Coming up next on Problematic Reviews

Coming up next on Problematic Reviews

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

FiM Fiction Review: Cold Light

It's rare that I read a story for fun as of late. Especially now with the review marathon in full swing, most stories that catch my eye on Equestria Daily usually go to the purgatory that is my “Read Later” list. With the exception of this one. Perhaps it was how ambitious it is for another relatively low-profile writer to take on such a story? Or how the introduction catches the reader's attention by foreshadowing the climax? These things and more make Scramblers and Shadows' Cold Light my most anticipated story this year. From its interesting character dynamics to fascinating world building, there's no doubt that this story has plenty of potential. If Cold Light builds up to be as good as its opening chapters, I am very interested in reading more. Head down below the break for my review of Cold Light by Scramblers and Shadows.

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Cold Light by Scramblers and Shadows
Incomplete (last updated 22nd Jun 2014)

Three years ago, ponies discovered Amaranth, a desert world of ancient, abandoned technology and countless mysteries. It has become the frontier for the unscrupulous, the adventurous and the dispossessed. Salvor airships ply the skies, pirates prey on the weak and idealists seek to unify the disparate.

Three months ago, Scootaloo left Equestria for Amaranth. She hasn't been heard from since.

Now Sweetie Belle searches for her lost friend, to find her, tell her the truth, and bring her home. But as she does so, she stumbles upon a great and terrible secret sought by a number of dangerous and powerful creatures. A secret that explains the shared history of Amaranth and Equestria and could spell the end of both worlds. Read it here.

Tags: Romance, Adventure - Rating: Teen
Word Count: 8,725 words total

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Cold Light, without a doubt, puts its best foot forward in its introductory chapter. In fact, it's perhaps the best intro I have seen as of late. The story opens with what appears to be its climax; which took me completely off guard. This is supplemented with just how odd the writing is here. Scramblers and Shadows painted a beautiful, serene scene in great detail only to put it into contrast with (presumably) Sweetie Belle's death. Normally I would denounce such a bold approach to the intensity of the death of the main character, but it's so well done here I can't help but read on with the accompaniment of a disembodied narrator. Frankly, it's brilliant. 

Taking a step back for a moment. Thinking about the writing as a whole, it's hard not to notice how much Scramblers and Shadows' editors, or probably his own directing, really wins the story. The writing flows wonderfully and rarely loses the reader's attention. Every scene felt important and excellently paced. While the second chapter doesn't fair as well as the first, mostly due to scenes being much more dragged out, but it doesn't fail in captivating the reader nevertheless.

One thing that could have easily sunk the story for most readers would probably be the Sweetie Belle-Scootaloo romance that accompanies the adventure. I can't say this isn't without reason, however. Until stories such as Flight of the Alicorn (and in some cases even today) shipping often sneaks its way into adventure stories and minimizes the characters. While this might be an awkward comparison, particularly because Flight of the Alicorn's romance develops with the plot and characters and Cold Light's is practically what sets the adventure in motion, both stories take what is essentially a gimmick and make it not... well... gimmicky. Cold Light takes the ship and truly runs with it; making it a motive for our protagonist and shedding light on the story's more interesting character dynamic. The flashbacks depicted scenes with the pairing are expertly executed and show a deep, while not always functional, relationship. 

Of course, this wouldn't work well if the characters weren't as well portrayed. Surprisingly, both Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo pull off a well done performance. I use “surprisingly” because Scramblers and Shadows manages to stray far away from the canon portrayals and make the cast act believable under serious adult circumstances and make it believable. Not to mention the cast bounces off each other well. Scenes with Sweetie Belle on her own are well executed and feel thoughtfully down-tempo but I can't help but say they pale in contrast to the Scootaloo flashbacks.

The scene visualization would be another instance where Scramblers and Shadows' writing wins the story once again. Sure, it's focused, doesn't get in the way of the story and gives the reader a good picture of the setting. Cold Light did just about everything right in this regard, but again, this is where Scramblers and Shadows really takes it the extra mile. As mentioned earlier, the first chapter seriously flexes its visualization muscle in the opening segment. Later in the same chapter, Scramblers and Shadows brings the visuals close, quick and focused on the most predominate features to put the audience on their heels for a more menacing scene. Then, in the second chapter, he pulls out and paints a huge picture; bringing a sense of awe at the scale of such a vista. Every scene and view feels fitting and exceptionally well executed. Again, not hugely sure if it was editing or the author's own direction but nevertheless, it's wonderfully done. 

If I have one complaint, it would regard the exposition and world building. Some things come off as rather badly explained, probably due to the grand scale of the realm the author is trying to build. Don't get me wrong: In some cases this lack of information contributes to the sense of mystery and shows that the characters are still learning about this puzzling wasteland; adding to the “brave new world” vibe. Not to mention the huge world of Amaranth is huge in scale and is a testament to just how much imagination Scramblers and Shadows put into this story. However, I can't help but feel such large puzzle pieces, such as the rules regarding Amaranth's “daemons,” need to be explained soon if the story plans to keep the reader engaged with the story's lore. 

Opinionated Side-note: It's worth mentioning that I feel a companion would be good for Sweetie Belle, the story's protagonist. Not because I don't think Sweetie needs a helping hoof. On the contrary! Our protagonist is obviously an empowered mare that can do more than pull her own weight. However, I think a conversation piece would not only help keep the dialogue fresh, but would also help flesh out Sweetie Belle if they have good chemistry. Particularly one that has more knowledge than her so you can keep the reader informed without large exposition dumps. Now, readers, I have no more knowledge of what plans Scramblers and Shadows has for the story, but something tells me he has considered it. 

Just as we're nearing the ending of the Summer Review Marathon, this story pops up and impresses me once more! I'm not entirely sure how long it'll take to complete such an ambitious story, but if Cold Light holds up to the promise of its opening chapters, then it'll have my attention for as long as it needs. It's writing and direction is beautifully executed, the scene visualization is wonderfully polished and Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo have delivered excellently done performances up to this point. I highly anticipate where this story is going. Check it out as soon as you get a chance. This has been Amy Clockwork. Have a great weekend and see you next time for The Sword Coast.

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