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Hey, a story about testing! I can relate to that! In fact, that yellow-and-purple mare's dull-eyed ennui in the face of yet another round of score-assigning is one I'm relating to extremely hard right now.
Will I relate to the story proper as well as I do to its screenshot-coverart? Only one way to find out! Head down below to see my review of Pineta's The Brightest and the Best.
Impressions before reading: I read this a couple of years ago in the writeoff which produced it; this is the later-published (and presumably improved) FiMFic version I'll be looking at now, but I remember quite liking what I read. My only complaint (that I can recall) was that the adults were rather more interesting than the foals; we'll see if that complaint still holds up.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: As the testers at the entrance exam for Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns gather before the final portion of the test, a problem emerges: Twilight Sparkle. Or rather, what to do about a filly who has the perfect answer to everything.
Thoughts after reading: This is as I remember it: all the best parts (and they're wonderful) involve the testers chatting about the students they've just seen. Pineta nails the tenor of breakroom banter on a test day, without over-exaggerating the language used. Teachers don't maliciously plot to deny anyone their birthright, after all... but let's just say that, sometimes, some of us can be a little impersonal about these little numbers that can mean so much. This story grasps the lack of mean-spiritedness, while still retaining the inherent humor of the situation.
By contrast, the foals--whose various scenelets comprise the first half of the fic--are rather shallow. They're not poorly written, just extremely one-dimensional; Twilight is smart and neurotic (I guess that's two dimensions, actually), Saphire Scrum is entitled, and so on. The parents present don't really add anything, only offering sounding boards or modeled reinforcement to those defining traits. It's true that there's a limit to how much characterization you can squeeze into a few hundred words, but the opening still felt paper-thin to me.
There's also the matter of Twilight's hyper-competence in this story: here, she's presented as a magical prodigee in the truest sense, capable of astounding feats of magic which the professors have simply never seen from someone so young. This seems like a continuity error at first, but actually reflects the unreliable narrator aspect of Twilight's cutie mark story: she was so self-doubting that she literally didn't realize that what she was doing wasn't subpar. Whether you find that wholly convincing is another matter--I can't imagine that she wouldn't, at some point, figure out that not every foal has mastered holographic illusions prior to entering school. But then, "Twilight doesn't realize she's special" is the core premise around which this story revolves, at least in the larger meta, and I don't think it's a totally unreasonable conceit for the author to ask us to go along with.
But with that acknowledged, it's worth praising this story for getting the "addition to canon" subgenre of fanfiction so very right. You know the kind: the one's that fill in something behind the scenes, or give a "real reason why," for something directly from their source material. This is a common subject matter, and also one ripe for mucking up. Most commonly, stories feel the need to attach grave import to every single character and every single action possible (see the old Star Wars EU for a published example of this phenomenon in action). Even if that trap is avoided, the very direct ties to the source material invite the reader to have their suspension of disbelief ruined by even quite minor discrepancies in tone, lore, or description from the, in this case, show, on which they're based. The Brightest and the Best feels right at home, concept-wise, in the world of MLP, and it's refreshing (not to mention humorous; hence, I suppose, the comedy tag) that someone came up with an explanation for a minor in-show event that doesn't blow its importance all out of proportion.
This is a simple but entertaining little fic which does just what it sets out to do. It gets off to a rather slow, stock start, but makes up for that well before the end comes along. And while it's not the most memorable of pieces, it is just generally a pleasant read.
Recommendation: If you don't mind your characters a little on the flat side (and can buy young Twilight as a super-wizard), this is a very nice piece of light behind-the-scenes comedy.
Next time: It’s Elementary, My Dear Rainbow, by bats