Now, let's get on to the mini-reviews! More Hearth's Warming stuff today, because the windchill is -30 and It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Christmas. Get it below the break.
Celestia, by Arad
Zero-ish spoiler summary: The true story of Hearth's Warming, and how the remorseless Queen Solaria, despot and living god, became the Princess Celestia we all know.
A few thoughts: Although it's billed as a Sequel to the author's most famous work, Stardust (which I reviewed here), there's nothing here to stop someone from reading this as a stand-alone work. So how does it hold up on its own? Unfortunately, not terribly well. The portrait of a small population trying to eke out life in an endless winter--of the hardships they face, and the love and friendship that buoy them--is the fic's greatest strength, and it shines in that regard. But the (emotional) change from Solaria to Celestia is never given a strong enough impetus to feel genuine; Solaria gets a reason to care about a few specific others, sure, and she eventually comes to feel bad about some of the things she's done, but several of her fundamental beliefs which are antithetical to Celestia's are never really challenged, or even addressed. Moreover, the cutesiest bits of the story often abut grimmer fare far too closely for my taste, souring the former by leaving it sitting there to contrast with the latter while not (at least, not always) making that abutment feel like a deliberate juxtaposition. Couple that with how anticlimactic the impetus for the whole change is (that is to say, how anticlimactic "The Traveler's" actions are, and how effortless and complete their effect) and the disappointingly pat, entirely forgettable framing device, and I found myself not terribly enthralled with the overall product despite quite liking bits of it.
Recommendation: With solid writing and some nice worldbuilding, this is a story I feel comfortable recommending to those who don't need a lot of salesmanship done to get them to buy its "evil monarch to saccharine pony princess" premise. But readers who want that process convincingly detailed will be left wanting more.
Escort Flight, by Georg
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A member of Luna's guard is disappointed to be saddled with an all-night escort assignment on Hearth's Warming night... until he discovers just who it is that he's escorting.
A few thoughts: This story goes to all the places you expect a "Santa
Claus Hooves is real" fic with its premise to go, solidly hitting all the comic surprise and cute/heartwarming notes you go into it looking for. The writing occasionally obscures some of the light humor with awkward writing (mostly to do with how it slots phrases and what details it focuses on, e.g. "he was a few minutes early reporting to his superior officer who would be flying alongside him this evening"), but the actual editing is solid. All in all, this is the kind of story that gives you exactly what you think you're going to get, and that's not a bad thing.
Recommendation: If you're looking for a sweet-tone ponification of NORAD's Santa-Tracker, consider this highly recommended. If you're looking for something cute and Christmas-y, this is your fic. If you're looking for anything other than light seasonal reading, you won't find it here.
Parasitic Plants: A Hearth's Warming Romance, by Litizzaner
Zero-ish spoiler summary: With the holiday season approaching, Applejack asks Twilight to help her get rid of some mistletoe on her farm. Twi stays dense.
A few thoughts: I thought I'd long since beaten my autocorrect into submission on all matters pony--it never bothers me about character names or common equine puns anymore--but it's insisting that "Twi stays" should really say "Twisties."
As for thoughts about the story: it's pretty typical "for shippers only" fare. There's nothing really worth seeking out here for anyone without a vested interest in seeing Twilight and AJ macking on each other by the time the story ends (don't even pretend you think that's a spoiler). It also ends up leaving out a lot of important character learning and growth, and not just the bits most commonly absent from unrepentant shipfics (though those are there, too). Most notably, Applebloom eventually mentions that AJ was hoping to kiss Twilight, and from that she's somehow able to magically intuit the entire mistletoe tradition.
Recommendation: If you're in the market for some light Twijack of the "and then they kissed" school of shipficerry, this is perfectly serviceable, if not in any way noteworthy, story. But if you want one where Twisties bound to knowledge and behavior developed organically by the fic, and not simply foisted upon her to serve the narrative, you'll want to give this one a pass.