In Annulo – by LadyoftheMasque

Link: http://www.thepetulantpoetess.com/viewstory.php?sid=1480

Rating: Outstanding

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Romance/Action, 360k

Warnings: Seventh Year, Sexual Content, NC-17, Non-Consensual SSHG

At the start of her seventh year, Hermione Granger receives a letter and a magical correspondence ring from someone claiming to be a spy in the Death Eater camp. When Dumbledore was murdered by the Traitor, he lost his only contact to the Order. He’s hoping Hermione will be his new liaison, passing on his information to those who need it.

Full disclosure: I had read this many years ago when it was first published. Lady of the Masque is my favorite fanfiction author of all time; her For Someone Special is one my favorite fanfics. I was predisposed to love this fic. I did a full re-read for this review.

It is, obviously, outstanding. It’s Deathly Hallows and the hunt for the Horcruxes in an SSHG context. There are so many amazingly clever ideas – the betrothal correspondence ring and guardian, Chronomancy, Diario di Lucrezia Borgia as an incredibly Dark potions book that judges the worthiness of its reader, Artifacts and Artificy, having Dementors eat the soul out of Horcruxes (GENIUS!), delving into the function of origin of the Dark Mark, and more.   So much of this story hits the sweet spot of magical, whimsical, practical, and funny that the real Harry Potter does.

I love Snape and Hermione’s function in the warplot. They spend huge amounts of time researching, creating charms, creating Potions, gathering information. They take an intellectual approach to defeating the Dark Lord – which is the way it should be! So many fics send them on cloak and dagger action adventures, or have them ignore the warplot completely in favor of their romance. This is what they REALLY would have been doing – using their brains and books to find a chink in Voldemort’s armor. Snape and Hermione are in love, sure, but their focus is 100% on Voldemort. They even sometimes ‘use’ each other and hide things from each other, if necessary, to the further the fight against Voldemort. These aren’t the kind of people who get swept up in passion and forget their circumstances, and this fic remembers that.

Hermione is absolutely, fabulously, beautifully in character. One thing I especially loved about her is how close she is with Harry and Ron. Many fics shove the boys them out of the picture or villainize them in order to focus on Snape.  Hermione LOVES Harry and Ron and they are absolutely part of her life. This fic seamlessly and believably bridges the gap between her friendship with Ron and Harry and her romance with Snape. She remains close to them all and interacts with them all throughout the story.

Snape is a bit out of character in the beginning (it’s explained – because he is in disguise and because he has his own agenda, but it still bothered me.) My biggest problem with Snape (and Hermione, by extension) is that he introduces sexual talk and content in his first few interactions with Hermione. No way that Snape, alone in the heart of the Death Eaters, would jeopardize his only link to the Order with blatant sexual advances. Especially with Hermione Granger, his former student!  Ridiculous. My face just fell and I groaned in disgust when it happened. As a result, the romance happens way faster than it should.  (The fic is 360k!  Why rush?) There is also way too much smut.  Metric tons, enormous boatloads, full continents, of smut.  WAY too much. Maybe I’m just a prude, but I was annoyed by the amount of sex they had. Multiple times every time they see each other?  Come on.  They have much better things to do with their time.  I didn’t find it believable for either character.  There is also a non-consensual SSHG scene, which I almost always find out of character, but in the context of the moment of this story, I believed Snape might have done it, as difficult as it was for me to read.

Despite my gripes about the early romance and the overabundance of smut, the pacing of the romance and warplot are mostly tight and page-turning. The romance peaks early, yes, but there are little hurdles to be overcome that kept it from feeling resolved and boring. Their romance begins in writing and then must progress to real life. Hermione knows Snape by an alias, and must learn to accept his true identity, essentially resetting the romance (but in an organic, realistic way, not in a Tragic Misunderstanding sort of way.)  The warplot is almost perfectly paced, though I think it sagged a bit in the middle, and there is a little deux ex machina speed cheat in order to find the last few Horcruxes. Ideally, I would edit the entire fic down by 100k  by removing 90% of the smut and tightening up the pacing in the center of the story;  but honestly those are minor gripes in the greater picture.

The dialogue and descriptions are just wondrous.  In my review of ‘For Someone Special’ I called LadyoftheMasque the Reining Queen of Witty Banter and here, 50 epic-length fics later, I support my original assessment.  No one does hilarious, clever dialogue like she does.  Not even JK Rowling.  So many of the conversations, insults, snark, descriptions, and wry observations are pure gold.  For the entire cast of characters, not just Snape and Hermione.  I wish I could write like this.

Super duper gold star to the scene at the end of the story in the courtroom. It was so witty, tied so many lose ends together, and had so many fun reveals, jokes, and cameos.  It was just so…Harry Potter.  It took me back to Hogwarts, and back to that magic.  At the end of the day, isn’t that why we read fan-fiction?

The bottom line: I had read this fic before, and I still stayed up until DAWN finishing it on my re-read, because I couldn’t put it down. I have been reading and reviewing fics for a long time now, and this one thoroughly impressed me, almost without reservation. Skim through the excessive amounts of smut, forgive Snape being a bit too forward in the beginning, and you’ll love this beautifully painful, charmingly whimsical, amazingly clever, deeply romantic adventure.

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10 thoughts on “In Annulo – by LadyoftheMasque

  1. Pingback: For Someone Special – by LadyoftheMasque | sshgreview

  2. I read several of LoM fanfics and I have to agree….waaaaaaay too much sex. I felt that sometimes she put that in there to make her fics longer. It’s a big minus for me when I have to skip sections or chapters while reading the story and I def. had to do that with these fics. I don’t think I even finished For Someone Special, it just got a bit draggy for me …:( while I agree with your Outstandings for Accountable by Dyce and Cloak of Courage, I would not have given an ‘O’ for stories (LoM). I haven’t even gone back to re-read them since 2009 or 2010, I think (while on the other hand I have very fond memories of the stories I mentioned above, including A Walking Shadow one – I re-read all three recently).

    • I am definitely a bit biased towards LadyoftheMasque before For Someone Special was my favorite fic waaaaay back in the day before I even started this site. Now that I’ve read so much more fan fiction, I think my standards are a bit higher, and these very old fics might not stand up as much. For me, though, I just love her writing style so much. Even with the copious amounts of sex and occasional plotting issues, the characters and the dialogue are just SO GOOD! It’s definitely an outstanding for me, but I see your point that it might not be for others.

      I am excited to someday read the other fics that you recommended! I am reading through harmony_bites’ chronological list of SSHG epics, and I’m still back in 2007ish. Long way to go, many many more fics to read! Hopefully I will come across those soon. 🙂

  3. Btw, have you had a chance to read Miamadwyn’s Care of Magical Creatures? I’ve read the story two times and it’s definitely an Outstanding in my book. It’s available on ashwinder and ff net.

    • Second reply – turns out Pet Project was incomplete with harmony_bites made her list, but it’s completed now – so it’s actually an Order of the Phoenix era fic that is very well regarded that I’ve missed! I am so excited right now! Thank you! Edit: after reading the first chapter, I have DEFINITELY read this before. It must have been before I started this site.

      Care of Magical Creatures is categorized under ‘Post-Deathly Hallows Year Two’ on Harmony’s list, so I am quite a ways off from that one. It’s on the list, though!

  4. Ahhh, another one that really annoyed me. I know, right now I look like Miss Grumpybum who simply cannot be pleased, but really, it’s not like that at all. :))

    I appreciate the brilliant quality of writing and the dialogue and all that, I really do.
    I don’t even have issues with the amount of smut, though to be honest, I found it… lukewarm. It didn’t make me blush and it didn’t make my blood race. Strangely enough, it’s been known to happen with fics of much lesser quality. Perhaps it’s just that Lotm and I have different tastes, oh well.

    What I really didn’t like was that Severus stayed as Russel for far too long. I like my Severus as Severus, thank you very much, and if I wanted to read about some tanned blond Canadian, I wouldn’t pick out a SSHG fic, thank you ever so once again.

    What REALLY ruined this fic for me was the passive Hermione. I dislike pregnancy fics in general, unless Hermione is older and more mature, and this fic almost made me scream in frustration. One – I don’t believe Severus would EVER impregnate a teenage Hermione. I believe he would want her to use her brains and have a good, stable career before having babies. He simply wouldn’t hinder her like this (and this comes from a young mother, so it’s not like I have anything against babies in general!). I mean, if Hermione was to become a baby-popping machine in school or just barely out of school, then why pair her with Severus at all? It would make much more sense to just pair her with Ron, as that would be a very ‘Ron’ thing to do!

    And stealing her ova? HONESTLY? SERIOUSLY? That was low, that was below the belt. Unforgivable. And it seriously angered me when Hermione just went along with it. Yeah, she negotiated. A bit. It was a very half-arsed attempt at negotiating, where there should have been no negotiation whatsoever. HER body, HER egg cells, HER decision. I cannot for the life of me understand why Hermione would happily throw all her potential to the wind in order to breed at that age, especially since she’s had hardly any say in that matter. Doormat Hermione at her finest. I HATE that. I hate fics where Severus walks all over Hermione and she just shrugs and lets it happen instead of firmly standing up for herself. It always makes her look like a sappy little puppy who gets kicked repeatedly but always comes back with a wiggly tail. URGH.

    Now is it just me, or do some women honestly like/get turned on/get excited at the idea of having their reproductive rights taken away? Disgusting. Vile. I shouldn’t have even read that fic in the first place.

    Rant over. 🙂

    • Wow, I’m glad you mentioned this, because I remember what you are talking about, but I just rolled my eyes at it (oh great, teenage mother Hermione even though they live 200 years.) I didn’t feel as though he did it without her knowledge or consent; that would REALLY bother me (as you can see in this fic review – https://sshgreview.wordpress.com/2016/05/16/chocolate-enchantment-by-vivian-b/ ) though my memory could be wrong. I certainly prefer a strong Hermione and LadyoftheMasque usually provides that, at least in my memory?

      I do agree the Russel stuff really bugs – Snape is the furthest thing ever from a romantic hero, and it’s hard to imagine it’s ‘him’ for the first half of the story. But the overall quality of the writing and dialogue, and the quality of the ideas, and the strength of the plotting…for me it’s still an Outstanding.

      I actually might amend my review if you’re right about getting her pregnant without her consent, I need to look that up. I feel like he was GOING to back when he insecurely thought she’d never agree but then told her about it and they negotiated it together? For me that makes quite a bit of difference.

      • I think she found out about the ova-stealing from Madam Pomfrey, if I remember it correctly, then had no idea where the ova were actually going? And Severus was stealing them for some potion so she’d be pregnant every 2 years or so, and would end up with some ridiculous number of children?

        She got angry, and they negotiated the number of kids they’d have, and ultimately she agreed to popping out babies immediately? I still think that stealing her ova without her knowledge was below the belt and Hermione should never have agreed to this nonsense. She should have made him wait until she was truly ready. Urgh, it makes me shudder. The reason why I like the idea of Severus and Hermione being together is because Severus would encourage her to use her brain rather than her womb.

        The thing about LOTM’s Hermione is that she’s strong where she should be weak, and weak where she should be strong, at least in my opinion. She agrees to popping out babies in ‘In Annulo’ where she should be assertive and kick Severus’ arse all the way to Moscow for doing what he did.
        In ‘For Someone Special’ Hermione is repeatedly forced to have sex in front of an audience consisting of the most repulsive beings in the Wizarding World, which would make any woman, young or old, more than a little traumatised and more than a little upset, but noooooo, not Hermione. Instead of showing some real human emotion, like any victim of such a terrible fate would, she acts all ‘strong’ (unnatural in my opinion, and more than a little OCC) and happily carries on shagging Severus immediately after (honestly, does she never chafe down there or anything?)

        Therefore, as much as I admire the amazing, almost flawless quality of the writing, LOTMs stories rub me the wrong way and frustrate the hell out of me. But then again, a lot of fics do that. A few days ago I ranted about ‘The Five Winters’ as well, and that Hermione is very different from LOTM’s Hermione. I guess I just hate the extremes.

        I’d love to see a well-balanced Hermione. Assertive, but not too prim and proper. Loving, but not a doormat. And for heaven’s sake, not a teenage mother! Honestly, I could rattle on for ages, but who wants to read that?! 😀

  5. Okay, this is a rant that has been brewing in my mind for about eight years, so here we go. In Annulo was one of the first SS/HG fics I ever read. (Looking for Magic by Hypnobarb was my first. I reread it last week and it stands up as amazing. I was worried that it wouldn’t and had been built up through nostalgia and lower standards of 17 year old me. I would HIGHLY recommend it. It’s technically incomplete, but the warplot and romance are pretty resolved, but the author lost her sister and just couldn’t grind out the last few chapters of funny and fluffy wrap up. Anyway, I digress.) In Annulo was a great way for someone who was unsure about the pairing and just dipping their toes in to get acclimated. Rereading it after having been a loyal fan of the pairing for years now, there is *way* too much Russel. And even after Russel becomes Severus, he’s way too nice. I *like* my Severus to be a snarky bastard and unrepentant Slytherin.

    Which leads to another digression. The whole Snape meltdown in FSS about how he could have been a Gryffindor and that’s his deepest desire made me so mad I nearly ragequit the fic. It almost seems like lotm tries to mash Erik from Phantom of the Opera and Severus into one character (they are similar, I grant you, but even in love I can’t imagine Severus being as free with his emotions as lotm’s Severus is).

    I still enjoy lotm. I own like ten of her original romance novels, which I feel are much better because she can do whatever she wants to the characterizations, rather than playing with established characters. But in her fics, I 100% agree with you. WAY too much smut. And unrealistic. EVERYONE is squicked by something. Having these characters, both of whom are, if not prudish, definitely tightly controlled and reserved suddenly decide “orgy, anal, foot fetish, whatever, it’s all good” is super shocking.

    The plot of In Annulo is tight, the idea of the brand being a Horcrux is inspired, the foreshadowing is great, and the trial is fantastic. But the lotm characterization of Severus just makes me enraged.

    I apologize for the epic rant, but it’s been brewing in my head for ages.

    Side note, I can’t wait till you get to post-DH and some of Aurette’s stuff. One of her epics is in response to a Regency challenge and is just fabulous.

    Second side note, I love this website. I discovered you when I had a burning itch to reread Tyger! Tyger! and discovered the internet had eaten the Wayback Machine link I had bookmarked.

    • What a fantastic comment, thank you so much! There is nothing here I disagree with.

      I think one of the weaknesses of my dedication to the chronological format is that the ship slowly improves over time, as authors learn characterization tricks from each other, the fandom ages, and most importantly, more books come out that allow us all to understand Severus better. As a result, my older reviews are more favorable than tey should be, because I hadn’t read all of the amazing new stuff yet at the time of my review. I was easier to impress. As you know, For Someone Special is an old-as-hell fic and I read it back when I had never read anything /remotely/ as high-quality. It was my favorite fic for a long time and that nostalgia/loyalty definitely affected my review, despite doing a full re-read. I tried to disclaim that, but I think you are probably correct that I still rated it a bit too high for those reasons. As for In Annulo, the entire Russel thing really bothered me, because he doesn’t seem like Severus at ALL until he drops the stupid disguise. ‘Free with his emotions’ is the perfect way to describe what’s wrong with him. I just feel like it’s difficult to rate any lower because of how great the good parts are, and how enjoyable even the bad ones are. But you’re probably right that it’s also a tick too high.

      I don’t remember the ‘I wish I were a Gryffindor’ bit at all! That’s ridiculous!

      I just recently read Pet Project, which is the first time I’ve read something I liked better than FSS and IA. Because of that, I’m a lot more open to lowering the rating. Pet Project still doesn’t have the wit and charm of LadyoftheMasque, but I suppose nothing is ever likely to have that. I have not read Aurette’s work and am very much looking forward to it (same with Loten, who has been recced to me probably a dozen times now. I’m almost afraid to read her work lest I lose my ability to enjoy anything else!) Thank you very much for your clarification on Looking for Magic – I have very nearly picked it up several times, because I find it on rec lists everywhere, but then I remember that it’s incomplete and change my mind. I didn’t realize that it was very nearly finished – that makes a big difference. I have a huge weakness for Classic Era as you know so I’m sure I will love it. 🙂

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