Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Ponyfic Roundup 120: Spotlight on Whom the Princesses Would Destroy

These Olympics have been fantastic so far, and not only because my own country is doing better than expected. (Sheesh, that men's keirin final, though. Don't do that to me, Jason Kenny!) But back to ponyfic now. I wouldn't normally post two Spotlight PRs in the space of three weeks, but I've ended up having more to say about this story than I was expecting for a piece of under 20,000 words. Here we go:

Whom the Princesses Would Destroy by GhostOfHeraclitus
OCs and Celestia
Comedy/Slice of Life; 20k words; Oct 2012; Teen
Behind the scenes of a perfectly normal visit to Canterlot lies chaos. Also, custard.
Now here's something different, and it was probably even more different when it appeared four years ago. This is a story about the Equestrian Civil Service – and if you're thinking Yes, Minister then you're not far off. (If you're not, go and educate yourself!) Its protagonist, Dotted Line, is a fun character, though most of the others are well thought out too. Don't expect a slavish Yes, Minister clone, though; it's more imaginative than that. Later on, in fact, it's more reminiscent of early-mid series Discworld stories. The fic's main flaw is a persistent tense problem: the present is repeatedly used where the past (or occasionally the conditional) is called for. Apparently this was a deliberate decision; since English is (I think) GoH's third language, it's understandable, but it's still annoying. Recommended, though, since it's good fun and doesn't overstay its welcome. ★★★★

After the break, a few more detailed – and spoilery – thoughts.

This is a really pretty nice look at Equestria's UK-style civil service actually works – complete with the devious behaviour and dodgy behind-the-scenes machinations that you would expect. The characters are interesting and interact well, although it's a slight shame that Spinning Top's perfectly groomed appearance is quite so often mentioned; I found this a little wearing by the end. I also think the whole business with Twilight's visit is a tad more contrived and convenient to the plot than it really needs to be.

I mentioned the persistent tense thing above, and this is all the more surprising given the author's obvious way with words. You frequently come across a wonderfully apt turn of phrase: "from lector to lictor" is one that made me laugh out loud, while the Big Bad's description as "The Disemvoweled One" is pure Terry Pratchett. As you'd expect from a fic like this, there are also some amusing references scattered throughout the text: I really want to read Daring Do and the Amulet of Yendor!

Talking of Pratchett, "Whom the Princesses Would Destroy" employs footnotes. These are placed right at the end, which makes the fic a real pain to read on a simple e-reader, but they're fun. It is odd, though, that most of them are squashed into the first few pages. Make sure you read the notes at the end of the story, too, as they're more interesting than you usually find. Mind you, "Varanus, who I feel needs no introduction" is not particularly helpful these days: that guy hasn't been seen on Fimfiction in a year and a half now!

The story itself does occasionally show its age, as in the slightly shoe-horned use of "my little pony" by Celestia, although in general it holds up very well. The most obvious example of this – when alicorn biology is discussed with reference to the then-still-unicorn Twilight – doesn't actually harm the story at all; it just allows the modern reader a bit of a knowing chuckle. Calling an in-world newspaper "Equestria Daily" is another annoying habit that has thankfully mostly disappeared from newer fics, but again it doesn't actually matter beyond being a little bit irritating.

I happen to be a big fan of both Yes, Minister and early-mid series Discworld, so I may well be the ideal audience for this story. As far as the latter goes, some of the discussions between the academics about how to deal with the demon would fit right in at Unseen University, as would most of the "Jeffina" business. I was half expecting there to be a mention of the Dungeon Dimensions. (There is a Room 7a, which plays an important role in the story and which I really, really hope is another Discworld reference.)

Given all this, not to mention the truly fantastic cameo we get from the Cutie Mark Crusaders at their most anarchic (literally: "SMASH THE STATE"), I think "Whom the Princesses Would Destroy" is a fairly easy recommendation. I do wonder whether some readers who've come to it because of its Yes, Minister feel might get put off when it morphs into Discworld later on, but still. There are better stories out there, some by GoH himself, but this remains excellent by 2012 standards and still very good by 2016 ones.

Next time on Ponyfic Roundup: Lyra gets involved with hands. Here we go...

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