Poll – the Scent of the Potions Master

So, this is weird, but I recently ordered a candle from Etsy called ‘Potions Master’ (it hasn’t arrived yet – I’ll have to let you all know how it goes) and I was intrigued by the ingredients. Here’s a link to the candle I bought.

The ingredients listed are, “simmering cauldrons, fresh lily, aged potions textbooks, the smoky fumes of brewing potions.” I agree with the first, but it isn’t specific enough to count. He does not smell like lilies, but it’s a lovely metaphorical addition. Aged potions textbooks, definitely. Smoky fumes of brewing potions? Yes, but again, it’s not quite specific enough. It’s more than mere smoke. What does a brewing potion smell like? I want to know.

Today in the grocery store, I found myself drawn to the candle aisle. The Ravenclaw in me came out to play and smelled nearly all of them. I have a few ideas, now, about what Snape might have smelled like, but I would like to hear your ideas, too! So I made a poll! This might be too weird and not receive any votes, but let’s try.

Vote in my silly poll!
http://www.strawpoll.me/13210467

(I’d prefer you voted before you read my comments for the purity of our silly data, but I’d like to give you my own comments, too. They are below.)

It’s popular in SSHG to describe Snape as smelling like sandalwood. I’ve probably read 10-15 fics where he is described that way. I always accepted that and have even bough sandalwood candles in the past for that reason. However, when I actually researched it (god, I’m so painfully Ravenclaw) I learned that sandalwood is an exotic semiparasitic tree grown almost exclusively in Australia and India. It’s a highly valued scent in men’s cologne because of its pleasant musky smell. But…is Snape going to be around any sandalwood trees? No. Is he going to use cologne? God, no! So he definitely doesn’t smell like sandalwood. How disappointing. Fanfic writers, stop using that.

I’m of the opinion that he would smell almost 100% of musty wool, because of his melton wool robes. A bit of leather/suede mixed in from his shoes and from old book covers. The rest of his smells would be environmental – wood, old stone, fireplace embers, books. Hogwarts. ❤ I don't see him drinking during the War, so no firewhiskey or wine. I love the idea of adding in some sort of potion ingredient or herb smell, but I just can't figure out what it would be. I also love the idea that Dumbledore makes the House Elves put a cheerful sherbet lemon scent in his sheets, but I've just made that up. I hope someone else finds this as interesting as I do. What do you guys think?

Posting poll link again, because I'm excited.
http://www.strawpoll.me/13210467

Pet Project – by Caeria

Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/2290003/1/Pet-Project

Rating: Outstanding

The Basics: Phoenix Era, Romance/Action, 330k

Warnings: Sexual Content, Violence

Sixth Year Hermione Granger, in her infinite Gryffindor compassion, observes that Professor Snape is exhausted. He barely eats, he never sleeps, he’s miserable – and worst of all, no some seems to notice or care. Given all that he continues to sacrifice for the Order, this is the very height of injustice as far as Hermione is concerned. She resolves to right this wrong, as only the full force of Hermione Granger’s study, intellect, and stubbornness can.

This fic is incredible. We’ll start there. I’m going to indulge in a few rambling Ravenclaw digressions for a bit, and then I’ll get back on track.

This fic is one that I missed when I did my Phoenix Era read-through. Although the fic was started in the Phoenix Era, 2005, it was not completed until 2013. Thus, it did not make it on to harmony_bites’ Completed Phoenix Epics list. I found it on her Work in Progress lists, which I recently went through to see if any of those were ever completed. I also had a commenter recommend it to me, which reminded me that I had bookmarked it – thank you!

Many epics are written over the course of real-life years, but it is very unusual for one to span EIGHT real-life years. I believe this is the first one I have read that was written over such a long period of time. I found this process delightful on a meta level. The fic starts out exploring Phoenix Era themes – Dark!Harry, Misguided!Dumbledore, Pureblood!Snape, Occlumency/Legilmancy, the Mauraders vs. Young Snape, and the Prophecy. The first third or so of the fic focuses mostly on these motifs. Then, as Half-Blood Prince descends, the author (skillfully, subtly) starts to weave in those new ideas – HalfBlood!Snape, Ruthless!Dumbledore, Slughorn, and Invaded!Hogwarts. Mercifully, she does not attempt to cram in Horcruxes or Snape killing Dumbledore, as both would have conflicted with her established plots. She adds in a few things from Deathly Hallows as well – Lily, Snape’s certainty of his own death, Badass!Neville, Occupied!Hogwarts. Many of my readers are relatively modern fans of the SSHG ship, and it’s difficult for you to understand what I mean when I talk about a ‘Classic Era’ fic, and how different in tone and content it is when compared to a Half-Blood Prince era one. Each ‘era’ has new themes and content that writers tend to fixate on, and they really are, in most cases, quite distinct from one another. This fic is an excellent remedial course in Phoenix Era, Half-Blood Prince era, and Hallows era fics, because you can feel the tone, themes, and content shift as the chapters and years pass. If you’re interested in this, make sure to read her Author’s Notes and track the changes. I found it fascinating.

I also want to give a bit of a disclaimer that this fic was practically tailor made for me. Sixth/Seventh Year Hogwarts meeting-of-the-minds that blossoms in to actual romance after Hogwarts is my favorite setting for SSHG. Hermione taking on Snape as a (VERY secret) ‘project’ is one of my favorite premises, because I find it to be very true to both characters. I prefer a long, lingering getting-to-know-you journey before romance. I love the mentor/mentee dynamic (that eventually blossoms in to equals.) I love the ‘meta’ aspects of fic-reading that occur because of the eight year writing span. This fic hits every one of my buttons, and obviously, a lot of my positive regard is going to be generated because of my preferences. I will try to be objective, though.

All right, actual review content, let’s go! We’ll start with the characterizations. Because the fic is so old, they feel a bit ‘Classic Era’ and traditional in their roles of school girl and Potions master. Hermione is VERY much herself circa Order of the Phoenix, which is of course, an innocent, overeager, idealistic Gryffindor. She has all of the tenacity and intelligence that we always see, but modern fics tend to make her a bit more powerful and mature – that is not the case here (although she matures considerably as the fic progresses.) Snape is deliciously in character. I believe Snape’s characterization was my favorite part of this fic – it really felt PERFECT to me. Absolutely perfect. Harsh teaching methods (but for the greater good), regretful and bitter about his past but committed to correcting his mistakes (for himself, not for anyone else), resentful of Dumbledore’s control and meddling but full of care for the old man, unrepentantly hateful towards Harry both for being a symbol of Snape’s failures and because he sees Harry as carefree/careless despite his responsibilities – the greatest of sins to trapped-in-a-web-of-duty Snape, masks upon masks for the Slytherins/Trio/Voldemort – masks to the point that he forgets what it’s like to be vulnerable and pushes everyone away out of habit. I don’t need to tell you all what Snape is; you know. This fic gets it. He’s not Fanon!Snape or Dark!Snape or SadLonely!Snape or SexyMasculinePowerhouse!Snape or OverlyTortured!Snape – he’s just truly Severus Snape, with aspects of all of those various Snapes. Perfection.

The romantic pacing is excellent. I think it will be too slow for many of my readers, but I really enjoyed the detailed consideration of the developing friendship. Too many fics skip this! There are sooooo many lovely things to explore in this pairing – why rush? Sometimes slow romances can be clinical or tepid (as in The Five Winters) and that is not the case here. The friendship-into-romance is a tender, natural, beautiful life-form that is fully and delicately nurtured with each new page and with each new understanding that the characters gain about each other. Lovely stuff. Regrettably, there is a disappointing ‘tragic misunderstanding’ meant to roadblock the relationship that lasted for a handful of chapters, but it wasn’t bad enough that I had to skip ahead (as I often do for tragic misunderstandings.) After that, the romance felt a bit clunky and rushed (comparatively) as it had to contend with the descending warplot. Still, though, the romantic arc climax coincides with the warplot climax, which is always my hope for epic-length romance. It’s remarkable that she accomplished a tandem finish in a 338k fic.

I adored the writing in this fic. The world feels really fleshed-out, with believable and interesting minor characters. She somehow writes charming, sympathetic, and funny House Elves – even JK Rowling was not able to do that! I also really enjoyed Professor Vector, Neville Longbottom, and Ron. Yes, Ron – most fans of this ship dislike Ron, including myself, but there are a few fics that manage to make Ron likeable and give him some redeeming qualities. This is one of them. His loyalty and steadfastness are a great help to this fic’s Dark!Harry, and his usefulness as a Chess General as the war descends is really well done. A lot of fics describe Ron as a Chess General, but this fic shows him making excellent tactical decisions and cutting to the heart of complex situations. That is not easy to write! I also love that the author takes each of the Trio members on a coming-of-age journey. When you start reading the fic, you might be turned off by Innocent!Hermione, Angry!Harry, and BigDumb!Ron, but stick with it. Each of them matures and grows and is a powerful, passionate, mature witch or wizard by the end of the story. This author writes a full story that has themes and involves everyone; there is much more here than mere romance. That is not easy write, and I really appreciated the effort to create a whole story of value. For me, it works beautifully.

There is a lot of creativity on display. Hermione is dedicated to her books, her research, her checklists, and her innovative solutions. This is Hermione! I loved her solutions to Snape’s problems, especially the enchanted item of protection. It may be one of my favorite fanfic inventions ever. I loved the way she stumbled across the idea, I loved her struggle to make it and I loved her eventual success (and the way it wasn’t quite what she expected.) The Voldemort-defeating device is clever, although I’ve read something similar before (FAR more clever than the stupid Deathly Hallows wand technicalities. I will never get over that.) I really enjoyed this author’s version of Arithmancy; a confusing magical topic that most authors avoid. (Arithmancy was explored really well in A Walking Shadow, but I believe that’s the only other Arithmancy-heavy fic I’ve read.) It was a fantastic device for foreshadowing and creating tension in the warplot. There is also an exploration of House Elf culture and motivations that is splendidly done. Many authors avoid House Elves because Dobby was so damn annoying (rest in peace, free elf), but this author does an excellent job handling them. Somehow, she manages to make them so interesting, sympathetic, and crucial to the plot. The combination of great minor characters and great magical ideas really made this feel like the Harry Potter books through an SSHG lens, and that’s about the highest praise I can give to any fanfic.

I do have a few criticisms to levy, of course. The overall plot pacing was a bit uneven. It’s no surprise, as it was written over eight years in real-time. Unevenness seems bound to happen. The middle section stalls out for a while; there are many many conversations and developments that could have been better resolved in a descriptive section to keep the pacing tight. The writing is still page-turning and filled with delightful conversations – I absolutely could not put it down – but the middle section was not as good as the rest. I was also a bit disappointed with the romantic content. Yes, I loved the slow meeting-of-the-minds in the first third, but I felt that the most exciting part of the romance (the space between realizing you care for the person and acting on those feelings) was short-changed a bit. There are only a handful of romantic scenes between the first kiss and the full consummation, and it would have been better to explore that area a little more. The consummation was a bit awkward for me, because it took place somewhere that I felt others could barge in at any moment and I was stressed out the whole time. It just didn’t quite feel right due to the lack of physical build-up. So, although the romantic pacing was great, the romantic content in the latter stages of the relationship was not as good as it could have been. Lastly, I found Dark!Harry really tiresome, and was very relieved when he finally chilled out. Harry is one of my favorite characters and I don’t like it when he is out-of-character for plot, even though it was explained very well here.

The bottom line: For me, this is a nearly perfect fic. The writing is excellent, the banter is witty, the characterizations are spot-on (considering Hermione’s age and remembering that she matures as the fic progresses), the House Elves are ridiculously charming, the warplot is inventive – this fic gets high marks across the entire board. I think for some readers the romance will feel too slow, but I really believe you will still love the fic. I recommend this without reservation to any fan of the pairing – I even recommend as a ‘gateway fic’ to those who are NOT fans of the pairing, because the romance is so believable. Thank you for finishing your fic, Caeria; it’s amazing.

Night School / Day Job – by Melisande88

Link https://sshgreview.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/melisande88-night-school-and-day-job.pdf
Both the prequel and story proper are in one file. I am hosting my own copy because these fics went down with the Digital Quill site. I will link to an external site when it is hosted properly again.

Rating: Exceeds Expectations Minus

The Basics: Phoenix Era, Action/Intrigue, 120k

Warnings: Sexual Content, Violence, Non-Con (not SSHG), Torture, Sexual Torture

Hermione Granger, distraught after the brutal events that led to the fall of Voldemort, becomes a Dark Auror in order to infiltrate the remaining Death Eaters, spying for Dumbledore. Her Dark Auror trainer is none other than the Order’s most accomplished Dark Auror and former spy, Severus Snape.

This is one of those times that I feel my rating system fails a bit. There is a prequel and a main story here; I did not like the prequel at all, but the main story is pretty good. How do I factor that in? I had this same problem with The Fire and the Rose and my ‘solution’ was to give each book a separate rating, but I’m not sure that really made sense. So, this time, I’ll go with the higher rating, and just ask you to keep in mind that the prequel is nowhere near as good. (They should be read together because they are essentially one story.) Also, note that this was written in the Phoenix Era, 2005. I am posting this fic out of chronological order because I somehow missed it during my Phoenix Era postings.

Night School is a short prequel about Hermione’s Dark Auror training. I really disliked this prequel; Hermione and Severus both seemed grossly out of character. They spend most of this training playing psychosexual games and immediately jumping in to bed, which always causes my eyes to roll out of my head. I just can’t see Snape and Hermione doing that, no matter how old or how war-weary.

Day Job, the story proper, is much better. I felt as though Night School was perhaps meant as a one-off porn-without-plot short story, and then when the author decided to expand the story in to Day Job, she went back and adding a bit of exposition. This would help to explain the disparity in quality between the prequel and the main story.

Hermione’s out of character issues vanish when Day Job starts. She dedicates her entire being to her mission of infiltrating the Death Eaters. This is the Hermione I know! Focused and fabulous. The Dark Auror action plot is the best part of the story. I was very excited to find out what she would do next or what fresh danger awaited her in the (nearly literal) serpent’s den of Death Eaters. This is a ruthless version of Hermione who will seduce whoever she has to, work wherever she has to, dump all of her ‘weak’ memories in to a Pensieve; whatever it takes. She learns what works and what does not work as her Dark Auror journey unfolds. I was both scared and excited by her boldness, as was she; this is excellently written intrigue. Lucius Malfoy (after one off-putting sexual torture introduction scene that didn’t seem to mesh with the way he was later presented) is skillfully written, as is Draco. Everyone has their own motivations and secret plans; I loved watching the social mind games required for Hermione to ‘keep up’ with these Slytherin schemers.

So, I loved reading about Hermione’s adventures with the Malfoys, but sadly I did not love her time with Snape. The romance, though MUCH better than in the prequel, continued to be disappointing. They fall in love immediately, they consummate immediately, they stay apart for arbitrary reasons, and the author has to invent stupid misunderstandings to keep them apart, etc. One misunderstanding was so stupid that I rage-skimmed a few chapters, wanting to avoid the idiotic farce of my beloved non-idiotic characters. I also felt that Snape was a bit out of character. He spends most of the fic irrationally following Hermione around, spying on her, being jealous, brewing potions to bind her to him (that he later throws away, but still.) I can see that Snape would be a jealous and possessive person, but this was too much.

The bottom line: The Adventures of Hermione the Spy. The Hermione-focused action plot of this fic is page-turning and very enjoyable, but the inconsistent writing and the lackluster romance were difficult for me. This fic was well-loved when it was first written and it’s definitely worth a look unless you are strictly in the mood for romance. Keep in mind that the short prequel is not as good, has a totally different tone, and is moderately out-of-character.

Public Service Announcement: Ashwinder

Ashwinder is currently down.

I spent some time this morning adding alternate links to the fics that I had Ashwinder-only links for. There are three remaining fics that I could not find alt links for: The Man Who Sold the World by Meggory, Prophecy’s Pawns by Leandra, and As the Pages Turn by StormySkize. If anyone has copies of these fics they would be willing to share with me, please e-mail them to serpent.and.lily@outlook.com and I can get those temporarily hosted until Ashwinder comes back.

The Ashwinder webmistress has said that she is doing everything she can to fix the site. I am hoping that she can get it back online soon. (Wayback Machine doesn’t work on Ashwinder because it is a log-in authorization site.) Ashwinder had some serious problems a while back and was down for about a month, but they were able to get the site back up eventually, so there is some precedence for hope. This is a webmaster who cares about her archive and will not abandon it unless she absolutely has to. Cross your wands and pray to the Dark Lord and to Dumbledore that she’s able to fix it!

Thank you very much to those who have sent me fics to upload here to supplement the (hopefully) temporarily broken Ashwinder links! We have almost everything filled now, except for those mentioned above.

The Lioness Prophecies – by AMR

Link: https://sshgreview.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/amr-the-lioness-prophecies.pdf
Only linking my copy because it is not currently hosted anywhere else, and because it’s a shame for a beautiful fic like this to be lost. I will link to another site if it’s ever properly hosted again.

Rating: Outstanding

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Action/Romance, 260k

Warnings: Sexual Content, Violence, Pregnancy

Professor Trelawney gives another True Prophecy that Professor Dumbledore believes will ensure victory against Voldemort. He is sure that one of the targets of the prophecy is Professor Severus Snape, but who is the other? A long, epic tale that takes us from the Trio’s Sixth Year summer into the Seventh Year fall, winding through elaborate balls at Pureblood Manors, to long days of readying for the Final Battle with spell-crafting and Potion-making, to the secrets behind the doors of the Department of Mysteries, and much more.

Wow. This fic was incredible. I basically gave up all efforts to work on anything else for the past two days because I could not stop reading this. I really enjoyed AMR’s other SSHG fic, Snape’s Boon, though I felt like it had a few problems. This fic is longer, better, and corrects most of the problems. Let’s get down to it.

The biggest strength of this fic is the quality of the writing and of the ideas. There is so much amazingly creative world-building in this fic! The prophecy is subtle and clever, with a myriad of meanings that the reader slowly begins to understand as the fic progresses. Hermione and Snape work together to create a huge number of spells and potions, invented by the author, in their quest to defeat Voldemort. A potion to help resist Legilmancy, that has the unintended side effect of boosting dueling, because duelists unconsciously use Legilmancy to read their opponent’s moves. Those who take the Duelist’s Draught prevent their opponents from making these readings (an idea AMR also uses in Snape’s Boon.) A net spell, adapted from an old Victorian millinery spell for creating hat lace, enlarges the net and adds defensive wards and is used to trap Death Eaters. The attempt to use computer programming and Arithmancy together to correlate data and extrapolate likelihoods and stratagems. The idea to use Muggle Post-Its as portkeys to safely remove survivors from the battlefield, the color and location depending on their allegiance and the severity of their wounds. A beautifully heartbreaking and completely thorough explanation of Pureblood family magic and how it is passed on to the children. The traditions of Pureblood manners and etiquette (suspiciously similar to Regency customs – the Pureblood section of this fic very much reads like a Regency fic.) Hermione’s parents finding a place in the magical world – I have never read a fic that attempted to assimilate them in to magical culture and it is done so well, here. I could go on and on – these are just the ones that came to mind first.

The plotting and pacing is also top-notch. I really appreciate the skill with which the author avoids many of the traditional pitfalls of fanfiction. There were so many times when I thought, ‘Oh no, here comes the tragic misunderstanding,’ or ‘Hmm, this particular aspect of the story is getting tedious,’ and without fail, the author zigs or zags to avoids the mistake. Dumbledore’s refusal to see reason beginning to bog the story down? The very next chapter, he gives in. Hermione kidnapped by Death Eaters and me dreading several chapters of her pointless torture and misery? She escapes almost immediately, impressing and fascinating Voldemort with an amazing twist. Pregnancy fic, which I tend to dislike because I find it out of character and boring? Only becomes pregnant for essential Order reasons and maintains her intellectual spirit and curiosity throughout the pregnancy and beyond. The author’s foresight and cleverness kept the story page-turning and spellbinding, to the very end.

I do have to take a bit of an issue with the characterizations. Snape is an alternate universe fabulously wealthy and impeccably bred Pureblood in this fic – which I do not mind at all, but I know that this portrayal bothers some people given that this was written in the Half-Blood Prince era. In addition to that, I found Snape to be a bit too open and a bit too kind. The fic attempts to explain this by showing the Trio and Snape spending time together offscreen at Grimmauld Place for months, and by suggesting that much of his cruelty is a show for the Death Eater students. I don’t like it when authors take what I believe are essential Snape qualities and write them off as ‘an act’, but it’s a minor quibble in the overall context of the fic. Secondly, Snape is a little too willing to pursue Hermione, but again the author offers multiple explanations as to why he is behaving this way (he is in his childhood home, his great-grandfather is scheming to get them together because he wants an heir, they have been spending every day together working on a potion, their ages are not so different when in the company of the very aged members of his household, etc) so I was not too bothered by it, even though it was probably out of character. I will say, though, that the Albus Dumbledore in this fic is egregiously out of character for most of the fic. He is outrageously cruel to Hermione and incredibly dense for seemingly no reason (the author does have an explanation that she gives at the end of the story, but the explanation is not at all sufficient.) Lastly, one of the original characters, Septimius Snape (who is absolutely fabulous by the way,) has one scene where he is disgustingly vulgar and cruel seemingly out of nowhere that really bothered me, but it was just that one little instance. I mention this only because I was so shocked by it that I nearly put the fic down and I felt as though I should warn future readers.

Despite the bumpy-at-times characterizations, I was very, very pleased with the romance in this fic. It progresses in phases, which keeps the relationship evolving and interesting thoroughout the fic. The Pureblood setting of Snape’s ancestral estate, Houndsnape Hall, is Regency-esque, with balls, dance cards, formal dinners, curtsies; it’s the perfect place for two reticent people to dance slow courting circles around one another (with a little help from Snape’s clever meddling great-grandfather who desperately wants a Snape heir, of course.) This idyllic setting does not last as they are forced to make a difficult choice for the Order that involves their relationship. Next, they must go back to Hogwarts for Hermione’s Seventh Year and pretend nothing has happened between them for the benefit of the public. During the Seventh Year, they plan and plot, mixing potions and creating spells for the upcoming confrontation with Voldemort. I LOVE that they were more focused on the war than on each other – so many fics get this wrong. This is exactly what Snape and Hermione would have done. Then we have the actual confrontation and war which shakes everything and everyone to their very foundations. Though the relationship is technically resolved early for Order reasons, I felt that the author maintained enough tension, choices, and changing circumstances so that the romance arc felt as though it completed at the same time as the war arc. After all of that, we are even treated to a long glance into Severus and Hermione’s future, which somehow continues to be filled with new fascinations and insights to Wizarding culture – just amazing. I found the romance incredibly satisfying.

Much of this fic feels like Classic Era, which might be part of why I love it so much. Pureblood!Snape, out-of-character devious and meddling Dumbledore, and innocent wide-eyed Hermione (at the beginning.) This might sound a bit strange, but bear with me; I think thematically, this fic progresses much in the same way that the Harry Potter books do. The idyllic twinkling and magic of the Houndsnape Hall is reminescent of the magic of Hogwarts and the childhood innocence of the early HP books. The Pureblood balls and early courtship feels very much like the shy dances of Goblet of Fire. The frustration with authority created by Dumbledore’s terrible decisions causing Hermione to break the rules and make her own independent choices for the first time feels very much like Order of the Phoenix (with Dumbledore avoiding Harry Fifth Year, causing Harry to become less obedient and more independent.) The safe haven of the early chapters is cloaked in an inky cloud as the heaviness of war, duty, and sacrifice descend upon the characters just as they do in the later HP books. So, some might say that Hermione is too gentle or innocent in this fic, but that’s only at the START of the fic – I believe the author intentionally uses Philosopher’s Stone Hermione (even though she’s 18) in order to re-create the whole bildungsroman journey of the Harry Potter books the reader’s mind. If you’re a bit skeptical of my theory, look at Hermione’s Transfiguration N.E.W.T project in this story for confirmation that the themes of childhood journey to adulthood are indeed the author’s intention. I absolutely adored going on same Harry Potter journey that I so love – but through the lens of SSHG and completely new plots, prophecies, and magical theories. I could be crazy, but this is what I felt. ❤

The bottom line: This fic definitely has a 'Classic Era' feeling (AU goofiness, Innocent!Hermione, Pureblood!Snape and a ridiculously out-of-character Dumbledore) which might be a problem for some of you, but if you can overlook it, you are in for a magnificent treat. Brilliant magical concepts, well-crafted setting changes that keep the pages fresh, great romantic pacing, precise plotting, interesting minor characters, prophecies, spell-crafting, cauldron-stirring…perfection. For me the ‘Classic Era’ issues were far outweighed by the beautiful writing and endless creativity on display. This is one of my favorite SSHG fics ever. I hope that you will love it, too!

The Language of Flowers – by Lady Strange

Links:
http://www.thepetulantpoetess.com/viewstory.php?sid=1240
http://ashwinder.sycophanthex.com/viewstory.php?sid=12098

Rating: Acceptable

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Regency, 140k (1/3 of it is Author’s Notes)

Warnings: Alternate Universe

Miss Hermione Granger and Lord Sterne (Severus Snape) hatch a plan to help their friends, Lady Ginevra Weasley and Lord Villiers (Draco Malfoy), court each other despite Duchess Mallefille (Narcissa Malfoy)’s disapproval.

When I read His Draught of Delicate Poison, I thought that it was a Regency fic. It wasn’t until I read this fic, The Language of Flowers, that I realized His Draught of Delicate Poison was only lightly referencing Regency romance. The author of The Language of Flowers exhaustively converts all of Harry Potter into actual Regency London; giving everyone proper titles and peerage related to actual places, converting all of the schools to real schools, converting all of the men’s clubs and stores to real Regency clubs and stores, and notating it all in the Author’s Notes with history lessons and citations. The level of detail here is insane.

When I told my husband I was reading a Regency SSHG fic based on the language of flowers, he joked, ‘is there a preface dedicated to you?’ because Victorian flower language, gardening, old England, and SSHG fiction are pretty much my favorite things in life. I was 100% sure that I would adore this fic and I was so, so disappointed to find out that I did not.

First of all, many of the characters are referred to by their invented Regency titles rather than their names, because that is the way it would have been in Regency England. Snape is ‘Lord Sterne,’ Draco is ‘Lord Villiers,’etc. I understand why the the author made this choice, but it’s jarring. Next, there are hugely extensive Author’s Notes that I had to give up on reading because they were extremely pedantic and boring. I thought I would love the little lessons on flowers and on Regency England, but they were overly verbose and never seemed to enhance the story. And again, I feel as though I should stress the idea that if ANYONE was going to enjoy these Author’s Notes and this story, it should have been me! These are my exact interests and I was bored to tear by both the story and the notes. What went wrong?

One major problem with the story are the characterizations, especially Snape in the latter half of the story. He is raging, irrational, and pathetic. He follows Hermione around everywhere and screams at her jealously for absolutely no reason. He’s acting jealous because he’s in love with her, of course, but…what a heavy-handed and silly way to express that. Aren’t Regency fics supposed to be about restraint, wit and subtlety? Why the temper tantrums? The Snape in the second half of the story does not even resemble Snape. If the character were supposed to be Ron, I would have written that the author did a disservice to Ron by making him such a jealous crybaby. Can you imagine Snape being more of a jealous crybaby than Ron? That’s what we’re dealing with in this story. Not sexy, not interesting, not intelligent, not Snape.

When readers complain about the characterizations, the author responds by explaining that it is a necessary part of the Regency conversion. Hermione would be cold and aloof because fill-in-the-blank Regency reason. Snape would be possessive and jealous because fill-in-the-blank Regency reason. In some fics, I will accept bad characterizations if I feel the author has ‘done the work’ to justify these character changes, but that is not the case here. As an example, Draco (I’m sorry, Lord Villiers) is shown to be a bit of a bad boy who is sincerely reformed because he wants to marry Ginevra. Things seem to be going well for him. Then, out of nowhere, he decides to go back to the gaming hall, get drunk, and duel-murder not one but TWO people. Why? Why would he do that? There is no explanation, not even in the 30 paragraph long Author’s Notes for that chapter. The author puts in plenty of work, but it’s all on Regency England and not on the characters or the story. I wish the author had focused more of her considerable intellectual prowess on portraying the characters accurately and writing a creative story.

Disappointment and a strange sort of dread filled my chest as I drew near the final chapters, realizing that the mild, boring scenes that were wrapping up were actually the climax of the story. That’s it? What about all of the flower stuff? What was this great mystery I was trying to piece together and decode? Was there nothing to solve, just floral references to the themes of each chapter? What was all of that build-up for? A little trip to France, a few tantrums, and all of the people we thought were going to be engaged in the beginning are now engaged?

I really want to muster up something positive to say here, because the fic is such a tremendous effort, but I am left with the overwhelming feeling that if I didn’t like this fic, which seemed to be made specifically for me, how could anyone else like it? I think the root of the problem is that the author is more of an academic than a creative. I had to come to the same conclusion about myself when my brief foray into creative writing ended with me crying into an empty notebook on a park bench in London (after a 6 month creative writing study abroad semester during which I wrote nothing.) I love literature, but I was not meant to write it. I do not have the electric spark of creativity. I feel that this author might have the same issue and I’m sure she could (and probably has) written fantastic non-fiction.

The bottom line: If I were grading this fic on its historical accuracy and academic merit, I might be giving it an A+. This site, however, is grading the quality of the SSHG content, which in this fic is mediocre at best. The author is extremely intelligent and well-studied; but when you take away all of the research, footnotes, history lessons, and Regency conversion efforts all that remains is a simple fic with serious out-of-character problems. Worth a read if you love Regency, maybe.

His Draught of Delicate Poison – by Subversa

Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10393075/30/His-Draught-of-Delicate-Poison
Note: There is also a copy on Ashwinder; I usually prioritize linking Ashwinder above ff.net, but the Ashwinder copy is missing the Chapter 30 Christmas Epilogue. The epilogue is a bit silly and you might like the fic better without it, but it seems proper to link to the extra content when it’s available.

Rating: Exceeds Expectations Plus

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Regency/Romance/Comedy-of-Manners, 200k

Warnings: Sexual Content, Mild Violence, Alternate Universe, Original Characters, Attempted Non-Con (not SSHG)

After the fall of Voldemort, A new Ministry Marriage Law means all unmarried witches and wizards of child-bearing age must marry by December. To aid in this mandate, the Ministry hosts a long series of parties and balls, along with strict courting protocols. Severus Snape, recently engaged to Fleur Delacour in an attempt to avoid the damanable parties, is acting as guardian of Dumbledore’s grand estate while Dumbledore is away. The charges under his care at the estate include his three beautiful half-sisters and his ex-student Hermione Granger, whose parents are away for the summer. It seems he will be attending the Ministry balls, after all. It’s a Harry Potter Regency romance! Based on Georgette Heyer’s wildly popular Regency romance novel, The Grand Sophy.

Fun context: We all know about the WIKTT Marriage Law Challenge that spawned 1000 fanfics. This fic, His Draught of Delicate Poison, is also a response to the next WIKTT Challenge – Regency. We will likely see a few Regency fics in the next year of reviews as that is where we are in the ship’s chronology.

This is a great, great, fic – but I should state right away that I love Regency literature (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, etc) and the polite courtship of wit, manners, scheming, restraint, etc. If you don’t love those conventions, you may find this fic confusing and annoying because of the alternate universe content and out-of-character moments that are gently paying tribute to Regency-era tropes. There is one scene in particular that the author admits in her notes is copied almost exactly from The Grand Sophy; and that is the scene for me in which Hermione is MOST out of character. Sophy is quite colorful, extroverted, and overtly manipulative – not much like Hermione. There are a lot of occasions in this fic where ‘Wizarding World accuracy’ is ignored in favor of ‘Regency fun.’ I loved it because I love Regency fun, but it is certainly not for everyone.

That said, the author puts in a LOT of impressive effort and creativity in to her Regency conversion. The writing is excellent; this is not a lazy copy/paste of The Grand Sophy with the names changed. She writes a compelling Draco/Luna. She writes a non-caricature Lucius Malfoy, which many authors seem to struggle to do. She invents a ‘Princess Party Tent’ which is like the Weasley’s World Cup tent, except all pink and princess themed, with a castle inside, just for rich little girls (so fun!) She invents the legend of the faerie-silk dress, which I found very charming. She includes, about 3/4 of the way through, a beautiful backstory for Snape and Hermione that was so exciting to read and discover. Until that point, the reader assumed their interest in one another was recent. I just loved the choice to include the backstory non-chronologically. She draws many of the romances subtly; it wasn’t completely obvious who everyone was going to end up with in the end. I really loved some of her interesting pairs. She doesn’t write with the top-notch wit of Austen or Georgette Heyer, but who does? It’s an excellent effort.

The romance is very satisfying. It has been a really long time, more than a year, since I found a fic that actually made me excited about reading the SSHG genre again; I had begun to worry that I was permanently burnt out. Thank you, His Draught. I’m not sure how much of it is lifted from Grand Sophy (except for the one scene she admits is 90% Grand Sophy) but His Draught is well-plotted, full of wit, full of interesting believable characters, and teeming with absolutely smashing romance. Even the smut, which I usually am not interested in, is very, very good. Modern romance (and thus modern fanfiction) often moves far too quickly for me. My favorite part of a romance is a slow and sensual build up – watching these characters realize they are in love with each other, deny it to themselves, and nearly lose their composure over and over again. The thrill of accidental contact. The scent of the other. Avoiding each other, but ending up forced together and attempting to contain the maelstrom of passion and emotion that rises up in the presence of the other. THIS is romantic literature! I have missed it so much! The Regency genre highlights and sustains this section of courtship for a deliciously long time. I am so very tired of ‘we’re married, now we’re in love’ and ‘you’re kidnapped, now we’re in love.’ It all happens too fast; the thrill lasting for only chapters or paragraphs. In this fic, the thrill lasts the entire time. Sensational.

There are some negatives, of course. It’s a bit annoying that everyone is extremely rich and can buy anything their heart desires (the men shower the ladies with jewels and vacations and summer homes.) Snape, though decently in character for most of the story, is a bit Too Perfect by the end. Many authors struggle to write Snape-in-love as accurately as Snape-alone and this fic suffers quite a bit from that. Another character issue – and the largest negative for me – is the treatment of Fleur. In the beginning of the fic, she is Snape’s fiancee. She is shown to be a bit cold and materialistic, but still basically a good person. I felt that Snape and Hermione treated her horribly. They were ‘forced’ to do so within the rules of Regency propriety (a gentleman never breaks an engagement!) but I still felt very bad for Fleur. She did not deserve that treatment in my eyes and it made me think less of our hero and heroine.

I also want to emphasize that while this fic pays tribute to Regency romance novels, it is NOT strict, at all, in its conversion. Lovers of Regency romance know that a significant part of the genre is strictly adhering to the titles, locations, and etiquette of Regency England. This fic largely ignores all of that and casually wonders, ‘What if a Marriage Law with a deadline caused a Wizarding World ‘season’ of courtship similar to the Regency?’ Those of you who dislike Regency tropes, don’t be afraid to give this fic a try. Those of you who love Regency, try to relax your criticism of it’s imperfections. It’s inspired by the Regency romance genre, not a strict imitation.

The bottom line: A light-hearted vaguely Regency-inspired romp through a Marriage Law season of courtship with a smashing SSHG romance. For me, this is the top rating; but I am rating it lower because I know that my adoration for it is heavily colored by personal preference. If the tantalizingly slow-burning passion of courtship is your preference, and you can overlook the innate silliness of the Regency-esque scheming, you will love this. I would recommend it to almost any fan of the pairing.