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I got a pleasant surprise yesterday morning: a group called The Writer Awards selected OMPR as one of their top fanfiction blog/websites! If you're interested in seeing their list, you can get an early peak at it here; it's got some delightfully esoteric stuff on it (did you know there was a Bon Jovi fanfic directory? I didn't!). In any event, thank you to whoever nominated me; a little positive attention goes a long way when it comes to lightening one's mood.
Will I now pay those warm fuzzies forward, or will I deem Warren Hutch's The White Mare unworthy of laud? Head down below the break to find out!
Impressions before reading: Not to be confused with A White Mare, which I reviewed back here, this looks to be an AU retelling of the show's pilot--the AU in question being "What if Celestia abdicated and became a recluse after NMM, instead of ruling Equestria by herself?" As is oft the case with this kind of AU, the biggest thing I'll be looking for is how this story interprets the canon characters, and how it envisions a disparate situation would change them; too far one way, and it's just the main six and Celestia and the AU premise is wasted. Too far the other, and they can start to feel like totally unfamiliar characters.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: In the Republic of Equestria, there lives a quiet pegasus named Fluttershy. She lives by the border of the Everfree, and is quite unremarkable save for one thing: she's friends with the White Mare, a winged unicorn who hides herself deep in those woods. And on the eve of the Summer Sun Celebration, that friendship leads to strange goings-on, not to mention stranger fellowships.
Thoughts after reading: Given my pre-reading concerns, this seems strange to say, but: the characters in this story are, in fact, exactly like their show counterparts in all but the most superficial of ways, except when they're completely, bonkers, where-did-that-come-from different.
They're exactly the same in most non-surface ways. Applejack may have a Jersey accent and be hawking seeds door-to-door, but her personality is fundamentally unchanged, and her values are identical to what the reader would expect from her canon counterpart. Twilight, likewise, is an introvert with few people (pony) skills which sometimes masks her dedication and good intentions, just like she is at the start of S1. That she's a little-regarded researcher instead of a royal pupil is of tertiary importance; it doesn't affect, or seem to have any effect, on who she is.
And this is true of most of the characters, most of the time... until you come across stuff like "Dash (who's still supposed to be 'the loyal one') is part of an anti-democratic insurrectionist movement which has festered within the army for centuries." That's not Chris reading too much into the story, either: she and her would-be junta buddies are literally just waiting for the opportunity to break their oaths and overthrow the Republic, in the name the Princess. This is layed out in so many words, and returned to multiple times. And everyone seems to be okay with this. It doesn't even stop her from getting to be the Element of Loyalty!
That was the most jarring case for me, but there are a few other truly head-scratching decisions scattered around. From worldbuilding decisions this world's Elements of Harmony coming off rather more mind-rapey than the show's (unlike the fifth columnists, this one's at least ambiguous) to decisions on how to match up to canon (this is primarily a re-creation of the pilot... but also of Cutie Mark Chronicles, and significant chunks of a few other episodes, all compressed into the same one-day timeframe), there were more than a few things here I simply found odd.
On the other hand, that oddness did also give the story some freshness. Given how close the characters stayed, a bit of surprise was often welcome, and was regularly delivered. And not just in immersion-breaking ways, either! The understated contrast between how the girls' trip to the Castle of the Royal Sisters went in the show and in the story was just one example of Mr. Hutch pulling an entertaining switch-up with expectations. It's true that the story does ultimately define itself along very predictable outcomes, but at least the journey to those outcomes has some unanticipated sights along the way.
Given that the author's short bio on FiMfic is "Living with LUS," it should probably go without saying that there's a lot of that going on here. "The butter colored pegasus," "The rainbow-maned pegasus," and so on, are almost more common than proper nouns. How irritating (if at all) you find this I leave in your hands; I can only inform you that it is omnipresent. That aside, the writing has a pleasant sort of plainness to it, not calling any attention to its construction as one reads. This is a good match for the story's narrative, which is largely conversation and minor, simple mysteries.
★★☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
There are a lot of small bits of quality about this story--a well-written Zecora, some quality early modern English, etc.--which frame and help to elevate what is, ultimately, a rather straightforward "what if?" fic. There's not a lot of meat to the main story (and there's some real head-scratchers in among the key elements, for that matter), but the minor moments keep the overall product readable.
Recommendation: If you enjoy seeing mild variations on the main six, this is (mostly) one of those "basically the same, but superficially slightly different!" kinds of fics which you're looking for. It's not for readers who are bothered by LUS or by AUs that hew close to canon despite a wildly divergent element. Or for readers who oppose the violent overthrow of elected governments, I guess.
Next time: Dead/Light, by Lord Destructor