone, and it took a few paragraphs to realize that the actions described were not just improbable but impossible and he must have been lying face up.
Worker returns in “Hope,” the entry in the series that feels most like a crossover. Where in the previous two entries Worker’s identity and past were largely academic, in “Hope” catches up to him at the speed of sound—Sonic’s arrived, and he wants to retrieve Robotnik so he can be punished for his crimes.
I could see fans of the Sonic franchise taking issue with Sonic clearly being the villain of the story, even briefly grappling the issue himself before charging onward. Whether determination bleeding over into obsession is something believable for the character, I couldn’t say, but since he was more present as a problem to be solved than as a focal character, it matters less than it would in the reverse case. In any event, he’s a good foil for Worker in terms of abilities and temperament, and offers an idea of what might have been had Worker not decided Robotnik was worth leaving behind.
What takes center stage is Worker’s response to this threat to his new life and his family, now including a daughter, Snowdrop. And that I thought was done quite well, both directly straining relationships with ponies who had heard of his past life but may never have really accepted it as something real and serving up temptation to exhume long buried tendencies to protect all he’s gained. There was real tension on this front, and it was one of the highlights of the story.
That narrative takes the form more of a chess match than a typical action story, as there is little direct interaction between the principal actors—Sonic on one side, Worker and the princesses on the other—for most of the story, with instead a sequence of scouting actions and indirect attacks to which the others respond as they are able. This enables the conflict to play out in such a way that neither Sonic’s physical advantages nor Worker’s in friends leads to a speedy resolution, so the drama on Worker’s end has time to develop. However, some of the choices related to the conflict are frustrating, such as Worker’s (and Skyshine’s) decision to wait to contact the princesses until far later than is justifiable, or this, which I think encapsulates the issue nicely:
“No matter.” Luna returned her sister’s gaze. Celestia quickly assumed a mask of serenity. “Are you prepared to go, or would you prefer to take care of a few things before we leave? I was hoping to convince you of the need for urgency. In fact, if you are willing, I feel we should consider teleporting.”
It seems like a responsible reaction to what they know, and a suitable sense of urgency. What’s missing, though, is that Luna was hanging out in her aerie alone before Celestia found her, realizing that she would be there because she wasn’t in her chambers—hardly the course of action I’d expect from someone who believed time was of the essence, which would at least include sending a message to her or going to meet her proactively.
The plot problems are very minor compared to those in “Justice,” however, and long the way, Snarkle treats us to his characteristic detail work on the setting, such as how the differences in the royal sisters’ personalities is reflected in their respective portions of Canterlot Castle (“Where her sister preferred direct paths and bold expression, Luna infused her surroundings with her art. Passages tended to shift when you didn’t look at them, and the guards kept random patrol routes out of necessity rather than any larger strategy.”), and to time with the ponies that make Worker’s new life so worth keeping, and every so often a dose of humor, usually dialog-focused. The story ends with a new revelation that provides the motive force for the final story to date in this crossover, tying Worker and Luna even more strongly than before.
But first comes a brief slice of life written for a Pre-Reader Secret Santa event, in which Luna sets up Celestia on a date. It’s light and fluffy, and ends on a bit of a joke, built up to by Celestia’s obliviousness, but there’s not much there. Although it raises a couple questions, “Horizons” is basically a nice enough, harmless slice of life that’s okay for a quick read, but not likely to be remembered.
Fine Steps is a different beast entirely, basically a catch-all repository for side stories to the “Order from Chaos” series, at this point once again the importance of the specifics of the Sonic franchise fading to indiscernible.
It starts with the follow-up to the problem introduced at the end of “Hope,” which mostly lays the groundwork for some of the later chapters. It clears up some questions and features a more personal Luna than has mostly been the case through the “Order” series, and Worker, Luna, and Skyshine play off of each other well. However, there’s a 400-word digression to Snowdrop’s point of view, the purpose of which entirely eludes me.
Next up is a scene following some of the other ponies in Pasofino just after Worker and Skyshine’s wedding. Bulwark’s never been much for romance, and Skean (who is mercifully the only character written with a heavy accent: “I jes need t’ shut m’ geggy so I dinnae look a dobber”) is the new weather pony in town. They hit it off, bonding over a conversation about their names and the differences between their homelands. It’s natural and charming, and makes me wish that “Horizons” had actually been shippy.
The third jumps way back in time to before Nightmare Moon, as Somber Dreams attempts to teach Celestia a form of magic, secretly in service to an unknown lord. Dark and full of intrigue, this expands on a conversation between Celestia and Luna from “Hope,” and I’d like to see it followed up on someday. It’s the last publication of Snarkle’s second burst of output before returning a year later with the remainder of “Fine Steps” to date.
Chapter four has a desperate alicorn Worker, his wife and children long dead, confront Luna about why he is an alicorn, and why he’s unable to take his own life, or that of anything else. Part of the premise I find odd, but the misdirection and clash of personalities are strong points, and it leads into the next story.
Chapters five, six, and eight cover why alicorns are unable to kill any living thing except in defense of Equestria. It is the story of how the champions of the pegasus and unicorn tribes, Celestia and Luna, became alicorns not long (relatively speaking) after the three tribes came to Equestria, and what happened to Aurum, the champion of the earth ponies. One of the most well rounded of Snarkle’s stories, this combines world-building, some insight into the princesses as young mares and how some of their differences have stuck with them (or not), and a couple of well-executed action scenes, among other aspects. It does go the route of having Celestia and Luna not actually being sisters, though, and I could see that being a sore point for some readers.
The interlude in the seventh chapter covers Worker’s daughter Snowdrop’s first lesson as Princess Luna’s student. The interaction between the two is nice and it allows some growth for Snowdrop as one of Snarkle’s major characters in the series after the princesses, Worker, and Skyshine, and another major draw is the atmosphere as Snowdrop learns some basic aspects of lucid dreaming.
Overall, “Fine Steps” is a worthy continuation and expansion of the stories starting in and built around “Order from Chaos,” and Snarkle’s largest departure from the redemptive and second-chances themes that have suffused most of his stories. I’ll be delighted to see any updates if he returns to publishing.
Twilight Snarkle had some ups and downs as an author in his three bursts of activity. “Kindness,” “CMC ART,” and “Horizons” are skippable, and the latter two suggest to me that he operates best working within a larger framework, and actively trying to say something about the characters he’s putting on display. There are better people to go to for a quick laugh or bit of fluff. “Two Ponies” still stands up as an excellent example of achieving a bittersweet tone, and of exploring love in ways beyond a typical romance; “Dreams & Memory” does the same with nostalgia for a counterfactual, and strikes me as well-done erotica along the way. Together with “Moon & Memory” and the “Order” series, they delve deeply into loss and recovery, and especially the (in Equestria, at least) ever-present opportunity to reach a better future. “Order from Chaos” is itself a wonderful character piece and entry in the journal genre, and though immensely accessible for those lacking knowledge of the Sonic IP I’m sure only more enjoyable those that have it. “Justice” was the greatest disappointment of the Snarkle bibliography, but I’d consider it worthwhile as the price of admission to the much superior conclusion of the trilogy and especially “Fine Steps.”
For more writers than most, I think Twilight Snarkle is best at the level of the scene, for all he’s helped by the focus within a scene provided by being part of a larger story. So many of his scenes deliver sentiment and character, or give an impressionistic snapshot of a broader event, and do so wonderfully. And when these frames are tied together loosely, as in “Two Ponies,” with its three related fairy tales, or the remembrance of key frames in the Nightmare Moon saga in “Moon & Memory,” or even the journal entries of “Order from Chaos,” they can allow for interpolation of so much more than just what was put on the page. But when bound more tightly, seams tend to show, as with the puzzling motivations and contrived conflict in “Justice,” or lack of communication in “Hope.” This, I think, is why I’ve found “Fine Steps” the strongest of the “Order” sequels: each story is largely its own thing, and delivers what it needs to, then is gone. Even in the story of Celestia and Luna’s ascension, told over three chapters, there was little connective tissue between scenes, with each logically independent of the others for the most part, like the scenes of a road trip movie. The connection was not so much the plot, but the three tribal champions.
I don’t know if we’ll ever see more from Twilight Snarkle, but if he does return to writing pony, like his Equestria, I’ll be ready to give him another chance. And unlike so many of his characters, it won’t be because he screwed up the first one.----------
Thanks, Icy! Snarkle is an excellent writer, and I too hope that we haven't heard the last from him. Thanks for the detailed look at his writing; speaking for myself, it was a pleasure to read.