Well, missed putting up a post yesterday. My credibility is ruined! Or, well, the internet just has slightly less pony fandom related stuff in it for a day. Which was yesterday so obviously we all survived. Today is going to be a one-story post because I had a lot of blabbering come out while I read this one. Short version: Was a decent story, but almost no pony in it whatsoever.
This is going to be even more coherent than my usual. I was taking notes while I was reading and when I typed it up I tried to organize it a little, but it quickly became more effort than it was worth. I’m not running a respectible review site here after all. This is the dimly lit bar, not the resturant with fancy plates and exotic cusine.
Overall I liked this, but I also had a lot of complaints about it. First, a compliment. It was a nice touch that when the war was just starting Celestia was more worried about the chaos that would result than the war itself. That Discord getting out would be much worse than anything the war itself would involve. It was a very nice touch of Celestia as divine figure keeping the big picture in mind.
It was a odd decision to place the story at the very start of the series. My first estimate of the timeframe was a few decades before the events of the show, then when Shining Armor showed up I estimated a few years before the show when Shining Armor was a new guard. Then it turns out that the return of Nightmare Moon happened about a third of the way into the story, and absolutely nopony notices and it has no effect on anything.
My biggest problems all come back to the basic foundation of the story. It is a modern (or semi-modern) war with rifle armed infantry engaged in urban combat. This is a bad fit with pony. Both thematically and just physically. The author tries, but pistols and hooves just don’t mix well. Plus the movement and body language of the ponies in combat is all pretty much biped.
All the ponies are noble, honest soldier types. All the gryphons are evil, mocking bad guys. It is very much black and white morality-wise.
Regarding the war not being very pony, this is made even worse by introducing a plot device that removes pretty much all unicorn magic from being used. We also don’t get much of any weather manipulation or even just using clouds in any fashion. Even with the main character being a pegasus, about 90% of all the action happens on the ground.
Pretty sure the summer sun celebration where Nightmare Moon happened turned out to be a longer night than normal. At least by an hour or two. I know that the author was probably going for the whole cliche of big events back home have almost no impact on the front lines of a war, but this was a little extreme. The sun rising late would be something the entire world would notice. Just another bit of evidence that this is a story with just some random pony bits glued on. Good story, but not pony. Almost no magic, no supernatural stuff, just characters with rifles fighting evil people in a tyrannical nation across the ocean.
When the rest of Equestria finds out about the war and the citizens demand the soldiers be brought home, Celestia puts a cease-fire in place and goes to negotiate while the soldiers are still deep in enemy territory. This really doesn’t strike me as something Princess Celestia would do. That’s getting into competing headcanons though, so it gets a pass.
There is a running theme of ‘every soldier counts’. That each pony soldier is not just a faceless member of the military machine, but that each one is important and counts. This one annoyed me a lot. They are equines. Herd animals. Being part of a large group should be comforting. Even the show, if you really dig down, can support this. Ensemble cast instead of a single main character (yes Twilight is the main character, but the others are more important than secondary characters), and the main message of the show is that with friends you can do anything. This would probably not bother me as much except I just read another story (A Dream of Dawn by Starsong) that did this really well. Just a few little details emphasizing the ponies non-human nature as herd animals.
There is no mention of Celestia or Luna fighting at all. The fanfics I’ve read tend to vary in their opinion of how personally powerful the alicorns are, but most of them put the sisters at a good deal more powerful than the average unicorn. There isn’t even any magical displays during the negotiations in a moment of anger or stress, or as a show of force. Instead of being immortal divine rulers, the sisters are obvious just being used as human politician stand-ins. Having Princess Luna stay behind as the general overseeing the army would have been a perfect move. It would show that she’s the more military minded of the sisters, and would fit in with the show as an explanation as to why she wasn’t seen at all during the first season of the show.
Technological stuff instead of magic. They use satchel charges for explosions instead of unicorn spells or even enchanted gemstones or something more mystical.
At no point do the Equestrian forces take advantage of pegasi weather magic. A siege that doesn’t take advantage of weather control is just crazy. Sure, there is a single instance where it mentions that Cloudsdale sends a tropical storm over the ocean at the enemy, but that turns out to just be a plot device so that the next scene is a dramatic stormy night atmosphere.
From a writing perspective the pacing seems a bit off. Most of the story our main character is a fresh recruit over his head. Then about 2/3rds of the way through the story we flip over to a grizzled veteran who’s been in the war for months and months. We don’t get any real sense of all that time passing or the experience weighing him down until then. The writing isn’t choppy or anything. It just feels like a good chunk of the story is missing from the middle.
So this is decent to good mid-20th century military fiction. You could swap out all the nouns from pony to modern day stuff and the story would be stronger for it. I enjoy military fiction, but even then I prefer scifi or fantasy variants. Either aliens/high-tech or magic stuff. So I ended up mostly disappointed in this story. So much potential wasted on just another fairly generic piece of American military literature. I’m not 100% sure about the nationality of the author, but I’d bet money on either being American or just a big fan of the American military.
Still, I’d love to see this re-written as a more ponified version. Make the main character Shining Armor starting when he’s a new recruit. The story being him going from new recruit getting thrown into the first war Equestria has had in forever and his climb up to being Captain of the Guard. Add the magic back in, though keep the rifles. Princess Luna comes in for the negotiations and stays to lead the army as the high general and heavy artillery.
Lastly, it doesn’t matter how many times you say it, gripping a pistol with a hoof just doesn’t make any sense.
The Immortal Game did pony warfare a lot better. A few other fanfics have done a great job exploring and showing battle and combat magic.
Later edit: And I forgot another compliment I wanted to give this fanfic. I did really like the going back and forth between the journal entries and the in-character point of view. Contrasting the somewhat dry or short journal entries with the actual events of what happens was quite effective in places. I’d love to see more stories do this sort of thing.