Monday, October 10, 2016

Fandom Classics Part 181: Scion of Chaos

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

So, I was planning to watch the S6 finale this weekend, since Britain got it early... but it turns out they only get it in low-def!  I watched the first couple of minutes, then decided I'd wait for the HD version in a few weeks.  Honestly, I have no idea how I managed in the early days of pony, when all we had was 480p--it's so blurry!

Instead, I watched a terribly predictable comedy of errors.  Hey, at least this episode they remembered that Applejack does, in fact, lie sometimes.  Though you'd think that if anyone was alert to her untruths, it would be her sister.  Not the most realistic of family dynamics, that.

But now, on to fanfiction!  My review of SilentBelle's Scion of Chaos, below.

Impressions before reading:  I'm a little concerned by the repetitive wording in the story description--in two sentences, it uses some slight variation of the phrase "learn magic" three times--but the idea of Sweetie having some (presumably destructive/chaotic) casting surprises seems like a promising jumping-off point for an adventure.  I think it's also a good sign that the sequel to this story has more than 2/3rds the views of this story; that tells me that a lot of people enjoyed the original enough to go on and read its continuation.  Getting a bunch of people to read your story can sometimes be more marketing than writing skill; getting people to keep reading tends the other direction.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Sweetie Belle finally makes a breakthrough in unlocking her unicorn magic--but most foals' breakthroughs don't involve hearing disembodied voices and setting one's clubhouse on fire.  Soon, she's on a mission that will take her far from home: a mission to understand and unlock her unusual magical powers.

Thoughts after reading:  Unfortunately, my pre-reading concern about the repetitive wording proved predictive: writing is a big letdown.  The actual editing is fine, but there are a wide variety of poor construction choices on display throughout this fic.  In addition to much more repetition, there's also a plethora of strange adjectives (when Rarity offers her a drink, the narration informs us that "Sweetie Belle drained the blissful offering of water"); a partial, but nevertheless marked at times, aversion to pronouns; a moderate number of missing commas; inconsistent voicing, from both canon and original characters; and a host of excessive, obtuse, or simply bizarre saidisms (one exchange from chapter two gives us, in succession, "Twilight foreshadowed," "Sweetie Belle figured out loud," "Twilight affirmed," and "Sweetie Belle concluded").

These kind of writing issues collectively exacerbate the story's other main problem: it's slow-paced, remarkably unfocused tale.  Scion of Chaos is a 70,000 word story which would have been much stronger at perhaps three-quarters the verbiage.  Part of this is that repetitious wording I've now mentioned thrice (Irony?  Hypocrisy?  Both?  Neither?), but there are also a number of plot threads that are either plowed into the ground, or are passed over so lightly that they'd be better off being excised entirely.  An example of the latter near the end of the story comes to mind in particular: Sweetie encounters an elderly woodcutter who tell her a bit about his life, gives her his dead daughter's necklace, and is strongly implied to die shortly after Sweetie drops by.  This was intended as a touching interlude before the story proceeds to its climax, but it just comes off as... random.  The woodcutter doesn't thematically tie into anything the story had focused on to that point, nor are he, his story, or that necklace ever mentioned again.  They're just a thing, devoid of meaning, which floats in and out of the story while leaving no trace of itself upon the narrative.

A secondary issue is that the story doesn't do much to justify its characters' decisions.  From Sweetie's strange (and repeated) insistence on classifying spur-of-the-moment reactions as morally imperative "promises to myself" to the climax, where Discord (look, that Discord is involved is like, as un-spoilery a thing as I can possibly say; to the story's credit, it doesn't try to obfuscate his identity from the reader) suddenly develops a motive not hinted at anywhere earlier, there's a lot that goes on here that could conceivably be fit into a coherent characterization... but either it's only explored in a surface-level manner (Sweetie repeating that her promises matter to her is one thing, but it doesn't explain the actions leading up to them), or it's left entirely untouched, with the reader left trying to figure out how to make sense of some new twist of declaration.  Especially with the climax, this is problematic, as it suddenly casts the entire story in terms of a decision which, frankly, nothing in the fic was leading up to.

There are some nice touches of worldbuilding, both around magic in the MLP world in general, and about Sweetie's specifically.  The suggestions of history are also nice, and though occasionally the details strain credulity (apparently, Canterlot-as-we-know-it is less than 70 years old in this fic), mostly help fill out the larger world in which the story takes place.  However, those are accents; the story on which they're built simply doesn't hold up as well as these flourishes do.

Star rating:

It occurs to me, as I look at this review, that some of the things I complain about may be mitigated in the story's sequels (this story, while it can certainly be read independant of any continuation, does have heavy sequel bait at the end).  Maybe that woodcutter has some further relevance there, and presumably the decision faced at the climax is given more weight (or at least, explored a bit).  But looking at this story on its own, those flaws remain just that--flaws.

Recommendation:  Unless you are particularly, specifically invested in the premise, I don't recommend this story.

Next time:  Sun Princess, by Skywriter


  1. The views on the sequels might also have to do with the fact that they tie into The Sweetie Chronicles by Wanderer D. At least, that's primarily how I came to know of them and the original fic. Not that I've actually read them myself.

  2. Ooh, Sun Princess. A story I liked, but no more -- probably because I can't personally relate to its theme. I'll be interested to see that review, anyway.

  3. Also, PAL is 576p. It's just that YouTube, being American, can't cope with that. :P