Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Ponyfic Roundup 253: Spotlight on Firebird Dahlia

Read it Later story count: 253 (-1)

Originally, I wasn't going to make Firebird Dahlia a Spotlight story. It was going to be one of several in the usual manner. But as time went on, it became clear that I had more I wanted to say about the fic than I could fit in even a longish single paragraph. As ever with Spotlit stories, there's a non-spoilery review up here, followed by some more detailed (and more spoilery!) comments further down the page.

Firebird Dahlia by The Albinocorn
Sunset Shimmer, Spitfire, OCs and Other
Drama/Slice of Life; 49k words; Jan 2015–Jun 2016; Everyone
Sunset goes home to Equestria to reconcile with her family. But ten years is a large bridge to gap, especially between sisters.
This is set after Rainbow Rocks, so Sunset is reformed and has friends in CHS-world, but returning to Equestria is still a huge deal. Especially given that her pony family lies in ruins, with her parents separated and her sister still furious and ice-cold over the incident that led to their rift ten years ago. (Ten years Equestrian: it's only been three for Sunset due to timey-wimey stuff.) And her sister is Spitfire. This is a sisterly pairing I've never seen before, and it actually works really well, especially as Sunset is the only unicorn in a family of pegasi; this does cause issues. There are a lot of flashbacks, through which we gradually learn the harsh truth of what happened to drive the sisters so far apart. Sunset also meets Celestia for the first time since she left Equestria. The fic really peaks around two-thirds of the way through, after which the rest is a tad on the predictable side, though it's still enjoyable thanks to solid character work – Sunset's parents are nicely drawn OCs, too. There's also a slightly bizarre but amusing late-story tie-in with "Make New Friends But Keep Discord", Smooze and all. If you really like Sunset, or indeed Spitfire, this is a must-read. For everyone else, it's still recommended. ★★★★

I have more to say about this one, but there will be major spoilers ahead. If you don't want to see those, please read no further!

As I said in the main review above, I really like the decision to make Sunset and Spitfire sisters. Apparently this idea came to the author after thinking about their somewhat similar colouration, but whatever the case I'm glad it did. The sparks really fly between them in this story, especially early on and in the flashbacks where their feud is at its fiercest. On more than one occasion, this ends with serious physical injury, most obviously in Spitfire's devastating flying crash and Sunset's broken nose from her sister's punch.

They work well even once they begin to make up, though. Perhaps they regain each other's trust a tiny bit too fast, given the gravity of what's gone on, but I can probably accept that given the way Soarin and Rainbow Dash push Spitfire. Those two are in something of supporting roles, but they both play them well, and there's a clear distinction between Dash (who is still an Academy flier at this point) and Soarin (who knows a lot about Spitfire, perhaps even more than Spits thinks he does).

I mentioned earlier that the last section of the story is a little less exciting. It's fairly clear from then on in that Dawn and Zephyr (Spitfire and Sunset's estranged parents) are going to get back together in some way. I appreciated that they weren't simply returned to being passionately in love by the end, though. That really would have been a little unbelievable. The backdrop of the Grand Galloping Gala, Smooze Edition, also makes this a pretty funny part of the fic, which does have its comic moments despite the overall serious plotline.

The dramatic magic-assisted flying stunt, the Firebird Dahlia of the title, allows some catharsis for the sisters. It's the very same stunt that led to Spitfire's injury all those years ago, when Sunset had let anger get the better of her. For all Shimmy's protestations, it reads as though it was deliberate for Spitfire to get at least a little hurt, although not as badly injured as she actually was. I like that just a little ambiguity is maintained on this point all the way through the story. Sunset and Spitfire still have more to discuss. (There is a sequel, but only two chapters appeared before it went on hiatus early last year.)

Tensions between pegasi and unicorns simmered beneath the surface, occasionally breaking cover. I felt this was the right way to do it, rather than making the tribalism/racism into a huge subplot that would have distracted from the main event. I wasn't bothered by the writing, which is generally a good sign. With a very few exceptions, I want the story to be what I remember, not the prose's technical qualities. There were a few minor errors, but probably fewer than usual in a near-50k story and nothing that made me lose the thread or get confused.

I suspect that those who really love Sunset Shimmer might well enjoy this more than I did. Don't get me wrong, I liked it a lot, as that four-star rating will tell you. But Sunset is merely a character I quite like (in pony form, anyway) rather than an outright favourite. I actually found myself more intrigued by Spitfire's portrayal here. Both ponies are, well, not exactly self-effacing, hence the sparks, and sometimes that leads to a tiring story. This time it leads to one you can never quite take your eyes off – at least until the somewhat more predictable last couple of chapters.

Next time on Ponyfic Roundup: stories reviewed should include The Princess Rarity's Misadventures in Manehattan.

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