FimFiction Link - Short ID: 102166/lost-cities
Published: May '13 — Sep '15
'Lost Cities' is an eleven thousand-word masterpiece. It features five short chapters which at first seem disjointed, yet as the reader slowly makes their way through them an overarching narrative is presented.
If you haven't read this story yet, just go and do so, please. Though I can speak of my own experience reading it and why it blew me away so hard, it'd be a disservice to take away this feeling from anyone else, because this is truly a story that deserves to be read blind.
Due to being so late to the fanfic scene, I haven't had too much exposure to Gardez's works. I've heard them mentioned, usually in praise, but I never really made the push to read them myself. Now, that I'm at my 200th review, there is not a story that would have deserved this spot better. 'Lost Cities' is truly a unique read: It is a story that eschews ponies as its characters and instead elevates locations into the spotlight. If there is one word that describes this fic, if one can even dare saying that, it's "melancholy." Every single location speaks of tragedy, however, while most stories dealing with such a topic usually resort to shocking the reader, there are no shocks here. The author asserts it again and again that all of these tragedies happened ages ago and so the feeling they evoke in the reader is one of dull sadness.
It is remarkable, how despite being only eleven thousand words - a length even a slow reader can casually read through in an hour or so - this story simply feels long. Every single word has a purpose. Every adjective, verb and noun works in unison to paint lands and cities in a gloomy pathos with beautiful prose, which - if the reader allows their imagination to be captured - results in truly breathtaking sights and a sense of longing for these places never existent.
I'm sure many can relate to that echoing feeling of emptiness upon finishing a good book: You have followed the adventure for a hundred thousand words (or more,) experiencing the highs and lows with the characters, worrying and cheering as their fate twists and turns... and then it's over. The characters live on their lives, happily or otherwise, but for you the ride ends and even though you may have anticipated the separation, it is regardless painful. It is a feeling, that despite being unpleasant, is regardless a hallway mark of a great story. And even though being the tenth of the length of even the shortest of such stories that previously evoked this feeling in me, 'Lost Cities' made me experience this emptiness. Equestria already feels like an expansive world, even in stories that never venture past its borders - there is rarely a need to, after all - but this fic grabs the map and stretches it to lengths never previously seen.
If this fic was "merely" a series of captivating descriptions about fantastical locations, it'd already be an exceptional story. However, it is so much more. As one reads the subsequent chapters, it will slowly dawn on them, that despite featuring not a single living character or a single line of dialogue, this is in fact an origin story for FiM's "present." This is never called into attention, but the beauty of it is that it doesn't need to be either. Single, seemingly throwaway sentences imply the reasons for the downfall of these locations, which are almost all deeply intertwined with the vague histories of the unification of the tribes and the misty past of Celestia and Luna. 'Lost Cities' deals with the Sisters in a very respectful manner. The author understood that giving answers to every single question is not the way these topics should be approached. Though we learn about the Sisters' origin and how they did not shy away from violence in the olden days, and even hints and glances into their rise and subsequent feud, this story still presents itself with an air of mystery or elusiveness, which is only to be expected of a writing about places lost to the centuries.
I also have to talk about the moods 'Lost Cities' evokes. As one would expect, obviously "grandeur" is one of them: We are, after all, reading of the husks of gigantic cities, once sculpted to perfection, now desperately clinging to the greatness they once held against the all-consuming iron teeth of time. However, the fic also occasionally dips into what I would describe as almost horror. The chapter describing Lith and its "statues" is the most obvious example, but throughout the entire story there are occasional hints - like the nonexistent paths of the Everfree and the sheer oppressive aura of a mountain hanging in the sky - of terrifying events and implications. Also while the old adage stipulates that comedy is merely tragedy plus time, there is nothing I would call humorous in this story - and yet one or two sentences held the slightest hints of humor which paradoxically made the whole thing feel all the more gloomy and lethargic.
Overall: 10/10 No question about it. 'Lost Cities' is perhaps one of the most unique works I've read on this site and the only story I can recall that even remotely matches it in content and quality is Shelley's 'Ozymandias'. I'd almost like to call it one of a kind, though since its release several others have written similar stories with the blessing of the author. It is a fic that stands testament that even something as ridiculous-sounding as fanfiction about small pastel horses living in a world of controlled weather and immortal princesses can be not just art, but high-quality art. It is on a level all writers should aspire to reach. It is a must-read.
When I read Lost Cities, I felt like I finally saw the platform from which everyone who hates HWE mythology bases their attitude. Lost Cities is obviously really good fiction, but I completely dislike it as MLP fanfiction because of what it implies. Since the literal entire point of the story is implication, that kills it dead for me.
The HWE lore shows pony civilization barely scraping by because the three tribes are each alone defined by their weaknesses and unable to sustain themselves. Then, whether by action from the princesses (force, in the case of Lost CIties) or by mutual understanding of necessity (like the Concord in Bug) the tribes learn harmony and as a result of that gain mastery over their world. To repeat: the ponies mastery over their world by way of harmony is one of the best and most charming things about the show.
Lost Cities turns that all upside down and inside out. The separated tribes are shown with cultural achievements not just in excess of what HWE says they should be capable of, not just past what is in "current" canon, but even hyperbolically far into the fantastical. Then it portrays the princesses as violent despots: they show up, smash the governments of the non-earth-pony tribes and impose their new world order, which leads to... ponies living in medieval mundanity if not actual squalor, barely scraping by while they worship the sisters. Lost Cities asserts the necessity of the sisters to act this way, not the show.
Ten out of ten times, I prefer the HWE progression of pony civilization, especially some interpretation that has the sisters lead by example. The stories that Lost Cities tells both in content and by implication are grandiose and dramatic, but they make an absolute butchery of what I like most about MLP.