Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Ponyfic Roundup 156: Scribblefest Edition

What with the double episode releases and various other things, I'm likely to be very busy for a while, so expect Ponyfic Roundup to be light on stories some weeks. I'll try my best not to miss any weeks entirely, but don't be surprised if sometimes I don't get half a dozen fics reviewed.

Read it Later story count: 443 (+1)

For the second week in succession, it's a contest edition of PR! There were actually six award-winning stories in the Everfree Northwest Scribblefest 2017 contest, one for each of the Mane Six, but only four are reviewed here. The Twilight Sparkle Award (for attention to detail) went to Ebon Quill's Slouching Towards Canterlot, which I reviewed in PR 150. The Rarity Award (for elegance in prose) went to The Book of Ended Lives, by some dreadful hack whose name I now can't remember. The other four winners were:

The Next Best Thing by Posh (Pinkie Pie Award, for comedy)
The Cycle of Flame by Novel-Idea (Rainbow Dash Award, for coolness)
Freedom Flourishes by The Hat Man (Fluttershy Award, for being heartwarming)
Nightmer Niht by Apple Bottoms (Applejack Award, for trueness to the show's spirit)

★: 0 | ★★: 0 | ★★★: 3 | ★★★★: 1 | ★★★★★: 0

The Next Best Thing by Posh (PR review no. 800)
Diamond Tiara, Starlight Glimmer and Spike
Slice of Life; 6k words; Mar 2017; Everyone
Starlight Glimmer bonds with Diamond Tiara over their mutual status as reformed antagonists... and over a shared love of trolling Spike.
This story is a sequel, always a dangerous approach in a contest. I haven't read the prequel as I wanted to see how the fic stood on its own hooves. The answer is: quite well. Starlight and Spike have some sparky exchanges, especially early on, and Glimmy plays well against Diamond Tiara once the story's into its stride. There's a strange reason for DT's mindset that I suspect is tied in with the prequel; this is one place where not having read that does hurt this story, as Cheerilee's behaviour seems very out-of-nowhere. It's still an enjoyable read, though, with some nice low-key humour scattered around. I've added the prequel to my RiL list. ★★★

The Cycle of Flame by Novel-Idea
Philomena, Celestia, Dragons and Griffons
Adventure/Comedy; 7k words; Mar 2017; Everyone
After a wonderful morning pranking dragons, an old friend beckons Philomena home once again. Desperate to escape, she finds herself in flying into a warzone. A warzone where a being from myth and legend just took the field…
This fic, considerably more Adventure than it is Comedy, starts out as a simple "let's have fun laughing at stupid dragons" story and gradually builds into something much more interesting. I like the world-building surrounding phoenix culture, of which there's a lot but which rarely gets in the way of the story itself. In just a few thousand words, Novel-Idea makes me far more interested in knowing about phoenixes than I remember being since I first saw "A Bird in the Hoof". (An episode I've always liked, incidentally.) I do have one complaint: late in the story, something clearly significant happens involving Celestia and another character, something that the writer deliberately leaves vague. Not a problem in itself, but read their (very spoilery!) blog post about it and you discover that they have no intention of explaining what, except eventually. Maybe. Or not. For a one-shot contest entry, inevitably read by many people unfamiliar with the author or their works, I don't think that sort of "Not telling!" is playing entirely fair; it leaves a slightly sour taste. Given that, it says a lot for how much I liked this fic and the way it portrays Philomena and her world that it remains my favourite of all the winners. ★★★★

Freedom Flourishes by The Hat Man
Crystal Ponies, Sombra, OC and Other
Adventure/Drama; 4k words; Mar 2017; Teen
A young pony flees the Crystal Empire during King Sombra's reign; a thousand years later, a group of ponies arrives in the Empire with a story to tell.
This one has a really nice concept: the story of what happened to ponies who tried to escape from slavery in Sombra's domain, interleaved with scenes in the same area in the present day. Though there are quite a lot of OCs, they are fleshed out just enough to make me interested in their fates, and apart from slight overuse of "he was a gray stallion"-type description the writing doesn't get in the way. The twist regarding the main character's fate is a nice idea, too, though I'm not sure I entirely buy the emotions of two important ponies in the present who hear it, and the ending is a bit irritating. Still, that interesting concept is enough to earn it a three-star rating. ★★★

Nightmer Niht by Apple Bottoms

Twilight, Celestia, Luna and Mane Six
Comedy/Mystery/Slice of Life; 5k words; Mar 2017; Everyone
Celestia asks Twilight Sparkle to ease Princess Luna back into modern living; can she redeem herself after her first spectacular failure? And where's that missing library book?!
This story is set just before "Luna Eclipsed", and I was satisfied to see the Mane Six behaving as they used to in those early days of the show, rather than as they would today. The early part of the fic feels a bit uneven, with the occasional uncertain note in the comedy – there's one extremely forced pun (lampshaded, but still), while a gay joke, though a very mild one, feels entirely out of place in a show-tone story. However, things improve rapidly once Luna appears on the scene and the emphasis shifts to a slice of a very unusual life. The climax of the fic is its best part, introducing some simple yet effective lore and making me look at Luna herself in a new light. Don't read this just for a quick laugh, read it for what it says about Luna and her relationship with Nightmare Night. ★★★

Next time on Ponyfic Roundup: a return to good old lucky dip territory!

2 comments:

  1. I didn't see this back when it was originally posted, so sorry for not commenting on it first. I'm utterly ecstatic that you enjoyed Cycle of Flame so much, even with my slightly (incredibly) evil vague thing I may or may not reveal at some point. (See: Evil). It was one of those moments where I thought the "scratching behind the door" was more troubling than the revelation on what's behind the door.

    Still, Philomena was a blast and I enjoyed writing her far too much (so much so that she's hiding in half my stories now). Delighted you enjoyed the world-building, because it was a blast to create!

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    1. I'm fairly hopeless at timely commenting on the stories themselves, so it's hardly surprising you didn't notice! I will get round to it soon and actually give your fic the fave it deserves.

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