Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 24: Special Edition

As advertised, here's this week's special edition of PR. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I'm going to be talking about a much longer story than the little one-shots I generally cover here. It's not, perhaps, one of the most well-known ponyfics around, though a view count north of 12,000 on FimFiction makes it extremely successful by any standards. It's also something I'd like to see more of: an out-and-out Adventure-tagged fic. So, then:

Integration by Raugos
Caramel, Chrysalis and Changelings
Adventure; 119K words; Feb 2014; Teen
I don't often find a really good story starring one of the side or background characters from the show: Caramel, for example. This is the story of how he came to be in Chrysalis's hive (after the events of the S2 finale), told in two surprisingly effective jump timelines converging on the point of "Integration". It has some brilliant world-building in the first half especially, and I liked the way Chrysalis was portrayed. More typos creep in later and the ending is a bit uninspired, but the journey to get there is interesting until close to the finish. Certainly worth a read. 8/10

Okay, that's the summary review. After the break, I'll waffle on in a bit more detail about what I did and didn't like about this story. If you go beyond this point, then here be spoilers. You have been warned!

Without doubt, my favourite part of Integration was the world-building in the first half of the story. Raugos was clearly brimming with ideas for the layout of the hive, to the extent that some potentially fascinating concepts – the "old city" in the depths – are barely touched on. (There's certainly space for a sequel, or even a prequel, there.) The architecture feels alien without being so confusing that it interrupts the flow of the story.

Reasonably enough, there's a strong insect feel to the hive's operations. For example, Changelings are divided into Castes, as in Earthly insect societies. We get some interesting hints of the hive's life in pre-Chrysalis days – in particular the sorry results of her mother's attempts to make peace with ponies. This gives Chryssy's own animosity towards equine society a rather more solid background than the show itself (or even the comics) can provide.

Caramel's character is fleshed out quite nicely. He's never going to have the sheer charisma of a Rainbow Dash (whose couple of name-checks seem a little forced) but his harsh experiences in the hive's tunnels do bring out some unexpected qualities. I am a bit iffy about just how powerful he turns out to be – it was a little convenient, shall we say – but at least he doesn't have (quite) everything his own way as the story goes on.

Part of this, of course, is his slow physical transformation. Although what could have been the most shocking moment – the final loss of Caramel's cutie mark – is delayed so long that the story is already winding down, there's still plenty of interest in his other changes. The question of whether he is really a pony or a changeling bubbles beneath (and occasionally breaks) the surface for most of the story.

The flashback chapters start out much more light and fun (especially Caramel's school days with Shining Armor, Lucky and Cherry Berry) but gradually become darker, which I thought worked well. It's not a huge shock when Lucky and Cherry end up in changeling pods, but it does let us find out (to an extent) how far Caramel's transformation has gone. As does his much later acceptance that they will not be freed instantly.

One thing that I don't like is the use of the Pinkie Promise. Caramel and Sash's "Nopony breaks a Pinkie Promise!" is accepted rather readily by the changelings. Chrysalis, at the very least, must know who Pinkie is from "A Canterlot Wedding", so why doesn't she seem to know about the Promise? And rank-and-file changelings who didn't know who Pinkie was surely would have been sceptical about just why the notion of breaking a Promise was so scary.

The major changeling characters are quite nicely drawn. One or two of them, such as Overseer Skeehar, are a bit on the cookie-cutter side, but they're made up for others, most notably Thorax. His progression from antagonist to Caramel's trusted friend is quite well done, and it was courageous of Raugos to have him Killed Off For Real halfway through the story. I doubt I wasn't the only reader hoping for a happy twist near the end.

And then there's Princess Luna. I was really unsure about her inclusion in the story, as quite a few authors seem to use her dreamwalking role just because it's an excuse to shoe-horn Luna in somewhere. Here, she has a genuine reason to be communicating with Caramel (I got vague vibes of Austraeoh at times here) although she occasionally seems a little on the dense side for a vastly powerful alicorn princess.

I could say more, but I'll confine myself to saying that the changeling nymphs were absolutely adorable, and I entirely understand Caramel's desire to stay with them – even if I do feel slightly uncomfortable about how awful his parents will feel when they're told that their son has been found but isn't coming back beyond maybe visiting some day. Integration isn't free of niggles,  but it's a generally solid, satisfying story that doesn't read like "just another changeling fic".


  1. Are you still working through the competition finalists or did you give that up?

    1. Oh, still going. Insert various explanations/excuses here, but I definitely haven't given it up. For what it's worth (not a lot) "Queen of Queens" has probably impressed the me most so far. Currently a fair way through "I am Demon" and having trouble making my mind up as to whether it's brilliantly clever or too clever for its own good.