Been a while since I've done a review outside of the newsletters here. The last time was in what, uh... *Goes to look* Oh my goodness, the last separate blog was JANUARY! @_@ But alas, I had to return to the traditional reviews sooner or later. After all, my original test review was also a traditional one, and for a fanon written by the very same author I will be presenting to you now: ! More than a year after that test review, today I have the pleasure of evaluating ARG's next big saga, . In contrast to Energy Saga, this fanon has a refreshing cast of almost entirely original characters as protagonists, and our heroine is a butt-kicking earthbender in the Terra Team of Ba Sing Se. It's an adventure that just promises to be exciting.
However…the ghost of Avatar Roku was not fully-satisfied by Jinora’s telling. While she touched in on some of the best bits in her brief overview, she also skipped over a lot of important parts in between…and she may have left her audience with the wrong impression.
The ghost of Roku decided that he could not sit by and let that happen. Thus, he began a venture of his own, to dedicate a portion of his time, energy and sanity to giving this tale a full and proper telling.
Well, we can't miss what the Ghost of Roku has to say about Jinora's crazy love story now can we? Ratana of the Terra Team is surely the kind of girl a reader can't overlook. Tie that to the time of Crown Prince Iroh and Lu Ten, and you're in for quite a story. Let's check out the details!
- Plot - 9.7: A most genius plot indeed. It all fits together so well! It's not hard to just imagine Jinora just referencing her story heroine as 'Ratana,' because ARG ties in his ideas so nicely. The only deduction that came here was from a slight need to "follow through" with those ideas sometimes. The author establishes certain plot elements very well, like the decision to have Ratana infiltrate the Fire Nation. But to me, it would make the impact more powerful if he could add more to both the buildup and the "aftermath" of big events. For instance, I'd have liked to hear more about why she was exclusively chosen for her mission, and particularly how the Council of Five system worked for such discussions. And then after the moment passes, I feel like the reactions of the Terra Team as a whole and their thoughts on the matter(s) could be elaborated more as well. Even describing their feelings about the confidentiality would help tie the story atmosphere together. These things could just be implied and not necessarily pointed out literally to readers, but having them there does help strengthen the mood. To sum it up, I think the pivotal plot events so far have been played out beautifully, but ARG could follow through with the surrounding details to make them feel more complete.
- Organization - 9.3: Everything flows along very naturally in this story, and not once was I ever unclear as to what was happening. Again, it's the small things that caused the deduction, which I feel are worth pointing out. Though I'll talk about this more in the Action category later, one thing I noticed is that sometimes it can get easy to lose track of characters, when many of them are involved in one scene. It's important to keep the 'eye' of the reader on every scene as a whole, making sure that we're still aware of what everyone else is doing even if moment focuses on a single character. And ironically, the complete opposite is also an issue sometimes: mentioning too many characters at once so that it feels unnaturally vivid. A good trick might be to just ask yourself, "Who are all the people that this POV should be able to see right now?" Putting yourself in the shoes of whichever character(s) a specific moment focuses on, you can decide how much of the environment "should" be visible to them and stick exclusively to describing that. It will create a more natural portrayal of the scene, since it mimics the same trends we have in real life; every person has different priorities and different fields of vision at a certain moment, and thus everyone will see things in very specific levels of detail, based on who they are and what they're doing at that moment. You just have to make sure your description fits the unique POV of whoever you're describing during a given moment, and things will feel more balanced overall.
- Creativity – 9.7: By far one of ARG's greatest strengths. I'm forever impressed by what he could come up with from just a few sentences in LoK about a love story. He's created many of his own organizations and systems and pulled it off so naturally that things really do feel like canon potential. The only things I took off for here were little character issues, and I really mean little. I noticed that minor villains (perhaps not officially villain, but just sketchy people like Han Shui or Taigang) are more prone to stereotypical bad-guy behavior. There just needs to be a bit more implication of a different side to them, something to let us see a more complete life they lead other than being mean or scheming against people. Other than that though, I really don't have much to say here!
- Writing – 9.0 (x3): ARG's quality has gone far since the days of Energy Saga, which is really saying something. I am quite pleased to say that this author does not fall short in visuals - anytime, anywhere. However, it's the timing and balance of them that creates a unique issue here, for which I'll try my best to explain the deduction. This ties a lot to what I mentioned in the Organization section: A consistently vivid description can actually be just as negative as a vague one. It's where you place them that drives everything. A notable trend I see in DSV's writing is that the extreme vividness is often imbalanced - as in everything is treated with the same detail. By nature, humans will see certain things with extensive detail and others with hardly anything for their eyes to register. It all depends on what they're doing at that very moment, what they value/take seriously in life, and what their vision will prioritize because of it. For example, you would be able to describe, say, that guy serving you a happy meal at McDonalds with a decent amount of detail, but come up with nothing if someone asks what a random woman eating at one of the tables looked like. Your eyes pass over everyone in the room at some point, but they truly 'see' only who matters for your situation, or anyone you're likely to interact with and thus think more about. Character circumstances mean everything for visual description, because it's only when you follow the 'priorities of the POV' that you feel a true overall mood. This is what marks the change from "watching the story" to "being a part of it." You feel things and see them as the character-in-focus would, and not as someone looking over a giant list of people and events happening at the same time. The way descriptions are currently handled in DSV doesn't give too much of a sense of what's most important, since everything has the same extensive amount of visuals and elaboration. I believe this story could feel more natural if you better define whose POV you're describing at all times, making sure that any descriptions surrounding it are in sync with the character's circumstances. But the fact that I'm critiquing weird, abstract aspects of visual description here should tell you guys something about ARG's writing quality. It's not every day that I can say an author never lacks visual detail.
- Character Development - 8.5 (x2): The 'imbalanced descriptions' that seem to drive the overall critique of this story hits this section the hardest. I believe the author needs to establish more what each character means to each other - and not just as a narrator from the outside who describes their relationship. I noticed almost all dialogue has the same 'Speech verb + Adverb' format (i.e. "she retorted irritably") when people address each other, with an occasional physical gesture added. Just like visual description, dialogue descriptions around the quotations will vary and should correlate directly with how the speakers feel about one another. The way each conversation plays out will also be unique to the characters, thus making a consistent dialogue description feel unnatural. Characters will speak differently to different people, and I think the author needs to reflect that more. It's almost a means of "matching what's inside the quotations." Whatever mood a character's words imply should follow through to their tone. If using speech verbs, always make sure they're exactly what the quotations imply and not just 'similar,' as I noticed they got a little odd sometimes and felt like replacements for 'said.' Sometimes no speech verb will even sound natural with a particular quote for a particular moment, which is why we should recognize that they shouldn't always be present in dialogue; this is what opens up the possibilities to many unique dialogue descriptions, in that there is no set rule/format and that you just go with whatever fits the moment, physical reactions and speech verbs or not. With this unnaturally consistent dialogue detail in DSV, it becomes hard to 'feel' what the characters mean to each other outside of their quotations. Combined with the consistent amount of visual detail during their physical interactions, it becomes even harder. This doesn't just apply to character relationships, either; how they treat the environment, what their POVs see, and what they feel should all be unique. Like I said, circumstances will determine everything, and character development is hindered when descriptions don't reflect the unique qualities of each situation.
- Action - 9.5: ARG's got all the butt-kicking details one could ever ask for in a fight scene, hands down. But again, the imbalance of description will affect this section too. Sometimes it feels like minor characters (i.e. peasants/collateral damage) get more visual description than what's appropriate for that moment and for that POV. Always think of the environment and its inhabitants in terms of importance to whomever you're describing, so that we have a stronger sense of direction and know what to prioritize. Also be careful not to introduce other characters into the scene too randomly; this can also be cleared up with the same principle, by looking at the current POV and deciding what kind of a reaction s/he will have to the new face. As always, go with what is appropriate for the circumstances. If someone is likely to be startled, then follow through and establish that mood more strongly in your description of what startles them. It's when you have more of a general approach and don't make details 'exclusive' to POV that somehow causes the introduction of new elements and people to feel "off," because it doesn't fit the mood.
- Believability – 9.8: I would be lying if I said that I couldn't see all of the things in this story actually happening in the canon plot. ARG ties his fanon to the show without any trouble at all. The tiny deductions are are just an overall summary of the little description issues I pointed out earlier, as the imbalance causes an unnatural feel and therefore affects believability to an extent. Other than that... Shoot, Jinora might as well pull out that novel of hers and have us discover that it's named 'Dragons, Sieges and Volcanoes'!
Overall Score: 9.20
(ARG is still one of 4 authors ever to receive a 9.0/+ from Minnichi)
My advice for AvatarRokusGhost: Everything I critiqued all ties to balance and establishes mood. If you could start varying your details to fit POV, it will make DSV all the more awesome. That's really all I have to say!
Who should read Dragons, Sieges and Volcanoes? Fans of OCs and A:TLA should find this story very appealing!