Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Ponyfic Roundup 154: Spotlight on The Immortal Game

Two wins out of two for Worcestershire at the start of the County Championship season. Joe Leach's ten wickets against Northants is good and it's bad. He's a great bowler and seems to be a good captain, but he's also going to be a target for the posher clubs soon. Still, promotion does seem a possibility this year.

Read it Later story count: 447 (+1)

Remember me saying that I never DNF a story? Well, here's the proof! I began reading The Immortal Game as part of my ill-fated liveblogging experiment a couple of years ago. It really nagged at me that I hadn't finished it, so I resolved to do so. And eventually I did. This is a review I should really have written a long time ago, especially as it's of a much longer fic than I usually read. (For those who care, my next 300k story will be Through the Well of Pirene, but don't expect a review of that for many months to come.)

The Immortal Game by AestheticB
Celestia, Luna, Mane Six and OCs
Adventure/Dark; 297k words; Oct 2011–Jan 2013; Mature (Gore)
Princess Luna leads the Elements of Harmony against the corrupted Twilight Sparkle
This is one of those "an old enemy has awoken" stories – although in this case, it isn't just the one. This means a good deal of fighting – and be warned, that M rating is there for a reason. There are a lot of detailed, graphic fight scenes. Actually rather too many, I think. Most of the canon characters are pretty solid for the time they were written, although the OCs are rather variable and I find one or two of the backstories hard to credit. Technically, it starts iffy and gets better, like Fallout: Equestria does, so it's worth pushing through. There are niggles, but by the end nothing deal-breaking. It goes on a bit for my liking, but manages a three-star rating for being grimdark without being gratuitous. ★★★

I'll talk a little bit more, which means spoilers, after the break.

First up, you need to accept Celestia and Luna as being gods, otherwise the whole thing breaks down. They work well enough, especially as they're not made out to be infallible or unbeatable. I don't really enjoy Celestia's portrayal, especially the running theme of her lying to Twilight, but still. The other gods are a mixed bunch. Terra is at least moderately interesting for the most part, sometimes more, but Nihilus is aggravating later in her story. Titan is almost entirely predictable and formulaic, which is really rather disappointing. Bringing in Harmony late on is understandable in context, but I'm not sure that aspect really has time to shine.

I mentioned above the line that not all the story's supporting characters work for me, and a major example of this is Sir Unimpressive. He has his moments, but... first of all, his name is stupid, and if I'm going to stick with a stupidly-named character for this long then I want a proper explanation of why he's called that. I don't think I missed one. I know there used to be a prominent Fimficcer named Vimbert the Unimpressive, but that doesn't help. Sir Unimpressive's story also doesn't really get a proper ending. He also provides some oddly jarring comic relief, including meta stuff that reminds me how old this story is.

The Mane Six are generally good in this tale, and I'd especially pick out Rainbow Dash's traumatic "Wrong" period quite early on as a plotline that really kept me involved. Twilight probably has a more consistently interesting character, since she's so important to the various alicorns, but it's that Dash plotline that I think will stay with me the most. Pinkie Pie's weird mixture of silliness and terrifying combat manages to work, and Fluttershy spends annoyingly long in S1 timid mode before coming into her own – I'd like to have seen more of her with Unimpressive, despite what I said above.

I do find Applejack a bit tedious at times. Her thing is that her magic allows her to survive pretty much unlimited abuse, but other than a traumatic scene involving fire it's all rather repetitive. Rarity is more interesting, even if she does say "Titles are important" about 300 times too many. Bladecasting is a crucial component of the fic, but one I often didn't find very interesting. Rarity's blade scenes were frequently exceptions to this. It's a shame her potentially fascinating relationship with her father is let down by his clunking-fist portrayal. Oh, and poor Spike has a long spell with nopony apparently caring where he's got to.

I confess that I sometimes found all the twists in this story hard to keep track of, but nevertheless there was never a time when I found myself thinking, "This doesn't make any sense!" When I finally reached the end, it did feel appropriate, even if – as with a certain Tolkien epic – I would have preferred just a few fewer extended battle scenes. There are only so many times I can read about bits of Canterlot being smashed to pieces and still find it novel and interesting. On the whole, though, a decent read, even if I wouldn't rush to read a sequel. (There isn't one.)

Oh yeah, and before I go, the one thing that got me really irritated: the absolute obsession in the second half of the story with title-dropping. The fic was originally called Ponies Make War after the book in the fic, but it's as if after the change was made the author felt it imperative to have characters mention every three paragraphs that they were playing "the immortal game". It's the single most irritating thing in the story!

Next time on Ponyfic Roundup: a look at the winners and honourable mentions from the Imposing Sovereigns contest.


  1. You actually liked Wrong? I could do nothing but cringe through that entire character arc. D: Of course, I did a lot of cringing through this entire story, so...

    Yes, and the title-dropping and "titles are important" (OH LOOK THEY ARE THE SAME THING HOW CLEVER) got aggravating right quick.

    Now obviously you should read Beer and a Knife Fight 3 so you can see me poke fun at this story. :V

    1. Yes. Part of it may be that I read very few stories of this type, so there's little of the "Oh God, not this again" that those who do may get.

      Fun fact: the entire Beer and a Knife Fight trilogy (yeah, I know the first one's called something else) survived my RiL list cull. The first one, anyway. :P

  2. I haven't read this story and never will, so I have no perspective on it. But a couple of things: Vimbert got the "Unimpressive" from somewhere else, but I don't remember where. I also don't remember under what circumstances I saw it, so I can't definitively point you to his user page or a blog post or anything that says. It may be that if you know what the reference is, the name choice is more palatable, but then that brings up the problem of how accessible it is. And if Spike gets conspicuously swept under the rug, I'm tempted to browse the story's comments for a good thrashing from Swashbucklist.

    1. Thanks for the info -- an interesting coincidence, if they didn't indeed have the same inspiration. I didn't like the story so much that I feel the need to know, so I probably won't go searching for the details.