Friday, 6 February 2015

Ponyfic Roundup 43: #FebFIMFanFicLove edition

Yes, an extra one; something a little different today! Thanks to the estimable hawthornbunny, who came up with the idea of the Fic Exchange for Tag-a-Long's Book Club, I'm posting a rather more in-depth review than I generally do. If you're used to Ponyfic Roundup, you'll see the similarities and my usual rambly style; it'll just be a bit longer than the waffle I usually inflict on you lot. The star rating comes after the first paragraph, as usual for my long reviews, but read on for some more in-depth thoughts.

Sun, Moon, and Stars by FifthAlicorn
Celestia, Luna and Nightmare Moon
[no genre tags given]; 22K words; Feb 2012; Everyone
In a nutshell, this is the story of Luna's banishment and exile, Nightmare Moon's return and the final triumph of the Elements of Harmony. A familiar story to all of us, I'm sure – but with the twist that this fic looks at it from the dark side, as it were. I'll admit that I was a little underwhelmed when I read the synopsis, as rather too many of these older fics turn into "New Lunar Republic" propaganda, and quite frankly that concept doesn't do a thing for me. Still, this story was selected for the Fic Exchange by Foals Errand, whose opinions I respect – and, indeed, it turned out to be a cut above many of the run-of-the-mill Royal Sisters fics I've read. ★★★

Something I found very interesting was the deep exploration of the relationship between Luna and Nightmare Moon. The only other place I've seen something like this done to such an extent was in the "Nightmare Rarity" arc of the IDW comics, which this fic pre-dates by a full year. FifthAlicorn does a very decent job of giving the two beings distinct personalities, something important to the outcome of the story. Celestia is mostly fine, too, if just a little too apologetic for my liking at times. What's even more intriguing is the way in which the Elements of Harmony themselves are characterised. If you've read Eakin's Hard Reset trilogy, as I have, you may well notice some parallels. No time loops here, though!

Despite its relatively short length, Sun, Moon, and Stars spans a thousand years of Equestrian history. The starting and ending points are relatively familiar, and indeed substantial chunks of show dialogue were used verbatim. (Probably slightly too much of it, actually.) What I found considerably more intriguing were the glimpses of what was going on between those two chronological extremes. For example, we discover the provenance of the book of prophecies that Twilight was reading in S1E01, while the origins of the Summer Sun Celebration are also briefly explained. Some of these scenes work better than others, but they're generally satisfying.

There are several points at which FifthAlicorn diverts just a little from the central narrative to fill in some little point or other. I was pleased to see the author acknowledge the rarity of teleportation, something surprisingly few writers do. There's no getting away from the fact that this story is on the tell-y side, with considerable amounts of exposition. I don't mind that, but those who prefer faster, tighter stories may find it just a tad frustrating at times. On a technical level, there are a few errors ("it's" for "its" being a recurring one) and the story does suffer a bit from what can only be called Alabaster Alicorn Syndrome. The first allusion to Pinkie is clunky, too.

Inevitably, a story this old is going to suffer a little from being overtaken by canon: it was written before Season 2 of the show had ended. To give an example that doesn't materially affect the story, Twilight is written as an only child; Shining Armor's debut was still in the future. More seriously, the Season 4 premiere makes certain of the events surrounding Luna's banishment impossible, so you do now have to read this as either a period piece or an [Alternate Universe] fic. Your mileage may vary, but this didn't particularly affect my enjoyment of the story, as the internal narrative remained consistent.

Sun, Moon, and Stars was better story than I had expected. It contains both an interesting alternative look at the crucial events of the last millennium and (just occasionally) little hints of a far wider conflict before Luna's banishment. I would have been interested to have read (in another fic) about the War itself, but sadly FifthAlicorn did not publish another story... until this week, when Since I Was Small, also dealing with the past, was begun. As for this fic, despite its age and the generally minor problems I've discussed above, I enjoyed this and those who like the concept should certainly read it. For the rest of us, although not a must-see, it's an interesting, worthwhile twist on a very familiar tale.

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