FimFiction Link - Short ID: 464928/redhearts-war
Published: Jun '20
>Unique, rarely used protagonist that perfectly fits a warfic
>Pacing was phenomenal. Thought I was reading an 80k fic given how long it took, but it's only 40k long
>Blueblood's not a huge asshole
>Enough gore to make Snuff Anon blush
>Unique protagonist turns into standard PTSD warfic character bound by her duty and honor to keep fighting
>Weak climax given the constant hype it got
I'm shocked I never saw Redheart fit into a warfic before given how perfect she seemingly is for the role. A shame the story was ruined by being incredibly edgy, with tons of gore (T rating my ass), death, and a deep cynical despair wrapped up in a completely forgettable and standardized "war is hell" characterization seen countless times before in warfics. The tone was just really shitty, and not fitting what I like seeing from warfics, where Equestria's hope, valor, and enduring optimism win the day against evils like killing 40 POWs by drowning them in the ocean.
'Redheart's War' is a forty six thousand-word shortfic. Nurse Redheart recounts her wartime experiences to her husband.
I've been eyeing this story for a while, but I admit I was a bit apprehensive at first due to the frequent mentions of edginess around the fic. Still, now that I took the plunge, I cannot say I made the wrong call.
Let's get the technicalities out of the way. The way I would describe the prose of 'Redheart's War' is very utilitarian. That is not to say it's bad, but unlike some more flowery writers, the author largely presents things as-is with little use of literary devices or purpleness. And I would say for a story like this, it was the perfect choice. The main character crawls through several campaigns of blood, shit, and vomit, evidently she doesn't want to write poetry about the whole thing. The few times the story does dip into being a bit more detailed, it really helps to set the tone that something big will be going down.
I've been thinking how to approach talking about this story in the best way possible and eventually I realized probably the simplest way to do it is to contrast it with 'Good Trooper Gilda,' since both stories deal with Equestria in a wartime situation. The most obvious tonal difference between the two stories is that while 'GTG' approached the horrors of war with gallows humor, 'RW' uses love for this same purpose, both in the romantic and in the patriotic sense. The interactions between Redheart and her husband, AP, are for lack of a better term incredibly cute. If I wanted to be jaded, I'd say it's almost too saccharine, but honestly I don't think that'd be fair to claim. The two give off an atmosphere of loving each other for years and despite the stress that Redheart's PTSD puts on their relationship, they're still pulling through. The way all of their scenes happen in a very show-faithful environment as well (by that I mean that Ponyville is very much the same sleepy little town as in FIM, unlike in 'GTG' where even the homefront is a far more grim place than usual) further plays into the very stark contrast of her deployments.
But before we get into the rest of the story, I'd like to highlight the first chapter for a second. Now, I'm probably biased, because I've recently been rewatching 'House, M.D.,' but I swear the scene in which Redheart saves Apple Bloom totally reminded me of that show. And, if it isn't clear, this is a compliment. The author uses the sudden medical emergency as a great backdrop to show us how no-nonsense Redheart acts and how her years of horrible experience helps her immediately set things right, while the supposedly higher-ranking and perhaps on paper better-educated doctor struggles to do anything. I genuinely think a story written in this sort of style, showing how they deal with emergencies could work well.
But I digress, soon the story leaves the hospital behind and we're treated to Redheart's first deployment, which almost goes catastrophically wrong. What I found very interesting about this story among other things is the way it contrasts the stereotype of the "cool military" with the horrors of war. As Redheart is leaving her home behind, she's excited and proud to serve her country and even looks forward to the battle, but the moment the actual engagement begins and suddenly ponies start dying left-and-right, the illusion breaks, along with her.
This is probably the perfect place to talk about the almost mythical edginess of this story, because I feel like without going into a bit of detail, it might confuse future readers or even give them the wrong impression. First and foremost, yes, 'Redheart's War' doesn't pull punches. Brains will be scattered, legs will be amputated, ponies will piss themselves in pain, and vomit all over the place. Hell, the story even makes a fairly big point about foals getting violated. Calling the whole thing unpleasant would be an understatement. However! And this is where my real point begins, I think the story is rightfully just T-rated. Yes, the horrors of war are mentioned, yes foal rape is mentioned, but due to the medium and to the author not going into surgical details, I personally didn't feel that disgusted, even though I'm a very squeamish person. This whole rant is basically just my way of saying "if the only thing that stops you from reading this story is being afraid that it's too morbid, I'd implore you to give it a shot."
Another thing that surprised me was the fact that the story doesn't fully eschew humor. Considering its reputation, I expected constant drama, especially in the wartime parts and yet the author sprinkled in some tiny jokes that add a lot to the experience. There is nothing here that would make you laugh or even necessarily smile, but those tiny parts of lightheartedness nicely contrast the grimness.
To continue with the themes of "contrast" I really like how this is a "medic in war" story. Evidently the trope existed before this story, but I feel like it was a great choice for presenting the less glamorous side of battle. Redheart is a good pony at heart, but her almost naive attempts at helping everyone are quickly dashed against reality. From having to euthanize multiple of her comrades to doing horrible surgeries with not enough supplies, while also being put through the meatgrinder herself several times causes her almost as much psychological trauma as it does physical.
The author further twists the knife by making it part of this world that the characters' cutie marks react to their actions. This is only ever shown with Redheart, since the story is presented from a largely first-person perspective, but the way her mark itches or gives off a pleasant tingle based on her actions almost acts as a quasi second conscience for her. And when that mark burns, both the reader and she knows she really fucked up, despite the fact that she had no other choice.
One of my favorite scenes was when her parents and her siblings visit her during a hospital stay and she almost immediately loses her cool and snaps at them for making a bad move during a simple card game. It plays nicely into the fact that a few weeks of downtime won't fix the fact that she just went through hell and back. This along with her eye operation was a great way to showcase how much stress her being a solider put on her and her family's relationship. The way they regardless stay beside her and support her was also very sweet, especially the scenes with her father. Her argument with her siblings about them joining the guard was also heartrending.
As for the actual action, this story manages to depict fights as both cool, but also constantly horrifying. Redheart and her group are no cowards, they all stand their ground and every time an enemy falls, the author doesn't spare us from reading about how their intestines spill out or how their parts fly off. And not a single character is safe. Named characters die like flies, some even "off-screen." And by the end Redheart almost faces the whole thing with apathy, further showing how deep she sank since her first deployment. That is not to say, however, that the story has no purely cool moments. When Cadance sends a letter to Celestia and she just goes and dims the Moon for them, so that they can operate in stealth, that was cool. So was the two alicorns' final assault on the fortress. As mentioned in the prose part, the story rarely drops into too much detail, but this part was really dragged out and it really set up just how monumental their presence is. Speaking of, I loved Celestia's characterization. Despite the war, she's still deeply caring towards her ponies and even as a soldier she acts in a motherly way.
Sadly, there are a few things I didn't like in this story. Nothing I would call a deal-breaker, but stuff that simply baffles me. The most obvious one is the story's length. I know it's ironic that the guy who mostly reads 2-4k word oneshots is complaining about a story being too short, but this story is too short. The pacing is so breakneck at times that I feel like we're jumping over important stretches of downtime, just that we can get back to the action. I feel if the story focused a bit more on the parts where Redheart isn't in immediate danger or half-crippled, it would have added a lot more to its rhythm. This can be seen with the difference in chapter lengths between the present and past threads. I'm not sure if the author was simply worried that the reader would lose interest or some other reason, but the end result is that we hardly see how Redheart the veteran lives. No story thread feels unfinished, mind you, but most just get a very quick resolution, even though the story could have easily been another ten thousand or so words longer if not more.
Another thing was Cadance's alicorn-ex-machina moment. I understand the story even lampshades this when one of the characters remarks that alicorn magic is weird and how it was all done for propaganda reasons mainly, but it felt so bizarre and unearned that after getting captured in a literal nowhere and imprisoned, Redheart is suddenly saved by a princess. I don't hate this scene, hell the whole propaganda spin is pretty nice, but I feel it could have had a bit more buildup to it. The story basically just says "whoops, you need to leave the PoW camp now, here's a princess, let's go" and off she goes.
A smaller, but still slightly annoying pet-peeve I've had is the insistence on foreshadowing. In several chapters Redheart says something along the lines of "I didn't even know it would get so much worse." Like sure, it was fine the first time, it sets the tone well, but after this happened for the third or so time, it just became unintentionally comical. I get it, her life is a ball of misery, things getting worse is not surprising, it's expected.
Finally, the last battle left me a tad confused. I want to preface this with the fact that I know almost nothing about warfare. Where I live military stuff isn't particularly on the common citizens' minds and it is generally only touched upon in history classes. So, if this whole next point is bullshit, I'd like to apologize in advance, but all the while I've read the final confrontation one thought couldn't leave my mind: Why aren't they using bombs? The story already established that they have batponies and airships. Even if Equestria didn't have conventional explosives (which they do since they have cannons), they could still use dumb bombs or Lazy Dogs do harass the fortress before they start their main invasion. The whole thing felt very contrived to me. I mean, two alicorns are deployed, but not aerial bombardment or even just start fires using weather manipulation? It's like pulling out a nuke, without first reaching for a pistol. To me it felt like the author wanted to pull a Verdun and for that he forewent a lot of logic in the characters. There is one more thing too: I couldn't help but think that the final spell that required both Celestia and Cadance was very disappointing. The buildup is amazing. I felt hyped. Especially after Celestia casually dropped that imploding the whole fort would be a "relatively simple spell." And yet once the spell goes off, it just results in a few collapsed towers and a few holes in the fortress walls. I understand that even from a storytelling perspective, she couldn't have won the fight alone, but compared to impact I expected, it was a bit meh.
Overall: 7/10 While ultimately 'GTG' still takes the cake for me when it comes to warfics, I find it very admirable that in just half of the wordcount 'Redheart's War' was able to portray such a miserable, yet at the end of the day hopeful situation so well. It is not a perfect story and arguably, due to the themes it handles and the way it handles it, it's very much not for everyone, but if you want a brutal depiction of war where spirits and bodies are broken, but ultimately the goodness and sense of duty prevails, I can easily recommend this story.
Redheart's War is a 46k word story about the horrors of war. Kinda.
I'll start by saying that I think the positives of this story manage to outweigh the bad. A strong disclaimer right off the bat, but I feel it's necessary.
I think the best way to describe my impression of this story is that this feels like a dramatic version of Forrest Gump. Just how the movie follows good ol' Forrest well-intentioned bumbling through historic events, Redheart goes around several important battles, doing her best and having an important impact in how those battles unfold, whether it is protecting ponies of interest, or keeping them alive through the power of first aid. If you look at it that way, I feel the story becomes much more enjoyable.
Now, for the parts that make this story not great.
It's already been mentioned before, but this story is as AU as it gets. And not just because of all the death and suffering. The story presented shows characters who are wildly different from the show versions. Also, I'm not entirely sure the ages match. If Shining was on his last year at the Academy when Twiggles got into Celestia's school, and Blueblood was already a competent military leader, just how old is he? Does Rarity like 'em old and mature, then? Another reason why it sucks to be Spike, I suppose...
Events, characters made more competent (or the other way around) than their canon counterparts. It's fine if you want to include canon events, but this is an AU by every metric, really.
And one last thing. The build up to the last battle that Redheart didn't want to talk about made it seem as if this was a monumental event, far more brutal and harrowing than what we actually got. I think what makes this last battle heavier is that Redheart actually has to take command and puts other ponies at risk and leads to the death of a few. This does happen. For a few paragraphs. More time is spent on the week long trek through the jungle.
I'unno, it felt a tad underwhelming. You could've replaced Celestia with Blueblood and not much would've changed, other than the obvious difference in importance. I guess I just expected more, or at least a better distribution of the attention paid to some things.
This applies to the story as a whole, I feel. The author really likes military stories, and does a decent enough job with the broad strokes. It's when you come down to the details that the story breaks down. Yes, this does feel like how a military is run and how soldiers react. But if you stop to think about it, you realise it's all superficial.
Nevertheless, I still walk away from this story satisfied. The problems were present, but never big enough to detract from my enjoyment.