FimFiction Link - Short ID: 512154/diary-of-a-young-griff
Published: Feb '22 — Apr '22
'Diary of a Young Griff' is a twenty three thousand-word shortfic. The fic consists of short journal entries written from the perspective of a Griffon OC.
First the technicalities: I really like the format of the story. The characters who write into the journal all address it as if it was a person, which makes the whole thing feel surprisingly intimate and earnest, like you're almost reading letters from friends. Because of this the prose is very pleasant, especially throughout the first few chapters when it's only the main character writing. The tone is casual enough to sell that this is written by a teen/young adult, but without resorting to any cheap slang or other shortcuts to give you that feel.
I have to mention the fact that the author even created two simple conlangs for the fic, one being Griffish, the other a pony dialect inspired by Nordic culture and languages. I'm on two minds about this: On one hand, I really like the author's dedication to go one step further and add something like this, that really doesn't serve much more purpose than to add flavor and further differentiate the characters from each other. From this perspective, it's a really, really nice touch. On the other, however, I feel like the fic doesn't do anything interesting with these conlangs, so they ultimately serve as little more than a handful of words, whose meaning you quickly learn and the whole thing loses its novelty. There is little difference between reading "piss" or "nwil" after a while. The only real counter-example I found in the story is when another character leaves a poem in the journal written in their native tongue. I really liked that part. It looks and sounds exotic and plays into the character's foreignness. Sadly the author then immediately gives the English translation as well, taking away a lot of the mystery.
I also liked the months being given their own names. It's a light touch that goes a long way. It was also nice to see how the author played with the dates. Usually the characters write every single day, but sometimes there is a sudden jump in the date and whenever this happens, it gives the reader a clue that something bad has happened.
Let's continue with the main characters: I've seen someone else call this fic a "pony Twist Oliver" and it felt very appropriate. The fic deals with the day-to-day life of a young female Griffon slave, called Matilda, who got hauled off to Equestria after the Griffish Empire lost a war against the ponies as tribute. She spends her days working under Canterlot in the boiler rooms. She has no friends, faces bullying by her peers, and her handler abuses her for the smallest of mistakes. Despite all this Matilda has an almost naively positive outlook on life and she justifies her hard work with the hopes that she will be let go one day and be able to live a proper life eventually. The monotonousness of her life is suddenly shaken up as a new pony is thrust into the boiler room called Sven. As we quickly learn he's from the outskirts of Equestria, with no family or anything to his name. The duo quickly become friends and Matilda becomes a quasi mother or big sister-figure figure to him, teaching him how to read and write.
This gives the author an excuse to write some of the entries from Sven's perspective. I'll be honest, his entries are uninteresting to say the least. While Matilda works greatly as an audience stand-in because of her being a foreigner, Sven does little to distinguish himself from being an extremely generic, timid and shy, but well-intentioned pony. I don't even hate him or anything, but he has so little personality that I basically never bothered to care about him. This has deeper repercussions when it comes to the later half of the fic, but I'll speak about that later.
The final main character, if we can even call him that, is another Griffon called Gabriel. The author presents him as a this cocky asshole, who in truth is very vulnerable and self-conscious and just puts on a cocky front to mask his shortcomings. I love this base idea. Deconstructing and redeeming a nasty character is a great concept. Sadly, however, due to the later events of the fic, his change of heart comes extremely quickly and feels completely unearned. Instead of a gradual change, he very noticeably shifts from cocky, to somewhat self-doubting, to totally changed. This is further exacerbated by the fact that he and Matilda become a couple by the end of the story, only this happens largely off-screen, so I never particularly had the chance to begin liking him.
Okay, so we have an interesting setting and a bunch of characters, what about the narrative? Well, the best way I can describe it is that the story has two cleanly separable parts. The former half is the one I prefer. It's largely made up of Matilda's and (later) Sven's budding friendship and everyday struggles in the face of adversity. It's a harsh existence, but the two never give up hope and it really seems like they might be able to eke out a okay life despite things being so bad. Though I have to admit that the story also felt very meandering at times and sometimes it felt like the author himself had no idea where he intends to take things. Some entries are just Matilda writing about random things that have little plot-relevance, which works well as exposition and broadening the characters, but hardly move the story forward. There is a very low-boiling mystery plot-thread too, but it never goes anywhere until the ending and what comes next almost completely pushes it to the background. I think the author might have eventually came to the same conclusion that things aren't moving fast enough and wanted to course-correct by shaking things up. However, this sadly only caused the fic to go from one extreme to the other. I am, of course, talking about Matilda being raped. The issue here isn't that the author wanted to deal with a heavy topic like this, rather that understandably this completely breaks Matilda's stride and from this moment forward the "miserable but at the end of the day hopeful" mood of the story flies out of the window and the whole thing becomes misery-porn until the abruptly positive ending. Matilda suffers from her trauma and pregnancy, Sven considers himself personally responsible for not being able to console her, and Gabriel switches from cocky comic-relief to "whoops maybe I should be a nice character now"-mode very abruptly.
This issue is further compounded by the main villain of the story, who goes from a shitty, but potentially sympathetic character to saturday morning cartoon evil. I expected the author to explain her agressivity with her own trauma or self-loathing due to being stuck as the manager of a dead-end job, or anything similar, but instead nope, she's just Evil with a big E. No deeper meaning, no nuance, she's just a shitty pony who likes to watch her slaves suffer and even tried to murder the main characters out of pure spite.
This all culminates in the ending. Dear lord, it is rushed. Let's take a step back and recap what happened until now: So, we have our team of misfits, one of them who's raped and recently gave birth, a shy pony who feels useless, and a griffon who very quickly learned what it's like to be humble, (there are also two other characters, but they're completely irrelevant and I don't see any point in discussing them.) We have a slow-boiling mystery about why the palace suddenly began using less and less water and thus making the boiler room obsolete. We have a bunch of bullies. We have a cartoonishly evil villain. What's the logical conclusion that arrives from this? Whatever your answer might be, I don't think it's unfair to assume it's not "well the boiler room is evacuated aside from six characters and then locked on them."
And yet that's exactly what happens. In the worst timeskip of the fic yet, the author completely ignores the events between the characters finding out they're locked in and almost starving, until they are Sunhorse-ex-machina rescued. The villains are put on trial and everyone else lives on moderately happily for the rest of their lifes, except for Sven who dies during their imprisonment.
It may seem like I'm being snide, but I'm just trying to show how sudden and random his death felt like. I didn't really feel anything when the story mentions that he's gone, because I never really connected with him in a way that I'd describe as being invested.
The resolution doesn't feel earned. It's not the characters' sacrifices and personal growth that ultimately solves the plot, but sheer luck and outside forces. It's also hard to stomach that apparently Celestia and Luna are so incompetent that they don't even realize what's going on in their own palace, even though the story happens during the S1-era, so it's not even like they have to worry about nobles or anything like that.
Overall: 4/10 It feels quite bad to give this fic a score like this. When I started reading I expected to end my eventual review with a 7 or even an 8 as the final score, but I simply don't feel like this story lives up to its premise. The plot goes from comfy but meandering to breakneck and jumpy. The characters either never become too sympathetic or lose their charm. The ending is far too "feel good," but without even allowing the characters to earn it for themselves. The mystery's solution is a literal aspull, that's introduced and resolved in five minutes. I really wish I could wholeheartedly recommend this story, but it ultimately disappointed me. Maybe give it a shot, if you're a massive fan of the journal-format as the first few chapters are comfy, but keep in mind that the story eventually loses this aspect.