Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Ponyfic Roundup 48: Past Sins special edition

It's taken me long enough, but I've finally read the last of the traditional "Big Three" ponyfics – the others being Fallout: Equestria (PR 5) and My Little Dashie (PR 7). I really liked the former despite its manifold flaws, but didn't have a lot of time for the latter. This time round, it's the story that's the main reason Pen Stroke has more followers (not far short of 7,000 now) than anyone else on Fimfiction. Does the story justify its enormous popularity, or has time moved on since it was published? Well...

Past Sins by Pen Stroke
Twilight, OC, Nightmare Moon and CMC
Sad/Dark/Slice of Life/Alternate Universe; 202k words; Aug–Nov 2012; Teen
The "Children of Nightmare" cult attempts to bring back Nightmare Moon as a separate entity from Luna – but their spell is interrupted, producing the alicorn filly, Nyx. Can Twilight protect her from others, and from herself? This is easily the most famous alicorn OC in the fandom, and thankfully it's not a bad one; some people hate Nyx, but I quite like her. However, characterisation in general is mixed: Twilight's is the best; other characters' is less impressive. The writing is generally quite decent, though it's noticeably worse towards the end. The story is probably too long, but it contains sufficient interest to make it worth reading. I disagree with both those who claim it to be the greatest ponyfic of all and those who find it a major disappointment. ★★★

Read on for more thoughts, with spoilers aplenty from here on in.

First of all, characterisation. The Mane Six are a bit vaguely drawn, but they're all right in a broad-brush sort of way. I'm not all that fond of this fic's Celestia, though that's largely because of other characters' reaction to her actions. Maybe it's because this fic dates from the days when anti-Celestia-ism was still a thing, but I'm not sure she really does anything much wrong. On the plus side, Twilight has some really meaty, interesting scenes, most of all where she's wrestling with her inner demons: she knows (from personal experience) the danger Nightmare Moon poses, yet bumps up against her (adoptive) motherly love for Nyx. If there's one character in Past Sins I really appreciated, it's Twilight.

As is well known, what we see now is a heavily revised version of what originally appeared, thanks to a frankly rather misguided attempt to update the fic in the light of Season 2 of the show. I never read the earlier version of the story, so can't compare directly, but from time to time you do come across bits which seem rather awkwardly written, and I'd imagine at least some of those have this cause. As I said in my non-spoilery review above, the writing quality itself is variable: at best, it's pretty good, but at worst, it's noticeably less so. The last few chapters suffer particularly badly, and contain a surprising number of silly little errors. The fight against the monsters late on is weirdly unforeshadowed, too, and could have come out of an entirely different fic.

Spell Nexus irritated me for most of the fic. Apart from having a rather stupid name, he seemed for a long time to be a pretty generic bad guy. That made me all the more startled when we finally got to the big reveal: that he himself had been possessed by Nightmare Moon's spirit. I really didn't see this coming at all, but I thought it worked rather well, and from that point on he was a character I found more interesting. Perhaps a little over-the-top at times (I half-expected him to start twirling a moustache when he was enthusing over hanging ponies left, right and centre) and his story ended rather lamely, but he still had more about him than I initially believed.

And then there's Nyx herself. I'm aware that some readers absolutely detest her for her crybaby nature in the early chapters. Curiously enough, I didn't; I actually found the alicorn filly rather a likable and sympathetic character. Okay, having her bullied so badly by Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon is hammering things home a bit (and, while I'm on the subject of school, Fluttertree? Really?) but I could probably have stood to read more about her. She's less interesting in the middle part of the story, but comes alive again later, when Twilight's influence (from prison, too) helps her to fight against her impulses as Nightmare Moon and turn away from evil.

So, there's plenty that I liked about Past Sins, and if I remember it for one thing, it'll be its portrayal of Twilight. Pen Stroke also pulls off the very difficult trick of making an alicorn OC (well, sort of OC) seem a reasonable inclusion even in 2015. Balance that against the problems of inconsistent writing and the odd intrusive plot point (Pinkie's "transcript" reference may be the worst), and I'm comfortable with my three-star rating. In summary? Past Sins is a pretty good story. Not spectacularly amazingly exceptional, but by no means a failure. If you want to read it to see what all the fuss has been about, then – as long as you don't expect miracles – go right ahead.

Next week on Ponyfic Roundup: tales from the Royal Canterlot Library.


  1. As alicorn OCs go, Nyx has the best reason to be one, and Pen Stroke made a good decision in making her a weak, whiny crybaby to offset the phenomenal cosmic powers she was created with. I actually really like her as a character -- at least, when she's a filly -- it's just that looking at her from a critical lens makes her seem silly, which is also why I like making fun of her. :V

    1. Can't really argue with any of that. Which is very boring of me, I know. :P