Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Ponyfic Roundup 93: Spotlight on Cadence in A Minor

Okay, this time we have a fairly controversial story by a fairly controversial writer. Suffice it to say that there are stories of theirs that I will never, ever read. This fic, though, was recommended to me by a couple of people when I asked for a story that justified its [Mature] tag without being either clop or gore. Here we go:

Cadence in A Minor by Isseus
Cadance and Shining Armor
Drama/Romance/Slice of Life; 134k words; Dec 2012–Apr 2015; Mature (Sex)
Shining Armor and Cadance have trouble in bed.
Specifically, Shiny can't get it up when he's with his new wife. This story, told in the historic present, follows his journey to find out why, and what he can do about it. Unsurprisingly, the fic features explicit sex scenes, but there aren't all that many and they do tend to move the story on. There are some good emotional hits, especially when Shining is helped to realise something crucial. The supporting characters are a mixed bunch, some good and some just annoying. There's also an unevenly effective background of Shiny's army role. My biggest barrier, one that almost made me DNF this at one point, was that one significant character's incestuous thoughts are a running theme. The ending feels a bit too convenient, but I think this is worth a read. Approach with due caution, though. ★★★

More detailed discussion on this story can be found beyond the break, though be aware that this will contain significant spoilers.

Let's get the incest angle out of the way first. The character in question is Shining Armor himself, who realises he's having sexual thoughts about Twilight after he meets her in a Canterlot sex shop. The shop scene itself is quite fun until that point, but then it became a real struggle for me to keep going. A scene in a public toilet shortly afterwards was the point at which I almost DNF'd the story. This is eventually resolved, too conveniently, with Twilight revealing she was in heat. Oh well, that's all right then...

That aside, I don't have any particular problem with how the sex scenes are written here, beyond the inevitable awkwardness of words like "stallionhood". One interesting angle is that some regard is given to equine anatomy: when Shining Armor becomes excited, his body reacts more like a horse than a human. There's also a bit of fun to be had with the fact that ponies don't normally wear clothes, which combines with the anatomy thing and means that public arousal is much harder to conceal than it would be for a human.

The most emotionally affecting parts of Cadence in A Minor concern the two principals trying to come to terms with the trauma they experienced during the lead-up to their wedding. The scene in which Shining Armor realises that Chrysalis raped him is a particular standout, while Cadance (spelt thus despite the story's title) eventually tells her husband about her terror of being shut in. You do generally sympathise with Shining Armor, although he makes it hard for himself (yes, ha ha) with some of his stupider antics.

Luna's role in this story is interesting, revolving around both her dreamwalking ability and her new sort-of-in-law status. Sassy Swallow, the unfortunately-named sex therapist, mostly plays a facilitating role. On the other hand, I'm definitely on Shining Armor's side when it comes to the castle maids. I think they're intended as comic relief, but I find them almost as annoying as Shiny himself does. I think they're the sort of characters whose effectiveness is in inverse proportion to the length of their scenes, and in this story they often go on for too long.

Isseus hails from Finland, one of the few European countries to retain compulsory military service, which may explain the feeling that some of the army stuff is written from experience. It all feels much more European than American, again not surprising given the author's nationality. Shining Armor's semi-dissolute friend Iron Sight is a fun supporting character, but on occasion things become obscure for those of us who haven't done national service, for example in some of the jargon and slang.

One aspect of the story that isn't always very successful is the humour in the narrative itself. For example, we're occasionally told just what a particular silence felt like. "Silence (type 1945: Day after Hiroshima)" doesn't work however you look at it. There's also the occasional reference to other stories, both pony and not: Discworld, English football, Monty Python, the G. M. Berrow chapter books and a minor scene in which Shining Armor notices a cardboard box in an alley. It is, naturally, full of trash!

The language isn't bad at all, considering that the author is not a native English speaker. There is the occasional mis-step – "male stallion", for example – but in 134,000 words you can forgive a few lapses. The story's ending, though, disappointed me. The problem with Twilight is wrapped up very fast, as though the author was rushing to finish a story that had been in progress for more than two years, and there's a truly cringeworthy euphemism, plus a weird IDW comic reference. There's even an idiotic (though mildly funny) Flash Sentry reference near the end.

You have to be fairly forgiving to enjoy this story, since it is uneven in quality, but with the exception of the incest storyline, the central drama of Cady and Shiny's relationship is largely compelling and I really did feel for both of them at times. It was close to the end of the fic before I was truly sure that things were going to end happily, and the length of the story did give it time for many ups and downs along the way. If you can stomach a story wherein Shiny has sexual feelings for his sister, you could do considerably worse than this one.

Next time on Ponyfic Roundup, stories reviewed will include Miller Minus's Analemma and Pav Feira's All of It, for Her.

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