Today’s story is worth the journey.
[Romance] [Adventure] • 554,079 words
By royal request, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and Rarity travel to far-off Perytonia to establish ties between Equestria and a strange new people.
Plunged deep into an alien culture with its own history, understanding the native peryton is only part of the challenge. As Rainbow Dash discovers, navigating her own relationship with her oldest friend may be harder still.
FROM THE CURATORS: The pressures of weekly deadlines can make us struggle to find the time to commit to longer pieces. So when we spotlight something the size of Tolstoy’s War and Peace — and longer than the sum of every other story we’ve featured this year — it’s a sign that you can look forward to something unique and compelling.
“You want world-building?” AugieDog asked in his nomination. “This creates an entire land and culture from the ground up — several cultures, in fact, since perytons turn out not to be as like-minded as ponies. You want romance? It uses its length to good advantage to nurture its Flutterdash through a fairly slow build, a couple of crashes, and a final reconciliation scene that simply can’t be beat. You want adventure? This has hair-breadth escapes, seemingly haunted ruins, mysterious people and creatures, and lots of walking through forests. Maybe a little too much walking through forests.” All of us commented on the journey’s startling level of detail — and it won Horizon over. “It’s on such a slow burn for such a long time that the few high-energy scenes stand out in much the same way that combat does to a soldier (cue the adage about war being 99% waiting and 1% terror),” he said. “But for all that its pace feels as glacial as Perytonia’s summers feel hot, this story feels alive in a way that stories rarely capture. In making the decision to not gloss over a moment of the journey — showing us the grueling slog of travel — it feels less designed to entertain and more true to life, and it scores points for coming out ahead in that tradeoff.”
Part of that was the way the fic used the lengthy trip as backdrop for breathtaking character work. “The author writes the best Rainbow Dash I’ve seen in a long time, and even at this length, the narrative seldom hits a wrong note,” AugieDog said to unanimous agreement. “I don’t think it’s possible to write Rainbow Dash more true to herself, nuanced, or all-around good as this story does,” Present Perfect said. “Dash’s character is a grand-slam home run, far and away the biggest success To Perytonia has to offer.” And it wasn’t just the narrator. “Characterization in general was fantastic,” Present Perfect added. “Fluttershy’s struggle with Dash pushing her when she needs it; Rarity failing again and again, feeling useless on the road; and let’s not forget how every single Peryton city had at least one unforgettable character for the ponies to interact with. Characters like Mirossa and Neisos jump right off the page; Phoreni is strong and memorable.” Horizon agreed: “All of their peryton contacts are immediately likeable, in their own ways, and I want to see everyone succeed. Ephydoera is worth singling out for positive mention. The Brush Games were a fantastic chapter, full stop.”
And while we each found the story’s slow unfolding (and heavy foreshadowing) simultaneously gripping and frustrating, we also all agreed that what it built up to was worth the effort. “It resolves with some of the absolute best relationship drama I have ever read,” Present Perfect said. “The private jousting scene absolutely made up for all the long stretches of travel, the will-they-won’t-they, the repetition of concerns from the three main characters.” It wasn’t just the romance. “Part of me feels like the ponies have been carrying an idiot ball about peryton culture all story, and most of me is willing to accept that as the price of the ride, because what it does with that single core misunderstanding is pretty amazing,” Horizon said. “The worldbuilding here is nothing short of fantastic. The cultural clash rings as very authentic — the perytons are being endlessly hospitable by their standards, and the ponies are being endlessly friendly by theirs, and every problem comes from the disconnect between their mutual ways of thinking.”
Which perhaps makes it less surprising that after 550,000 words, our biggest struggle was coming to terms with what the story left untold. “At the halfway point, when they were reaching Vauhorn and preparing to head for Cotronna, I was beginning to wonder how the hell this was going to stretch out for another 250K words,” Horizon said. “Then the twist hit, and now I’m a few chapters past where they met Odasthan, and I have no idea what magic Cloudy Skies is going to work to finish this in the 125K they’ve got left!” In hindsight, AugieDog even ended up appreciating those gaps: “This doesn’t give me all the answers, something that usually drives me to gnashing my teeth when it comes to fiction. But the scope of Perytonia makes me not mind the mysteries so much. A world as big and complex as we see here will have questions that just plain linger, and it’ll have murky, partial answers that still feel very, very right.”
Which ultimately was also how we felt about the story itself. “To Perytonia is Cloudy Skies’ magnum opus, and from reading the journals they wrote about it, it came out pretty much the way they wanted it to,” Present Perfect said. “The things they set out to do with the story, they did well, some of them exceedingly well. Half a million words of deep characterization and world-building is no small achievement.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Cloudy Skies discusses stolen soapboxes, advice recursion, and lovely in-betweens.