The Five Winters – by Anubis Ankh

Link: http://anubisankh.livejournal.com/16320.html
Note: The link is actually to the author’s LJ post, where she has listed her own upload links. I thought it better to link to ‘her’ rather than directly to the uploads. If this goes down or is inaccessible, please let me know.

Rating: Acceptable Plus

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era (AU), Romance, 700k

Warnings: NC-17, Violence

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I am back from a long hiatus; for personal reasons and because I was stuck on this fic. It’s 700,000 words – that’s INSANELY LONG, like 7 big novels. For me this fic was in that grey area of not-good-enough-to-keep-reading but not-bad-enough-to-skip, so I was in a holding pattern for months and months trying to go back to it. I’ve given up and am posting a review, because I need to make a post here, and because I miss reading SSHG.

After the events of the Wizarding War, Hermione Granger becomes Minerva McGonagall’s Transfiguration Apprentice, earning her place amongst the Hogwarts staff. She strikes up a friendship with Severus Snape that becomes something more.

I was extremely excited when I first started reading this fic. I knew going into it that it was 700,000 words, which was exciting, because if it was good, it would be an entire SSHG series. I was delighted as I started reading – the writing is excellent, check, Snape is in character, check, one of my favorite settings (Hogwarts, with Apprentice Hermione), CHECK! How had I missed this fic? Why was it not recommended EVERYWHERE? As I continued to read, I learned the answers to these questions.

My longtime readers will know how much I prefer slow-simmering romance – I mention it in every review. This romance is VERY slow – I was probably 100,000 words in before the first tendrils of romance began to creep in (that’s the length of the average fic I review here, for reference.) The author iterates in her authors notes that she finds most fics to be ‘unrealistic’ and that SSHG should be very slow and reluctant. “I totally agree! This is going to be an amazing fic,” I thought excitedly. But as I continued, on and on and on, I started to realize that the passion/sparks were not only slow, but absent. It’s one thing to enjoy the slow, tantalizing, drawn out period of standing too close to one another, wondering if the other feels the same, resisting the urge to act inappropriately. But this fic, that delicious tension is not described, hinted at, or present. When it’s time to move forward in the relationship, they sit down and clinically discuss their feelings. The same is true for every new physical step. I understand that this is the author’s idea of ‘realistic’ and I don’t totally disagree, but…there should be a LITTLE deliciousness in there, no? I am pretty tight-laced and prude-ish to be honest but there is definitely more passion in my old married relationship than there is in this freshly minted Severus and Hermione relationship.

Similarly, the plot moves very slowly. I am fine with not having a warplot, but there should be some feeling of excitement that makes you want to stay up late and continue reading. “For Someone Special” is a great example of this: in FSS, there’s almost no plot, just fast quips and charming pieces of their every day lives that make for excellent reading. (It’s obviously unfair to compare this author to LadyoftheMasque, who is working as a professional romance writer now, but I think for fics that are 700,000 words, that quality of writing is necessary.) This fic has great writing, but it’s not great enough to read for 50 hours, as the length demands.

Lastly, and I think this was really the dealbreaker for me in this fic – I really disliked the Hermione in this fic, though I can’t necessarily say she’s out of character. The author just focuses on aspects of Hermione that I don’t really like – bossy, VERY dominant, VERY Gryffindor. I’m a bit more of a Luna Lovegood and I prefer a more understanding Hermione. This Hermione forcibly shampoos Snape’s hair, forcibly manipulates him into attending parties he doesn’t want to go to, exposes his weaknesses to Lucius Malfoy of all people because she thinks it will help her get what she wants…I was very uncomfortable with all of that. It seemed to me that she was constantly humiliating him, both publicly and privately, which is not acceptable in a relationship.

Snape is insecure, so private, and sensitive to people exerting control over him (as his father, Voldemort, or Dumbledore have for his entire life.) There is no way he would tolerate a bossy, aggressive Hermione like this fic presents. He would recoil into his protective privacy and shun her after that first ridiculous demonstration. Hermione should be wise enough to temper those inclinations around him. She can still be Hermione and boss around Ron and Harry and other idiots as much as she wants, but she should see Snape as the sensitive, formidable time-bomb that he is and treat him with a little more caution, respect, and kindness. She should treat him as an intelligent equal, not as a child with dirt on his nose. The author kept saying in her notes that Hermione was “asserting her place on the staff,” and “earning Snape’s respect” with these actions, but to me that kind of behavior would be seen as childish. Adults do not treat each other that way. I don’t mind a little Mary Sue in my fanfic, but if you Mary Sue to the point that you’ve emasculated your male lead unintentionally, there is a problem.

After all of those complaints, let’s re-iterate the good. There is a TON of good here. The writing is excellent. The author is very intelligent and everything is very well thought-out. There are some really fabulously creative ideas, like a special Egyptian-themed bracelet Hermione wears that has some very clever spoilers, inter-House politics that you rarely see in fics, and some great original characters. There is also a focus on the world as a whole, which I loved – a lot of fics tend to cozy up with just Severus and Hermione, but this fic is interested in everyone, while keeping the focus clear.

The bottom line: Despite my long paragraphs of reservations, this story really is very special. It’s amazing to have a fic this long, and especially this well-written. It definitely has its faults, for me, enough to stop reading and finish by skimming, but if you don’t mind a (very) gentle/clinical romance and a (very) strongly-opinionated Hermione, there is a lot of good here (literally LOTS, 700k. Too much for me.)

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