MrPeaches’ “Wonka Vs. Applejack”

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Today’s story goes down better than a Scrumpdiddlyumptious Bar.

Wonka Vs. Applejack
[Adventure] [Comedy] [Crossover] • 14,202 words

Zap Apple season’s in full swing on Sweet Apple Acres when a most peculiar visitor arrives — Willy Wonka, world-famous candymaker! Thinking that the apple will be the perfect ingredient for a new line of candy, Wonka tries to convince a hesitant Applejack to part with some! But with Wonka things are never quite straightforward; when interdimensional magical mechanics and a legendary tree enter into the picture, our heroes might have been safer battling Hornswogglers, Snozzwangers and rotten Vermicious Knids!

FROM THE CURATORS: There’s no getting around it: this story came completely out of left field (or perhaps fell from the sky in a Great Glass Elevator). “I was extraordinarily skeptical of this story when it was recommended to me,” RBDash47 said in his nomination, “and delighted to find I had a great time with it.” “Wow,” Horizon said. “At the beginning of this story I was wondering if I’d make it through to the end. By the end of Chapter 5 I had favorited it.” FanOfMostEverything couldn’t resist either: “It took a while for me to warm up to this fic, but once I had, it was melt-in-your-mouth good.”

Everyone agreed that the author presented their audience with a pitch-perfect Willy Wonka. Present Perfect was “absolutely in love with this piece the moment Wonka showed up. It’s truly a triumph of character voicing.” RBDash47 was just as impressed at how “the author succeeded in capturing some essence of Wonka, some spirit of the mad chocolatier, and did a passable job of blending both the movie’s and the books’ interpretations of the character and the Elevator.”

Even better, this larger-than-life candymaker turned out to be a perfect fit for the magical land of Equestria. Horizon felt the author truly nailed the crossover: “It’s got such a gorgeous understanding of the themes and tones of both of its sources. (It’s an E-rated adventure! How often do you see those?) And the way it meshes pony canon, Dahl canon, and original whimsy is stellar.” FanOfMostEverything enjoyed how “the pastel deathworld of Equestria and Wonka’s OSHA-violating whimsy combined in a magnificent blend of wonder, mortal peril, and candy (which, since it’s Wonka, is itself a blend of those first two).” RBDash47 isn’t usually a fan of HiE, but thought “this might be the first ‘human in Equestria’ fic I’ve ever read where not only is the human’s presence not jarring, it feels right.” Present Perfect agreed that “it felt like Willy Wonka was honestly meant to be here and have this adventure.”

In the end, AugieDog summarized the curators’ feelings as effortlessly as the author captured their imaginations: “Unlike your average chocolate Easter bunny, this is solid fun from top to bottom.”

Read on for our author interview, in which MrPeaches discusses big brothers, everyday adventures, and riding bulls. Continue reading

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RandomNPC’s “Winning, and the pitfalls therein.”

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Give today’s story a chance to conquer your heart.

Winning, and the pitfalls therein.
[Comedy] [Random] [Alternate Universe] • 42,517 words

What if the villains were allowed to win without a fight? Would all of their plans bear them the fruits they so desired?

Probably not, especially when their royal adviser is Twilight Sparkle.

A collection of (continuous) one-shots in which our heroes don’t have any epic fights with villains, and simply allow the power of logic to crush all of the hopes and wishes of the would-be rulers of Equestria.

FROM THE CURATORS: “It’s a question every would-be tyrant has to face eventually,” FanOfMostEverything quipped in our discussion.  “You’ve conquered the kingdom/world/galaxy/universe. Congratulations. Now what?”

As this week’s feature shows, that’s a question with a surprising amount of depth — a depth matched by the story itself.  “It’s hard to categorize this genre-wise, except that it’s relentlessly clever and methodical about finding ways to end-run around the show’s plot holes,” Horizon said in his nomination, and our debate was marked by repeated comments about that cleverness.  “The writing itself is somewhat flat, but the world presented therein is anything but,” RBDash47 said, while FanOfMostEverything half-disagreed: “I honestly didn’t notice the flat writing; the brilliant ideas shine through it.”

Those ideas sparked comparisons of the best kind.  “This feels an awful lot like the gleeful deconstruction of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, mashed up with the themes of redemption and friendship which make MLP stories feel ‘pony’, and I’m in love with the result,” Horizon said.  RBDash47 was equally a fan — but for very different reasons.  “I just finished a re-watch of The West Wing,” he said, “and I’m reminded of that series here, in that it’s both optimistic and features competent characters coming up with clever solutions to seemingly-intractable problems that make everyone happy. I very much enjoyed following along with Twilight as she mercilessly attacked her antagonists with nothing but pure reason, and gradually found herself as the power behind the throne in the balance.”

But what sealed the deal for us was strong character work.  “Where it really shines is how Twilight isn’t always right,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “Logical and internally consistent, yes, but not always right. The avenues she goes down add to both the humor and the depth of the story at every turn, and the increasingly absurd team of advisors she builds as time goes on only adds to that.”  AugieDog praised that as well: “When Twilight almost immediately jumps to the wrong conclusion at the beginning of the Chrysalis section, it did a lot to make this version of the character work.”  (“The entire Chrysalis arc is just gorgeous on toast,” Horizon added.)  Ultimately, we found that made this story stand out amid a sea of others tinkering with the show’s results: “‘Fixfic’ can be a dirty word,” RBDash47 said, “but I have to admire this one.”

Read on for our author interview, in which RandomNPC discusses SCIENCE, sibling relations, and a few different kinds of character redemption.
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Piccolo Sky’s “The Sweet Spot”

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Today’s story will hit the spot for fans of the MLP movie.

The Sweet Spot
[Drama] • 15,679 words

The Cutie Mark Crusaders have dealt with all kinds of ponies having trouble finding their true calling in life, but none can compare to the special request they receive from Princess Twilight Sparkle herself, or the shock they receive on discovering who it is: Fizzlepop Berrytwist, possibly the most hated and feared pony in generations. Can a pony who’s spent most of her life rejecting her true calling possibly find it now? Can the Cutie Mark Crusaders help a pony who almost everypony else in Equestria has rejected?

FROM THE CURATORS: Long-running series like My Little Pony often revisit their characters to explore their full stories on-screen.  But when a compelling character shows up in a one-shot movie, that offers fertile ground for fanfiction to dig in.  “This one is fairly simple on paper: The Crusaders help Tempest Shadow get a Cutie Mark,” FanOfMostEverything said in his nomination.  “What follows is one of the best redemption arcs I’ve read in this fandom, if not ever.”  Present Perfect was equally impressed back when he first read it: “I homaged it in my own ‘Tempest Shadow gets her Cutie Mark’ story,” he said.  “As my first introduction to how that concept would play out (aside from the one in my head), it was a delight.”

And while several curators thought the story could use trimming, it won us over regardless.  “Everyone, from the Crusaders to the background ponies, feels perfectly in character, and Tempest’s struggle for redemption fits the series’ best mold,” Horizon said.  That characterization came in for repeated praise.  “I think that it more than succeeds on the strength of its characterization, and the way that this angle informs the conflict resolution,” Soge said.  “It also deserves praise for how it eschews an easy solution to its central conflict, and how ‘pony’ everything felt. And, despite the bloat, it additionally works as a solid comedy in many places.”

Regardless, it was the exemplary show-like approach which we singled out for praise over and over again.  “The vision of the ‘Tempest episode’ here is gorgeously realized,” Horizon said, “and while the plot points it hits feel predictable, in a way that’s part of its charm, making it feel less like fanfiction and more like a discarded Hasbro script.”  Present Perfect went further: “It gave me everything I wanted, while also being perfectly show-tone and full of solid drama. Not to mention the creative approach to Tempest’s special talent.” In the end, FanOfMostEverything said, that led to a thoroughly satisfying story: “The ending feels earned, the dramatic beats are on point, and the whole thing makes you wish the show could afford to get Emily Blunt back for an episode.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Piccolo Sky discusses dead space, failed coups, and Guard bandwagons.
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PapierSam’s “We Are Forever”

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We are impressed with today’s story.

We Are Forever
[Equestria Girls] [Comedy] [Slice of Life] • 9,973 words

The pilot episode of the Rainbooms’ reality television show, in which the band breaks up.

As expected, mild drama, washout humour, awkward pop culture references, and character bending to breaking point ensues.

FROM THE CURATORS: While it’s a truism that stories should work with the strengths of prose rather than try to mimic another medium, it can be a joy to find tales which effectively break that rule.  “Here’s a story that genuinely made me feel like I was watching TV,” Horizon said in his nomination.  “The way it imitates that tightly cut, fast-paced style not only works brilliantly, it also centers golden dialogue and witty repartee that carries the story.”  On its way to a feature, the story accumulated significant praise on that point.  “The way it plays with the medium shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does, and yet here we are,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “All told, this is a brilliant collision of the modern music industry, reality TV, and a certain septet of multicolored humanoids.”

And while that was a combination which invited comparison, the fic found itself in lofty company.  “I was getting serious ‘This is Spinal Tap’ flashbacks all through this fic, and that’s a very good thing indeed,” AugieDog said.  “The story even manages the amazing feat of parodying the characters we know from the Rainbooms while still remaining absolutely true to them, something else that ‘Spinal Tap’ did so very well.”  That wasn’t the only story element whose execution pleasantly surprised us.  “It even manages some visual gags that by all rights shouldn’t have worked — I’m specifically thinking of the running gag with their cell phones — and works in some great running musical references that might be seen as fourth-wall breaking but to me just came off as endearing,” Horizon said.  And Present Perfect loved several different aspects: “The droll narrator helps keep the fast pacing natural, while also providing us with a huge helping of the comedy,” he said.  “The ability to juggle so many characters, and make all their contributions to both halves of the story meaningful, was impressive.  But mostly, I just love how well the constant cuts to the Interview Area were handled.”

It all added up to an oddly endearing package.  “This got weird at times, and I mean that in a good way,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “Overall, it was a great read, somehow combining sincere seven-way friendshipping with the sort of characterization and casual mockery I usually see in goofy crackfics.”  Present Perfect agreed: “Oh god, the references. This was a marvelous, original piece, something completely unlike anything I think I have ever read, fanfiction or otherwise.”

Read on for our author interview, in which PapierSam discusses cheese brags, common pianos, and multitalented block parties.
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Poptard’s “A Familiar Feeling”

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I’ve got a feeling that you’ll appreciate today’s story.

A Familiar Feeling
[Romance] [Sad] [Slice of Life] • 11,142 words

After months of pleasant dating, it’s time for the inevitable meeting of the family. For Sugar Belle, it should be easy as cake. She’s already met three of the Apple Family members, after all. She only has one more to win over.

It’s more complicated than that, she finds.

FROM THE CURATORS: Romance fanfics face something of an uphill climb in consensus processes like ours.  Non-canon ships tend to be divisive based on readers’ connections to the characters, and canon ships struggle not to retread ground already covered by the show.  So when a shipfic overcomes those hurdles, it’s worth noticing.  “This one I’m recommending on the strength of its portrayal of the relationship of Big Mac and Sugar Belle,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “I have read scores of shipfics in this fandom, and so few authors are willing or able to get the little things right: the cute moments, the use of closeness for comfort. A relationship isn’t all about making out or grand romantic gestures. This story convinces me these two ponies are good for each other.”

As our discussion continued, there was one thing on which we all quickly agreed.  “It is pretty darn cute,” AugieDog said.  Soge agreed: “Belle and Mac are really cute together.  I liked the characterization work, and I thought that the scene in Sugarcube Corner was something special.”  The handling of the story’s central romance was repeatedly singled out as exemplary.  “There are some fantastic moments between the couple, doing far more to develop their relationship than the show has,” FanOfMostEverything said. “Seeing them interact with one another without any contrived sitcom plots does a lot to sell the relationship for me, especially subtle touches like how Sugar Belle can get Big Mac to open the verbal spigot.”

And it turned out that A Familiar Feeling had some pleasant surprises in store.  “I appreciated the generally solid writing and many quotable moments, but I wasn’t sold until I hit the second chapter,” Horizon said.  “The ‘wandering hooves’ effect was vivid and well portrayed, and the emotions connect and provide a satisfying coda.”  That ending brought a unique and memorable touch to this romance, FanOfMostEverything said: “The last scene and its setup were a peculiar form of quietly creepy-sweet that I’ve almost never seen.”  It all added up, as RBDash47 said, to “a pretty perfect balance of soft, snuggly lovingness and a believable conflict that avoided melodrama. … At the end of the day, it passed the most basic of tests: I had a great time reading it.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Poptard discusses friendswording, Flash vindication, and alphabet remixing.
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Undome Tinwe’s “And the Serpent Said Unto the Princess”

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Today’s story was too tempting for us to pass up.

And the Serpent Said Unto the Princess
[Dark] [Romance] • 2,785 words

In the beginning, there was Harmony. Then Discord stole Fire from the Alicorns.

FROM THE CURATORS: “Who doesn’t like a good creation myth?” RBDash47 said in his nomination — and judging by our unaminous approval, this fic blew past “good” with room to spare.  Along the way, it picked up both top scores and praise like Soge’s: “Oh boy, is this fic special in a way few fics are.  The multi-layered narrative, the allusions to all kinds of human myths, and most importantly, the twist at the end that brings everything into sharp focus. Everything works in synchrony to deliver the author’s grand vision.”

That was quite a feat given how many big ideas the story brought to the table.  “I can’t remember the last time I saw something with so many layers,” Present Perfect said.  “There’s the creation myth, which is perfectly excellent storytelling on its own. Then there’s Discord as both Lucifer and Prometheus, poisoning ponies with his fire. And then there’s the Hero, and the revelation that what we know as ponies is not what always lived under Celestia’s rule. Of course, the omission of Luna from the tale reinforces that this is almost assuredly not historical truth, which is great. What starts out as seemingly anti-Discord religious tract becomes full-fledged insanity by the end, and I loved watching the tale unravel.”  FanOfMostEverything commented on that as well: “If anything, the friction between the scripture and reality only emphasizes the devotion of the congregation.”

We found the story’s vision reinforced by excellent voicing and pacing.  “It’s got the language and rhythm of a revival-tent cult meeting down so well, the temptation to read lines aloud in my best ‘fire and brimstone’ voice was nearly overwhelming,” AugieDog said.  “And the slow unwrapping of the Hero’s identity is one of the finest reveals I’ve read in quite some time.”  On top of that, as Soge noted, the story’s big ideas squarely kept the show front and center: “Through all its depths, it still remains fundamentally pony, the kind of thing that can hardly be achieved outside fanfiction.”  That came together, as Horizon said, to a simply enjoyable read: “Smooth execution of a novel idea?  Sign me up.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Undome Tinwe discusses exploding pythons, wedding crashers, and $250,000 savings.
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Celefin’s “Track Switch – Steel Dreams”

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Today’s story is engineered to be quite a moving tale.

Track Switch – Steel Dreams
[Slice of Life] [Human] • 12,434 words

Modern just in time supply chains require arcane logistics. The people I work for specialise in that special kind of magic. Me? I just make sure stuff gets from A to B. And I’m good at it. All over western Europe. Always at night. Always alone — just the way I like it.

FROM THE CURATORS: “I have never read a bad story about ponies and trains,” Present Perfect said as we discussed this story.  “I don’t know what it is about the two, that they go together and inspire people to write great things, but I’m glad they do.”  And while our discussion was full of nostalgia for other great railway writers, what quickly became clear was that Steel Dreams forged its own exemplary direction.  “Celefin has basically created an entire subgenre all their own, one I can only describe as ‘Europone train drama’,”  FanOfMostEverything said in his nomination.  “It’s a pony-on-Earth slice of life with a focus on mundane pony-human interaction and vehicle engineering. It’s also a wonderful tale of found friendship and the intense drama that can be found in everyday life.”

We found ourselves getting sucked into that drama, in all the best ways.  “Oof, this one hit me hard,” Soge said.  “It has this quietly emotive angle to its writing, which — coupled with the sublime characterization work — made for a deeply empathetic portrayal of its protagonist.”  Present Perfect had similar praise: “This surprised me with Celefin’s easy character-centric writing, introducing us to a whole host of folks all at once and making us give a darn about all and sundry.  Then you’ve got the way the writing changes style when it’s just Nightline and her train. The words flow differently, the landscape feels different; it’s a really impressive feat the author’s pulled off.” And AugieDog praised how that solid characterization tied in to the story’s deeper themes: “I like how we get the pony character’s point of view on everything — I’m a sucker for stories that look at our world through an outsider’s eyes — and I especially like how it ever so gently gives us the point that even moving to a new dimension won’t change a pony unless that pony’s willing to change.”

While the story isn’t the first in its continuity, we noted it still made an excellent starting point.  “Having read [the prequel] Frankfurt Calling first, I have a great deal more appreciation for the character of Penny than I think you might otherwise, but reading this by itself is fine,” Present Perfect said.  Part of that was the power the story teased out of unexpected places.  “It speaks volumes of the immigrant experience without ever drawing attention to that angle,” Soge said.  “It is remarkably lifelike, particularly when it show the small ways in which Nightlight relates to the people around her, or how she goes about making (or not making) new connections.” So perhaps it’s no surprise that our most unanimous sentiment was — as RBDash47 put it — “I would love to see more of Nightline and Trax in a future continuation.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Celefin discusses sapient engines, biscuit imitation, and silver-haired memories.
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Revenant Wings’ “Reconstruction”

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Today’s story assembles a unique look at Starlight’s aftereffects.

Reconstruction
[Drama] [Sad] [Slice of Life] • 6,378 words

The former equalized ponies struggle to reconstruct their town after Starlight Glimmer’s defeat, and Double Diamond struggles to reconstruct his own identity after being freed from Starlight’s equalization brainwashing.

FROM THE CURATORS: If you want evidence that later seasons of MLP still provide fertile ground for wide-ranging storytelling, “The Cutie Map” is arguably Exhibit A — and this story is an excellent example of why.  “In our tenure, we’ve seen story after story that studies depression, anxiety, even PTSD. But brainwashing?” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “If this story has a big thing right, it’s portraying the ways in which Starlight’s conditioning amplifies and exacerbates Double Diamond’s own self-doubts.”  The story quickly moved to a feature amid comments like FanOfMostEverything’s: “One does not shuck off mental chains in a single triumphant chase scene, especially not when one was the cult leader’s right hand. His falling into a propaganda-reciting fugue state is a wonderfully chilling image.”

And while Double Diamond’s struggle with his past was the story’s most compelling theme, the world around him also contributed to the story’s power.  “Like the characters tell Double-D over and over, he’s not the only one hurting,” Present Perfect said.  “And I really appreciate that they never say that to demean him or his pain, but to remind him that he has friends, and those friends are there for him.”  AugieDog agreed: “It’s quite a nice portrayal of a group of people coming out from the other end of a trauma,” he said.  “And I especially like Double Diamond’s speech at the end, the way Starlight’s maxims are still running through his head even as he largely contradicts each one with the words he’s saying out loud.”  And the narrative kept the focus quite solidly on its powerful moments: “It’s got a well-chosen central struggle and a solid message,” Horizon said, “but for me what elevates the story is the way this sets and holds its mood.”

In the end, well-chosen imagery and good use of literary techniques carried the day.  “The big thing right is the tension between the townfolk’s old, brainwashed patterns and their new struggles to define themselves,” Horizon said.  “It covers that quite heavily, and normally when a story chased its own tail so much I’d get restless, but here Diamond’s backsliding feels consistently fraught, an excellent use of repetition.  The vivid imagery certainly contributes to that, and the many little variations on the equals-sign pattern are nice touches, especially the minus of the stacked skis.”  RBDash47 agreed, adding: “The notion that DD’s mind would keep turning up that particular signal in the noise of his world is compelling.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Revenant Wings discusses little detours, final fantasies, and paladins vs. giants.
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Special interview: California’s Camp Fire

Today’s feature asks us to put the brakes on for just a minute.

With the arrival of Thanksgiving here in the U.S., we hit the downhill portion of the holiday season: a month of rushing around that will see us all careening out the other side smack dab into the new year.  We often take holidays off to encourage our readers to catch up (with friends and families, and on features from our archives), but this year, instead we would like to bring the focus on people who could use some help — those who found themselves in the path of the Camp Fire, which recently swept through the foothills of northern California.

Horizon, who I’m guessing needs no introduction around here, works with a Search & Rescue unit in the Sierra Nevada mountains near the fire, and was called in to the town of Paradise to help comb through the rubble.  We’ve asked him to discuss his experiences, as well as ways to help those affected by the fire.  Read on for his photos and commentary.
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Lost + Found Features: “Decisions” / “The Unicorn and the Crow”

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From time to time, despite our best efforts, we don’t have a feature ready to post come Friday—but that doesn’t mean we can’t recommend some reading material! We keep track of the stories which passed our approval process but whose authors have proven impossible to contact. We’d like to give these stories their time in the spotlight too, so read on for two RCL-approved tales for your reading pleasure.

decisionsDecisions
By hester1
[Sad][Slice of Life] • 2,818 words

A server waits on six ponies in a restaurant. The diners have drinking contests and discuss social responsibility. The clock ticks ever on and on.

FROM THE CURATORS: Everyone appreciated this story’s attention to detail and excellent use of “show-don’t-tell.” “The more I think about this one, as more pieces fall together inside my head, the more I appreciate the subtlety and power hidden inside what’s apparently a little Slice of Life piece about an evening in a restaurant,” said Horizon. “Piecing together the situation from the details draws you into the story, letting you explore a second layer to the conversation that works more richly as subtext than it would out in the open.”

RBDash47 seconded the nomination: “It’s definitely a fantastic example of show-don’t-tell, and it’s a bonus to me that it’s done in first person; using the waiter’s POV to bounce us between the three tables is a nice framing element.” Present Perfect called it “a masterwork in subtlety and how to tell a story with a scattered focus” and Soge said “it is in looking at how everything suddenly fits together that this becomes something special.” FanOfMostEverything applauded how the story asked “fascinating questions about responsibility and duty that settings other than Equestria can’t pull off nearly as effectively.”

the unicorn and the crowThe Unicorn and the Crow
By Foxmane Vulpequus
[Drama][Mystery] • 128,032 words

Madeleine Crumpet: A world-trotting jeweler with an eye for gems… and pleasant company. Of the stallion persuasion.

Rubyk of Trotheim: A cold noble of the forbidden Equestrian North.

What cause could bring these two unlikely figures together?

FROM THE CURATORS: In his nomination, Horizon felt this story was shockingly underappreciated; at the time, it hadn’t received enough votes to have its ratio displayed, “which is startling, because having read through it this is some pretty high-level stuff … it definitely deserves more attention than it’s getting.” He went on to compliment the story’s style, “languid and stately and modestly archaic … but that style works in synergy both with the fantastic character work and the foreign feel of the setting.” Chris agreed that “it’s not going to be for everyone, but I found it very effective for what it was. It’s the kind of prose that encourages slow reading, but doesn’t demand an unattainable attention to detail — perfect for reading by the fire while sipping at a glass of scotch. And the setting is clever and original, without abandoning the feeling of being an MLP fic.”

Present Perfect loved the character work: “few fanfic authors strive to be this deliberate with their words. By the second chapter (not part), I was hooked, and never failed to be impressed by a character.” Horizon felt the same way, and noted that “as the story goes on, Frost Pane begins stealing every scene she’s in, turning that larger-than-life bombast into a positive, and Madeleine’s inner narration is consistently engaging. The supporting cast is almost uniformly vibrant, and are written sharply enough that I found myself analyzing them in the same way the protagonists did.”