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But you didn't come here to hear about my cat's self-inflicted injuries; you came here for fanfic reviews! So go get some below the break, as I look at Masterweaver's Winds of Change.
Impressions before reading: Well, it's another "one of the main six is a changeling" fic, which is obviously a premise I've seen done a lot of times; specifically, it's of the "...and is revealed by Cadence and Shiny's love-blast" AU-variety, which I've also seen more than a few of. None of that speaks to this particular story's quality, either positively or negatively, but I'll be curious to see how (if?) this fic is able to distinguish itself from its brethren.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: When the love-blast hurtles Rainbow Dash against a wall and strips her of her disguise, she's revealed as a changeling drone... and nopony is more surprised by this turn of events than Dash herself.
Thoughts after reading: Often, when I read a story that I don't particularly adore, it's easy to point to one or two key elements of the fic that marred by enjoyment. But in the case of Winds, I'm finding the story is more of a death-by-a-thousand-cuts; there are a lot of things I want to complain about, and while none of them individually is worth panning a story over, they collectively add up.
So let's start from (near) the beginning, where the first two chapters are far too heavy on repeating show scenes for my tastes. There are a lot of show scenes that are transcribed here, and while they often come with expansion or are supplemented by Dash's inner thoughts, I still found them excessively repetitive.
There's Applejack's (and, for that matter, Applebloom's) accent, which is overwritten by any stretch. Not just the usual "Ah" for "I" stuff, which I'm inclined to forgive as long as it's consistent, but sillier stuff like "thar" for "there" and the like. This is a bit confusing to me, since in examples like that, the accent that's being transcribed is clearly not AJ's southern-ish one (a pirate's, perhaps? A hillbilly's?).
There's the inconsistency of perspective, with the viewpoint character's PoV sometimes strictly adhered to and other times treated more freeform. Additionally, the narration usually dives directly into the focus character's thoughts and relates their feelings directly, but occasionally shifts to speculating about how said character might/must feel--on at least one occasion, only a single paragraph removed from getting right back into that character's head. And when the story is in a character's head, it tends to overtell the emotions ("This... this was cruelty on a level she could not comprehend. To rob anypony... anybody of their identity just so they could play a part in some grander scheme sickened her").
I also found that there were a lot of (relatively) small inclusions in the story which I found jarring, inappropriate to the setting, or simply bizarre, even as the larger arc was perfectly competently executed in its broad strokes. Two examples that particularly stuck out to me were the Equestrian army using a training technique apparently inspired by the Unsullied from ASoIaF (Equestrianized enough that nothing actually dies in the training, but still explicitly based on soldiers being prepared to murder those they most love if ordered to), and Celestia being singularly incapable of understanding how apologies work.
The latter could very well be ascribed to a failure of characterization, but I think it's more likely a flaw in worldbuilding. That she would refuse to apologize to Twilight for doubting her because "based on what I knew at the time, I thought I was right" is obviously... well, not so much out of character as just belligerently wrongheaded... but given the character-building scene it leads into, I think it's more likely that this isn't a case of failing to understand the character so much as it is ascribing unlikely or ill-explored reactions to the situation (major invasion barely repelled, spies in the highest echelons of society, one of the Element-bearers missing), then failing to adequately lay the groundwork for the reader to make sense of those reactions.
On the plus side, the story has a lot of pleasant comic notes. It's not a comedy story, certainly, but all of the best moments come from the little asides or overreactions which dot the fic, and which nicely break up its sometimes dark moments. On some occasions, the humor and the darkness even coincide--I'm still not convinced that a scene where Luna dumps a dead assassin on Shiny's desk (unaware that, in the 1000 years since she was last in Equestria, it's become traditional to leave body examinations to the professionals) is entirely appropriate to this story, but I'll readily admit that it cracked me up.
★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
In the end, while this does certainly step out of the shadow of it's many similarly-premised fellow fanfics, I found that it tripped me up too often to ever let me find my stride as a reader. While there may be no one thing I can point to and say with authority "this is why I didn't rate the story higher," there are enough smaller-scale problems--in writing, structure, and setting--that a single star was the "obvious" choice.
Recommendation: For readers who are less sensitive to setting-appropriateness and who don't mind emotional overtelling--and who enjoy main-six-changeling stories to begin with--this might be worth a look. I'd imagine that it's the kind of story that a lot of readers will find something or other that they bounce off of, though.
Next time: A True, True Friend, by Blazewing