FimFiction Link - Short ID: 480/off-the-edge-of-the-map
Published: Aug '11
This is an old, old fic. It's also a much beloved classic so reviewing it is a bit of a daunting task.
Getting to the point, yeah I believe it's a good story. A good story with some impressive highs and a few oft-overlooked lows.
I usually like to start my reviews by praising the good parts, but I'll switch the order for this fic. Because holy shit no one ever talks about the mistakes that many of the early "classics" tend to have. Off The Edge... was edited later, but it (especially the first chapter) still features some very dubious word choices and phrasing, sprinkled with a generous amount of straight-up errors. It's not so bad that the fic is "hard to read", but it's worse than I expected and remembered. For the love of Luna, please don't ever put two speakers in the same paragraph, agh. Also, LUS. It's a really big issue in the first chapter, gets better later.
Note the end of the previous sentence -- if you don't pay attention to such things, it might not be a big deal to (You). It certainly wasn't too jarring for me on my last re-read of it, but I still have to mention it in the review.
The pacing is very unusual. You won't find a single paragraph of filler here. Unfortunately, the opposite is true -- the fic reads like a highlight reel from Dash and Flutters' adventure, stringed together by timeskips like "we waited for a couple days until...". Individual scenes and settings are given ample time (more on that in a bit) but they're often connected by just a couple nearly-throwaway sentences. This peculiar choice wasn't accidental, though, as it plays right into the fic's two biggest strengths:
The first is worldbuilding. Oh man, I absolutely ADORE how the author extended the FiM world while keeping its spirit. And the best part is that it's still serving the story rather than the other way around (a very common mistake made by people who sink too deep into their own creation). The two mares travel from one location to another, visiting a total of seven large and distinct locations, all with their own lore and atmosphere foreign to the cozy homes they left in Equestria. Reminds me a lot of the best parts of the Hobbit, and I'm almost certain the similarities are not accidental.
If you like FiM's take on classical fantasy, you'll probably like Off The Edge, too.
'Off The Edge Of The Map' is a thirty-five thousand-word shortfic. Dash and Fluttershy end up far from Equestria and they need to find their way home.
It is one of those stories where the scoring system I use proves a bit inadequate. If someone were to ask "Did you enjoy reading this fic?", my immediate answer would be "Yeah, sure", because at the end of the day, I did. However, from a slightly more technical and scrutinizing perspective, there were some parts that left me pretty dissatisfied.
Let's start with the prose: I'd describe it as mostly simple, with a hint of flowers. Most of the story was easy reading with the occasional more involved sentence that let the author's literary skill shine. I liked the detailed descriptions of the locations the characters visit, it really helped sell these foreign and ancient lands, hinting at their age and mystique, but without needing to delve into too much detail.
I never felt lost from a macro perspective (generally where our characters are and what they're doing), but I admit sometimes, especially in action-scenes, I felt like the shifts were a bit too sudden and unexpected, which threw me off a little. Ultimately none of these ruined my experience, but it can really clog down an otherwise action-packed scene if I have to go back and read it one or two more times. Probably the most obvious example of this was the pitch-black ramp, where it took me considerable effort to figure out how Dash exactly slipped and hurt herself and I'm still not a hundred percent sure about it.
Beyond this, I kind of dislike that the author has a habit of not separating different characters speaking into different paragraphs. There were a few places where I thought one character was talking before I realized that makes no sense and had to mentally switch. Again, not a deal-breaker, but these small things add up.
As for the plot itself, I quite enjoy the format. Of course "character(s) going to distant lands" is not exactly a new concept (one only has think of the 'Odyssey'), it is nonetheless one I really like and it really allows these characters to shine in locations mostly foreign to them. And shine they do! It is rare to see Fluttershy done in a way where she isn't either just dragged along for the ride or act wildly out of character, but here I feel like she is just right. She shows immense inner strength and several times takes the initiative on her own bashful way, in this story she is truly a protagonist instead of a "side character, who's always around." Dash too brings her usual bold and brash attitude, but the author also depicted her more caring and (let's say it together) loyal side. There were a few moments she felt a bit too dumb to me, like when they talked to the island spirit, but I suppose we can simply chalk this up to her being... well, herself.
But as some of the previous fimfic book club fics have shown, you need more than a cool world to have an interesting story. You need a plot and characters. The plot here is nothing special -- RD and FS try to find a way back to Equestria -- but the characters are not. Daetrin's Dash and Fluttershy are great. They're not OOC (for the time that the fic has been written) and they work really well together. Whether it's Dash standing up to protect Fluttershy, Fluttershy helping where even RD was helpless, or anything else -- their interactions are written really well and wanting to see how they both handle the next part of the journey was half of the reason why I was so immersed in the fic. Their adventure changes them, as adventures tend to do, but for such a short story it's important to note that it doesn't feel forced. It's all in the little subtle things, not a dramatic change of heart. While I complained about the technical aspect of the writing, I can't overstate how much I liked pretty much everything else about this author's style.
And yeah, the fic is tagged romance, but don't let that fool you. Their relationship changes during the journey but -- much like what I said about the characters -- it's all in the details, so don't come here expecting a shipfic. If you were to miss the tag, you could read the whole fic and (if you didn't pay enough attention) not even notice what was happening between them. I wish more stories were written with subtlety instead of the typical shipfic bluntness.
Honestly I could ramble about this fic for several thousands of words more, and there's A LOT that I haven't mentioned yet, but this is as good of a point to conclude as any. If you like character-driven "generic fantasy adventure" with some excellent worldbuilding, I can't recommend Off The Edge Of The Map enough.
I was hoping to give it an extremely high final grade, but sadly I can't really ignore the mistakes and the linearity of the fic. I could definitely see some people giving it two points more or two points less than I did, depending on how well the story resonated with tehm. Now, it gets an 8/10 from me, though it pains me to score it so "low".
I also enjoy how the locations make the world of FiM feel a lot more mysterious and grandiose than the show eventually made it to be. The three places our two unlucky pegasi visit all feel distinct from each other and ominous in their own unique ways and they contrast extremely hard with how welcoming and "simple" Equestria is compared to them. I liked the interpretation of the Dragonlands as a place of "ice and fire" a lot better compared to how they appeared (far later) in the show. I personally enjoyed the haunting the most. The back and forth between the hallucination and reality was done quite nicely. This is followed by the dragon coup, which was super rushed, but nonetheless a unique and unexpected plottwist.
Yet as much as I like the concept, this is the part where my recommendation for the story gains a big asterisk: I think the story is simply bad at pacing. I don't like saying this, but the fic repeatedly falls into really slow build-ups, which are then followed by confrontations that are solved so fast and with so little (meaningful) consequence that I really struggled to feel any emotional climax during them. Whether it's talking or fighting, conflicts kind of just come to abrupt and somewhat awkward halts and the reader is hurried along to the next scene. It's not like there isn't payoff, but despite the story's insistence that the characters are facing overwhelming odds, they deal with everything in what feels like moments and without a hitch. I mean, one of the conflicts is basically resolved by Flutters saying "You're mean" and the other party immediately apologizes and solves this part of the plot for them. In a comedy this would be excellent, but here it was just underwhelming. The fact that there isn't a single character who talks and has ulterior intentions doesn't help either. I'm not demanding trauma and tragedy, but the characters didn't as much as feel like they've grown, as just utilizing skills they already possessed, and that just causes the experience to feel inconsequential.
Overall: 6/10 Ultimately, it's a fine fic, not without nice ideas, especially when one considers its age. However, it also comes with its own set of problems that are very hard to overlook and I don't think it'd reach two thousand likes if it was written nowadays. I still recommend it as a nice little straightforward adventure in lands unfamiliar, but I feel stories like 'Applejack Gets Lost' manage the concept far better.
It was fun to re-read this fic, although having re-read Apotheosis not terribly long ago it is a little more funny to view it as a rough draft for that fic.
The LUS is overbearing at the start of the first chapter, but fortunately dissipates over time and is almost gone by the end of the fic. For most of the fic, I was reading it as a better written Austraeoh. Maybe not quite as scenic, but far less thesaurus bashing and fewer malapropisms. The other obvious contrast is that this fic is way shorter.
The fic sort of grew in my head over the years, apparently, since re-reading it reminded me how short the scenes were and how little detail was given to characters like the sirrush spirit and Scar.
I agree with the others that the haunted town was the strongest part of the fic. A lot of the rest of it feels like it's just a slideshow of scenery going by, punctuated by action sequences. Again, much like Austraeoh. The tornado in the Everfree could also have been dropped, it's probably not necessary to reiterate that Dash is aware of her limitations.
I do compliment the back and forth between Dash and FS, even by this fic Daetrin is good at showing how the characters are covering each others weaknesses and showing off their strengths in an excellent balance between them. As others said, it's nice to see FS written strongly and not just an animation error (cough, cough, The Movie).
The last major flaw with the fic is that it has no romance. By the end of the fic, RD and FS are bonded, even trauma bonded as closely as characters can be, but in no scene anywhere in the fic was something I could call chemistry. It wouldn't be a problem if the fic weren't tagged romance, but it is. Although this flaw isn't actually fixed until Cartography, at least Apotheosis has a little romance in it.