FimFiction Link - Short ID: 171675/cartography-of-war
Published: Feb '14 — Jun '15
I'm pretty confident in saying that this is the best story published by Daetrin on fimfic. However I don't know if it's the best pony fiction he posted. It's excellent and I'm splitting hairs more than anything else, but the connection to FiM is a bit tenuous.
It's no secret that this author's writing prowess improved drastically over the course of his fimfic career, Triptych being as amazing of a ponyfic as it is should be proof enough. But Triptych is SoL, and Daetrin got horsefamous for his adventure stories. Reading Triptych, it's impossible not to wonder how this more experienced Daetrin would go about writing adventure.
Cartography of War answers that question.
Although it's marked as a sequel to Daetrin's main saga, it's almost entirely standalone. The fic takes place during pony-gryphon war a few years after NMM's banishment and follows a pony and a gryphon stuck together due to unfortunate circumstances. Both of them are OCs, naturally.
Barring that – or ignoring it, if you don't mind OC-centric fiction – it's just great. Despite the war, the setting keeps its hallmark "ponyness". The wonder that was present in Off The Edge and Apotheosis is still there and you can easily tell how much effort went into good, consistent worldbuilding.
The characterizations are so good that the fic made me interested in reading about not just OCs, but a gryphon OC among them.
The prose is just as good as it was in Triptych, pretty but not too flowery. You would not believe it's written by the same author as Off The Edge.
The plot is gripping and well-paced until almost the very end. Interesting things are happening throughout the whole fic, forcing the characters to reevaluate their plans and adapt. I’m not saying that all of the “linearity” defining OTEM and Apotheosis is gone, but it’s more concealed and used in a way that helps the story.
The themes are pretty clever, figuring them out is a great moment while reading. I only wish they weren't so blatantly spelled out near the end, but that's not a big deal.
So what is not great?
The epilogue. I got strong Bug On a Stick epilogue flashbacks, if you've read that one. Cartography's pacing becomes noticeably faster in the last few chapters, and the story is cut short immediately after its climax. Imagine if the second episode of the show skipped straight to the credits the instant Elements-empowered Twilight opens her eyes. Cartography ends not too differently, excusing itself with a lone "here's what happened later" chapter after a massive timeskip. It's not offensively bad in the same way Bug's ending was, but it's underwhelming for an otherwise excellent fic.
Even then, I loved the story. If I were to recommend a fic to someone not familiar with the pony show, Cartography of War would be my first choice. It's very much worth a read for everyone else, too, and deserves a really high final grade. I'm torn between 8 and 9, but the latter is much more fair.
9/10 it is.