'The Empty Room' by Wanderer-D

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'The Empty Room' by Wanderer-D

Post  TwilightSparkle on Tue Jul 31, 2012 5:27 pm

-As always with fanfiction, I claim nothing in the following review as my own which belongs to Hasbro. It's their world, we just write about it.-


‘The Empty Room’ was written by Wanderer-D, one of the moderators on FIMFiction.net. I am not in any way surprised that he took that position after writing this story, simply because it demonstrates his mastery of writing at a level that gives him a right to look over others’ work. This story is an excellent character-based fantasy, with just a handful of grammar and plot problems barely able to detract from the grand scope of the tale being told. The setting is as good as canon, everything and everypony has a backstory that blends into the narrative flawlessly, the author is a master of creating and effectively using shock value at every turn, and the massive cast of complex characters themselves steal the show. Cliches are justified or nonexistent, and by the end of the story, you’re left wanting more. But, all that’s just me talking. Let’s get down to details!

Firstly, one can hardly have a story without a good, well-developed fictional reality to set it in. This version of Equestria is based heavily on the source material, without any scenes taking place anywhere that we haven’t already seen in the TV show. The Everfree is creepy and dark, Ponyville’s quiet (usually) and laid-back, and Canterlot (where pretty much everything of importance happens) is modern, diverse, and full of secrets. Borrowing so heavily from the source means that there’s just not much that can go wrong, and that which can has been handled extremely well. There are references made to events from the show quite frequently, but most come up naturally enough to go unnoticed and non-canon history fills in what’s left just as smoothly.

This story does make one major change to the show’s world in adding the Guild of Assassins, an order that seems to be pretty much a straight rip-off from the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ series. They pop up now and then on the narrative’s edge, only majorly affecting the plot twice and with only a single Assassin doing anything of importance, (we’ll get to that) but the fact that they exist at all without being unbelievable is impressive by itself. The well-known writer’s rule, ‘show, don’t tell’, is nearly perfectly followed here as far as the world is concerned, which is a very great accomplishment for the author and creates a strong draw for the reader.

Second, the plot. (If anyone reading this makes a ‘pony’s rear end’ joke, I’ll kill them. Seriously, that’s not even a correct WORD for a horse’s butt! Sometimes this fandom can be so dumb…) If there’s one thing above all else that I enjoyed about this story, it was the author’s ability to continue to surprise and shock me over and over again, even in the lighthearted moments. There are surprise deaths, (on a sidenote, death is rampant in this story, even among the main cast) surprise betrayals, surprise reveals, surprise PUNCHLINES, for Pete’s sake! We open on a mysterious discovery in Canterlot Castle, something that is able to just about break Celestia’s heart even though she has no idea how it got there. We cut from there straight to the formerly-Great-and-Powerful Trixie on a stroll through the Everfree in pursuit of magical secrets even Twilight doesn’t know, and what she finds is both incredibly terrifying and somewhat cryptic. That’s just the first two chapters, and I haven’t even really revealed anything about THOSE!

After shock value, the story’s next great asset is in its complexity. It takes roughly 126,000 words to describe the events of just three days. For comparison, ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ runs for 107,000 words and covers nearly an entire year, with even a story as detailed and exposition-heavy as ‘Eragon’ being only 157,000 words in length. The number of individual plots being juggled at any one time varies from just two or three up to six, with even relatively minor characters getting quite a bit of attention devoted to them so that the reader can keep up with everything. Every change in allegiance, every new introduction, every discovery, every capture, every reveal has consequences in other story arcs that, while perhaps not immediate, are definitely realistic and flowing enough to ensure that suspension of disbelief is maintained with ease throughout.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t problems to be found within the story’s plot. A certain comedy-relief character goes missing for much of the story despite her apparent importance, there are a few instances where good guys being trusted or bad guys being dumb are a bit too convenient, a sudden change of sides during the final battle has no explanation at all, and the development of Trixie as a character is handled through too much inner dialogue, making it sound like a broken record after a time. ‘Deus ex machina’ (an overpowered plot device meant to ensure victory for the side of good) makes two appearances, the second being more justified than the first, attempts to kill Celestia before the events of the story ceased at some point without explanation, and the overarching villain took a thousand years to make his/her presence known. All of these things do get noticed, if you’re paying attention, but none of them are really enough to derail the story for anything more than a forgivable second or two.

Thirdly, and in my opinion most importantly for this one, there are the characters. Wanderer-D did a SPECTACULAR job filling this story with a surprisingly large cast of complex, developing personalities, each one with their own voice, motivations, quirks, and backstories that intertwine and change as events unfold. Characters pulled from the show act very much like themselves, if a bit more introspective in some cases, and original characters are played as naturally and realistically as I think I’ve ever seen done. A personal favorite of mine (not surprising, given how much time I spent playing games as Ezio Auditore) was Silent Jade, a unicorn Assassin recruited early on by Nightmare Moon (we’ll get to that) as protection. She wears an all-concealing bodysuit, only speaks through sign language, actually knows how to handle herself even in an outmatched fight, and seems to have some rather strange connections with a few members of the main cast. Despite not saying a word and not doing much throughout most of the story, Jade becomes a character that keeps the reader curious about exactly what she’s up to. That takes some doing!

Villains make the hero, and the main bad guys this time around are very interesting indeed. They are motivated by power, plain and simple, and have been plotting and scheming in the shadows for millennia. Without giving too much away, they have ways of getting to just about anypony they want to, have members of their ranks just about everywhere, and quickly (and often brutally) deal with those who get in their way. Amongst their weaponry are such diverse elements as surprise, fear, ruthless efficiency, and an almost-fanatical devotion to the Guar… wait, wrong description. Redact that last one. Anyway, the Council of Nightmares poses a (literally) grave threat to our heroes almost immediately, and their goals are realistic even when matched against the power of both princesses and the Elements of Harmony. It’s quite the setup, and the identities of at least two of their members surprised even me!

The Council aside, there’s also a greater power that they answer to, the ringmaster, if you will, to their circus act. Again, I can’t say much without giving things away that are important to surprises in the first read-through, but suffice it to say that he is called the Guardian and he does not mess around. In addition, Nightmare Moon makes an appearance in this story, and actually becomes a rather interesting character as her actions begin to suggest that she has plans of her own for Equestria. As I already mentioned, the Great and Powerful Trixie will be featured rather prominently early on, (was there ever any… eh, too cheap) and continues to be important for the duration of the tale. One more antagonist from the TV show and several OC villains also become quite important, but for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I can’t go into any greater detail than I already have.

The villains were good, save for one who tends to be something of an easily-distracted dimwit, but the heroes were better. The Mane Six actually play a surprisingly back-seated role here, always present and important, but never really central to the events of the primary plot until the end. Instead, a number of side characters, OCs, and fan-favorite background ponies take center stage, and every one of them has their own little quirks and characterizations that make up a group of determined, but flawed and nervous opponents of evil on the rise. We get to meet Trixie’s family, delve into Canterlot aristocracy, (where politicians are even WORSE absolute monsters…) and a couple of surprising relationships spring up over time without succumbing to a certain bad habit in this fandom... not entirely, at least. (‘Mattress fort’. All I’m gonna say.) Again, for the sake of spoilers, I can’t reveal much more than that, but rest assured that the protagonists will keep you interested and afraid for the conspiracy until the very end. My only complaint was about a couple of incidents where the heroes were a little too trusting, bordering on gullible, but extraordinary times and bizarre circumstances could be blamed.

In conclusion, ‘The Empty Room’ was a good read, a nice long epic of a fantasy-adventure with complex characters and twisting plotlines galore. Grammar could use some work, particularly with regard to beginning one sentence, but finishing another and writing using typically-acceptable spoken-word mistakes, but the writer’s attention to detail and vocabulary are quite above the average. World-building is a definite strength, creating a world that could realistically be seen as canon, as are the constant plot twists that will keep even the most experienced readers on the edge of their seats. The massive cast of characters are nearly perfect, with only a handful of overly-convenient moments that could be seen as just plain stupid on both sides, and there’s really only a single plot hole that creates an actual problem in the story as a narrative. Overall, I highly recommend this story for future reading, and hope that I’ve done a good job with this, my first fanfiction review! Please let me know what you thought, feedback is important for those who strive to improve. That said, I'm looking forward to writing the next one… hopefully a bit timelier than this one was, eh?

-TwilightSparkle
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TwilightSparkle

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Awesome review, dude!

Post  Rainbow Dash on Tue Jul 31, 2012 5:55 pm

I liked reading this, nothing was spoiled which is great for anyone who reads this, and is also interested in the fic itself. It's lengthy, granted, but well thought-out and rather enjoyable to read.


P.S.
I also liked your little notes here and there. Very Happy
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Rainbow Dash

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