I have not been treating my body well the last few days. Between the staying up late to watch the WSOP, and getting up early to watch the Tour de France (cool British guy lost and boring British guy won, respectively), I probably averaged only four or five hours of sleep a night the last few days. It's left me thoroughly zombified, and trying to catch a nap or two just seems to make it worse. Man, I'm pretty sure I didn't used to get this drained from a few days of insufficient shut-eye back when I was in college, and that was only... oh damn, I am getting old, aren't I?
Well, my productivity may have been shot in most other areas of my life, but I still got a couple of mini-reviews out, at least! Good to know I have my priorities straight. Go check 'em out below.
Whispering Stars, by Causal Quill
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Twilight learns a few bits of ancient history, though some of it seems a little more... playful, than she was expecting.
A few thoughts: For me personally, the first chapter was the real highlight of the fic. Despite being presented as Celestia telling Twilight about the early alicorns, it keeps the interruptions to a minimum, wisely focusing on the tale itself. And that's a great blend of folklore form, clever double meanings (the principals' names are Pride and Tyranny, and the author gets a lot of revealing dual-readings from those), and an essential lightheartedness which helps balance out some of the darker implications (and outright statements) of the tale. Later chapters put more focus on the present day, and I found them something of a letdown; there are still a lot of dark implications, but now they're framed in ways like "the Crystal Empire can extend ponies' lives severalfold, and they practice immigration-based eugenics on this basis," which... is a really disturbing light to paint Cadence in, if you're not going to engage with it. More broadly, the story goes more for fluffy comedy in the later chapters, and while it does managed that well when it's not being accidentally disturbing, I also found it less engaging than the blend of humor lore from the story's start.
Recommendation: If you aren't going to read too deeply into bits of worldbuilding, this would be a good choice for readers who like cutesiness and alicorns in combination. I'd also recommend the first chapter (which can be read perfectly well as a stand-alone) to those who enjoy well-balanced tonal blending and folklore-style in general.
Today I Am a Monster, by Cloud Wander
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Pathfinder is a rare breed--a pony who can sense the rare occasions when a portal opens from one alternate Equestria to another, and travel between worlds. But not all worlds are pleasant, and he still bears the scars of the last "Equestria" he visited.
A few thoughts: It's interesting that I read this back-to-back with Whispering Stars, because where I felt the latter sometimes wasn't fully aware of its implications, Monster embraces them, exemplified nowhere better than where Steven Magnet mediates a dispute between a manticore and a turtle over whether the former can kill the latter and feed it to her babies. It's a dark scene, yet it's tackled head-on, and the story doesn't shy away from the issues it raises. It all adds up to a very emotionally honest story, where it's easy to believe the protagonist's PTSD not because it's realistically portrayed--I feel it is, but that's not why it feels honest--but because those feelings aren't presented for the sake of drama, or so that he can be "fixed;" they simply are, and acceptance is the theme of the day here. Derpy's simple profundity frames his struggles nicely, and the whole story ends up feeling a lot more real than any stealth-Fo:E crossover by rights ought to.
Recommendation: If "emotionally honest" is something you look for in fiction, then this is well worth your while. It might not be for readers who can't reconcile a not-insignificant bit of darkness with Equestria--both alternate!Equestria and the show's own--but don't mistake this for some edgy gorefic; the stakes here are fantasy through-and-through, but they're also wonderfully resonant.