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FRS Test Review of Crossfire


Since Fruipit sadly left the FRS, her vacated spot has to be filled. And keeping in the spirit of the story at hand, I will use this opportunity to quote Frank Underwood: "there's nothing like a death in the family to separate the wheat from the bull". Omashu Rocks' Crossfire has been chosen as the fanon for this particular job. The story centers around Nalia, a 19 year-old firebender in the early years of the 100 Year War. She is forced to work as a member of Sozin's personal assassin squad, in his attempt to rid the Fire Nation of resistance groups popping up all around it. To gain leverage over her, Sozin had her sister kidnapped and killed her father, who was a member of the resistance himself. Through this journey, Nalia learns about the true nature of firebending, as well as who she truly is.

This story was written with original ideas in mind, and an interesting take on what it would be like to live in a totalitarian regime. Let's see what would happen if you were to combine Assassin's Creed with Avatar: The Last Airbender and then throw in a hefty dash of House of Cards.

Plot: 8.5 The premise is solid enough to offer Omashu Rocks plenty of opportunity to expand and explore the bigger world it is taking place in. That's exactly the good thing about it: it feels like a big story. Despite the fact that it only has a handful of characters involved, it feels like the stakes are high and the risks are big. Those are some of the best qualities in a good story. The only downside is that is does take quite a while for the story proper to get going. This is a pacing issue, and pacing is always very difficult. Some early chapters end up a bit heavy on the exposition side (mainly The Wolves and the Sheperds), but that's not really a deal breaker.

But the best thing is that it flows. It flows organically, with characters' actions fueling the plot, not vice versa. The choices they make are rational most of the time, although there are a few that I'll come back to in the characterization section.

I liked learning about the Fire Nation, and the resistance therein. Avatar: The Last Airbender very much portrays it as a sort of Nazi-Germany, making any and all resistance impossible. That seems very stiff, especially considering the Fire Nation just wiped out an entire culture: there is bound to be resistance, and this story nails it. It's incredibly difficult for the people in it to keep it going, and the government is actively hunting down any cells of that resistance. This makes for an interesting scenarios, certainly for an aspect that is too violent to be covered in the show.

Characterization: 6.5 In one of the very first scenes in the story, Nalia kills a wounded stray dog with her bare hands. This scene is a direct lift from House of Cards, but there is a very good reason for this. In the show, that very same set up is mean to show us the personality of Frank Underwood, the protagonist. In this, it's used to the same effect. It's meant to show us that Nalia is a ruthless pragmatic, something that a scene like that gets across easily.

That being said, I do have some serious issues with her. Despite being a ruthless pragmatic, she is the character we are supposed to identify with: a 19 year-old who hates school and the people around her, and who has a distinct love for her father and sister. But then Commissioner Long arrives, kills her father and kidnaps her sister, where upon Sozin forces her to be his personal hit woman. The issue is that she takes it too well. Nalia pays extremely little thought to killing people, but in the next scene, she suddenly feels conflicted about what she did. Her thoughts go on and on that Sozin and his army are evil, but has no problem eradicating the resistance movements. She feels violated by the whole thing, yet the way she references (and deals) in sex and death make it seem like she is almost enjoying it, and the scene in which she brutally tortures a man certainly doesn't help that either. The way Omashu Rocks liberally quotes House of Cards gives Nalia basically the same personality as Frank Underwood. Now for those who are not familiar with him, he is likable because he is a bastard. We are supposed to like Nalia for the opposite reason: everyone is a bastard but her. Those two clash in an unavoidable way. We are meant to see her as the victim, but the aforementioned scenes make her seem inconsistent, and the rest of the characters have some similar problems. Jirou, for example, says under the threat of death that he loves his wife more than anyone, yet he has no problems cheating on her and killing her mother. Nalia goes on and on about how sweet and innocent her sister is, but there are subtle hints that Nalia knows that Ming might not be as innocent as she appears *wink wink*.

Overall though, I like the characters just enough to keep me invested, even if they are kind of sociopaths. They do each have their distinct personality, but with a bit more consistency, it could have made good characters great. As it stands, it only makes interesting characters confusing.

Believability: 7.0 Since we're in a world where people can move city blocks with their minds and dragons lay golden eggs, believability is hard to come by. But of course, that's to be expected. The characters tend to make rational decisions, and the story goes well into weighing the pros and cons, and is typically showing the characters thinking on those options. This is most prominently shown when Nalia is contemplating killing the Chief of the Sun Warriors.

But there is also the problem. We are supposed to be identifying with Nalia, as a sort of ordinary nineteen year-old, but for that, she is far too comfortable with killing people. If she is supposed to be carrying the sign saying "this is you", then I actually want her to be like me. If she is supposed to be a natural assassin, that's fine, but it cannot be both ways. I won't elaborate on that any further, as I have covered that flaw enough. A brief digression: In the show, the Fire Nation very much seems to promote and idolize violence, again, kind of drawing comparisons to Nazi-Germany. You might wield this as an argument to say that Nalia has been brainwashed into believing that killing people is okay. It seems like a fair argument, until you bring back the episode 'The Headband', which is meant to show that the kids in the Fire Nation are normal kids, with normal bullies and nice kids among them. And as I stated, it's still hard for me to believe that a teenager is so comfortable killing people.

On the whole though, believability is not a huge problem. Like I said before, the story flows, and that wouldn't happen if all you're doing is second-guess every decision the characters make. That doesn't happen, and therefore, it works.

Technical writing: 7.8 The occasional spelling error left and right, nothing too major. One that did stand out to me was the word 'breathe', which was constantly used where it should have said 'breath'. There are a few more, most of which can be qualified as typos, even if there were some that do have their roots in genuine grammatical incorrectness. A plural here, an apostrophe there, but fortunately, those are few and far between.

Non-technical writing: 7.5 After the scene with the dog, I decided to keep track of how many House of Cards references I came across. The final tally was eighteen, and that is not counting the scenes lifted from The Dark Knight, which Omashu Rocks openly admits. Now if you are as familiar with the show as I am, they get a laugh, but I can imagine that they confuse you if you don't know the source. And even if they do, I still think Underwood's personality and Nalia's don't quite fit the same context. One is a bitter old man, the other is a nineteen year-old with daddy issues. That being said, I did enjoy them, such as the scene where Nalia is ridiculing Long, "It's just too bad that the only thing you'll ever get from him is c** on your face," which was beautifully adapted and actually fit the situation very well. Unfortunately, I can't really give points for it, given that they aren't original.

With that said, I keep coming back to the flow, which is just good. I like how the scenes smoothly transition into one another, and that they are typically the right length. The fight scenes are fast paced, yet descriptive enough to make out what is happening without losing touch of the effect they are having on the characters. The development is given enough room to explore the characters wholesale, without losing track of the bigger picture.

Organization: 7.5 Simple, straightforward, to the point. Those are the best words to describe Omashu Rocks' approach to organizing Crossfire. The story is divided into relatively short chapters, 1500 - 2000 words each. This is kind of a shame since there are some two-parters, and that kind of breaks up the flow which I enjoyed so much. The chapters that are longer, most notably the prologue, perfectly demonstrate this point for me. In that, everyone is just in a rhythm that is enjoyable for the reader. Chapters like the raid on the temple could hugely benefit from this. That rhythm is still there, just not in the same degree as it would if those chapters were merged into one. The break between those sort of resets that rhythm, and I kind of wish that wasn't the case.

Overall score: 7.5

My advice: Work on that consistency. That is my best advice. Making Nalia a complete sociopath and still making her likable is possible (á la Azula), or making her a conflicted teenager forced into a corner is too (á la Zuko), but both doesn't work. Really, come down on one side or the other. Judging by the Frank Underwood quotes, I'd say go for the whole sociopath-thing, just go completely berserk.

Why I kept reading: The rest of the story was pretty solid, and doesn't really have much room for improvement. Like I said, the world is big, the decisions are rational, and I like the supporting characters who I'm supposed to like, hate the ones I'm supposed to hate, and distrust the ones I'm supposed to distrust. The story is told in an organic way, and the exposition-heavy chapters are somewhat necessary, but still enjoyable. I enjoyed reading adaptations of House of Cards quotes, as I am a big fan of the show. I won't say that I am jumping out of my skin to read the next chapter, but I'll be sure to keep an eye on this fanon. I'm glad I got introduced to it, and I do look forward to what's to come.

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