FimFiction Link - Short ID: 522328/the-bards-of-mares
Published: Aug '22
It's not an easy task to take an existing real world classic and turn it into a pony fanfic. It's all too easy to fall into one of the numerous traps and either write the fic as a bland copy of the original, or do the opposite – create a completely different story that bears only the faintest resemblance to the original. The Bards of Mares is a surprisingly successful attempt at ponifying one of Hungary's most famous ballads, "Walesi bárdok", known outside the country as "The Bards of Wales".
That said, one must not forget that this is a ponified story based on an existing poem, and as such I'd strongly recommend reading the source material before starting the fic.
The mares' poems were nice even for someone who hasn't read the ballad but unfortunately the fic loses some of its impact for readers who aren't familiar with the Hungarian poem. Besides the vague description, the story contains little in the way of answers to the basic questions like what is even happening, when is it happening (an AU, sure, but is it 1000 years ago or after the NMM's return), why is this happening, etc.
Most of these questions aren't crucial to the fic and trying to answer them would, in all likelihood, ruin the story but without the context I was feeling slightly lost for a good chunk of the story. My first question was asking why is Luna/NMM acting so cruel – even an AU needs to explain WHY and HOW the AU is different from canon, otherwise it'll be simply too confusing for many readers. For Bards of Mares, that AU explanation takes the form of the external media, the source poem.
The prose is better than average, I liked it quite a bit. Despite the bleak setting, the writing flows rather well and at least some of the descriptions were very vivid.
I read the original ballad after the story and it immediately made me appreciate the fic a lot more. The author did a great job at adapting the famous Hungarian poem into pony prose. But pointing out that goal is important; it's a 7/10 (or better) fic for those familiar with the source material and probably like a 5/10 for the rest.
For the record I need to mention that dark AUs that don't set up the "dark" part are one of my pet peeves so perhaps I'm being unreasonably biased against reading the fic without the context and (You) might not consider it a problem yourself.