Latest annoyance from you crazy people over at FimFiction. Though not anyone that actually reads this blog I don’t think. You are all okay. Anyway, changing your username to something spooky for the whole Halloween thing. Messes up adding things to the Big Master Review List. Anyway, today is a single-story review post. Pretty long one too.
I’ve actually covered the beginning of this story before, twice. Here’s the sneak peak I got of the first couple of chapters as part of his release promotion efforts. Whereas here is my look at the first half of the story before it was finished.
This is a fairly rambling piece. It was all written after I finished (I think, maybe one or two bits during) but much of it was stuff I was thinking about through the whole story. Mostly because I had already read the first part of it and so my brain was free to ponder things rather than get fully immersed. Then mental inertia had me still occasionally pondering nitpicks even during the stuff that was new to me. So a lot of the stuff below varies between complaints and wishes that the author would have done things differently.
My overall judgement? Very good. I didn’t like it as much as the first one and the short-stories, but overall I’m still a fan of the author and this version of Equestria in general. If you enjoyed the first Dusk Guard story, you’ll enjoy this one. It’s got around 98% of the same entertaining goodness. Almost all the stuff I ramble on about in this post is either nitpicks or stuff that didn’t interfere with my enjoyment (except in one or two tiny places).
My previous review of the first half of this story called this not a sequel. I’d like to expand on that a bit here. This is a story in the same world, by the same author (I mean in a authorial voice sense), covering the same thematic broad sweeps. So it is very much in the same series. For me, however, a sequel is a direct continuation. By that standard it fails. I would point at the David Weber Honor Harrington stories as the best example of what I’m talking about. The series splits into a main storyline and the side story line. Often overlapping, sometimes covering the same event from a different perspective, or covering the same time period but somewhere else. So you have the book as in the side plotline that are related to the main plotline, and have some characters from there and the occasional cameo if main characters, but are not sequels as such. You can enjoy the side plotline books without needing to be up to date with the primary plotline books. Each one is enhanced by reading the other, and you would need to read the main series books up to where the split happens.
The Dusk Guard, in the other hand, splits right away. You don’t need to read the first one to enjoy or understand most of this one. Even if the macguffins were discovered in the first one, you don’t need to know that to follow the plot.
Still a bit too modern military for my tastes in places. Mostly just in a few pieces of terminology in the first half of the story. Not entirely sure about airship combat with cannons and such. It actually fits, but I like my pony fiction to be a lot less technological in nature. Makes some sense with it being the less magical Gryphons, but I prefer more magic and personal training type of thing. The only part that really bugs me, because it’s an annoyance I’d mine, is the computer displays in the big bad lair at the end. Magical crystal screens in a control room projecting holographic information. I really don’t like tech analogue magical devices like that. It is a tiny mentioned once detail, but it still frustrated me. Especially when considering how old the place was supposed to be.
Action was a bit too blow by blow. Though excellently done. I just think the detail should have been dialed back a bit. It was the same in Dusk Guard, but that had magic in it as well. In this one our heroes were almost all physical punch, slash, stab types. A lot of the time there wasn’t any flight except for maneuvers. Now that I think about it, I don’t think there was a single midair action scene. Which was a pity. So all the action scenes were very much in your face physical battles, excepting the one unicorn who used ice arrows for her primary attacks. Since the magic stuff is one of the things I really like about pony fan fiction, it was a slight disappointment.
This was basically the same excellent quality as the first one. Only it lacked some of the specific parts of the first one I liked the most. The team building and slow character development was my favorite part of the first Dusk Guard story. There was some of that in here, but it was much more a secondary focus this time around. As in it had to share time with the action and adventure rather than having room to breathe on its own. Another was that I liked the mystery/puzzle aspect of the first story. That they were trying to figure something out. This one was much more tightly focused and the reader figures out at least the broad strokes of things a lot sooner than the heroes. It was also much more linear in nature, mostly due to the time pressure of the plot. Once the vault of bones is opened, the story is basically a straight shot. Even the main investigation part after that in the Gryphon capital seemed rushed and brief.
On another note, the Gryphon capital? Awesome. Totally stealing it for my worldbook. As well as my general headcanon for Gryphons. One of my complaints is that we didn’t get to spent enough time there. If the story was half again as long and we got to spend all that time investigating and dealing with Gryphon culture and maybe politics and history and stuff? That would be exactly what I would have loved. However, that’s backseat authoring and shouldn’t be held too strongly against the story. Like I said, the Gryphon capital is an amazing concept.
As for the actual city we see in the show, Griffonstone. It actually fits really well with the lore and worldbuilding in this story. As a clan of Gryphons (or several) that left the empire. One of the main settlements in this story did just that and fallen on hard times, but persevering. Easy to see another group doing that but the cursed idol causing them to fail where the group in the story holds strong.
As for the characters, I just ended up not liking them as much. Blade was good. Mostly because we get a lot of time from her perspective. Alchemy was cool because of neat potion powers and internal conflict. Frost was a fairly typical example of her character type but manages to avoid cliche in my opinion. Hain just faded into the background for me most of the time. I got a decent sense of his personality but if he wasn’t interesting directly I tended to forget about him. A few times I actually thought “oh yeah, he is a main character too”. Which is a pity because he had the most interesting backstory in my opinion. Just a pity it was apparently there only to get negative reactions out of him on occasion.
Spoilers ahead, read the story first.
Anubis was a cool villain. I still kind of wish the story had involved Sombra, but I also appreciate it being something else entirely. The history and lore of the immortals was really cool worldbuilding and I can’t wait to see more of it.
On the other hand, the big cliffhanger at the end was… I don’t want to say bad, but after a similar one in the first ones it’s kind of getting old already. I’m not a big fan of teaser cliffhangers like that at the end of books (or movies really). I mean I was expecting Anubis to pop back up (seriously, lord of the dead who animates skeletons at will and you didn’t check for a body?) and it was neat that it was different in that he got captured instead if being safe somewhere. When the cliffhanger raises more questions, though, I just get frustrated. I don’t need to be jabbed like that to want to read the next book. The author is really good, there is lots of cool stuff in the story that I want more of. Having the unrelated (to the plot, not the story) bit at the end that raised questions that won’t be answered in years just frustrates me. Yes, if the next book is out I would go read it right away. But I would have done that anyway, and given the slow burn of things I suspect the answers won’t be in the next book, or even the one after that.
Thinking about it, they would be handled much better as either stand alone short stories, or perhaps a collection of all the building tension going on behind each story. Let the readers see each of those long term building plot points pile up and get a sense of things just reading that. Easy enough to put a link to each story’s bit at the end of the story.
Oh, and Anubis was totally doomed. The dusk guard (if they had been the ones in the right place at the right time to deal with him) would have wrecked his fortress even more than the rogues did. Benefits of top of the line government support and more diverse membership. But I have to think that Equestria has figured out a way to block teleports in the last one or two thousand years. After the first city or two was fried, the Princesses put up wide area teleport wards over their cities. I bet Shining Armor’s full power city shield could take at least one hit from the city blasting lasers.
Which in a roundabout way highlights what I was trying to say earlier about this being too technological in feel. I like it that the world of pony emphasizes individual excellence. Shining Armor’s shield, Twilight’s magical skills, things like that. Even the Dusk Guard is put together based on the fact that each of them is exceptional. The crystal power Armor just enhances that which is why I have less of an objection to that (though still object to it a little). Whereas tech tends to level the playing field. See the ponyfic Intern by GaPJaxie for that particular logical line of thought. In the real world this is good because when you get right down to it, humans are all basically the same. Our diversity of expression isn’t that broad. At least when compared to a fantasy world if several different sapient species with very diverse magics. Which means that the flattening effect is making up for deficiencies rather than pushing down excellence. So by adding technology it takes away that fantasy diversity and flattens things out. Especially when the tech is all basically real world analogue stuff. Again, all of this is just my personal perception. Was interesting to finally actually figure out why I don’t like a lot of modern tech in my pony fan fiction. Whereas I really enjoy science fiction (theorizing as I type here, though I have been thinking about it a bit recently). I think it’s because the type of science fiction I enjoy uses tech and science closer to magic, and has that element of exploration and discovery. Take Outside the Reaching Sky by Karazor as one of the best examples of what I mean. There the tech is one one hand, he does actually have one or two examples of magic-based tech that isn’t just modern analogues or extrapolations. Most of it is that, but even just having one example of difference helps a lot. Plus just having the tech be future stuff that isn’t in the real world helps maintain that level of imagination that I like stories to have. Using modern tech just seems… Not cheating exactly, but using something that takes less creativity so you can focus elsewhere on the story. Anyway, it’s still a subject I need to think more about. As always, it’s nice when a story makes me think about things even if it’s because of something I didn’t like.