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.

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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.

Spellcaster – by SGCbearcub

Link: https://sshgreview.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/sgcbearcub-spellcaster.pdf
Note: Linking my old personal copy because I cannot find any hosted copies. Many fanfiction sites have gone down recently and I think this fic must have been another victim. You can see here – http://sgcbearcub.livejournal.com/ – in a recent LJ update that the author is still actively working on the sequel, so I assume she has no problem with people reading this fic.

Rating: Exceeds Expectations

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Action/Intrigue/Drama/Angst, 140k

Warnings: NC-17, Violence, PTSD, Dark!Hermione

—–

Hermione Granger, furious and bent on revenge after the death of her parents and the Ministry’s new Marriage Law, plans to bring down Voldemort and even the entire Ministry, if she has to. Step one? Marrying Severus Snape.

I am excited to review this one – it’s a real treat, very unique, and I think a lot of you will really enjoy it. I should say, though, that I’ve been reading this one for almost a year, so my review will focus on the last half, which I read more recently. (During a long break from fanfiction, I forgot which fic I was reading and read another one before I picked this one up again.)

All right, with the disclaimers out of the way, let’s get in to it. As you can tell by the summary, this is a pretty dark Hermione, similar to Cloak of Courage (actually, a lot of things about this fic reminded me of Cloak of Courage, but we’ll touch more on that later.) This is not the Hermione that we know, but the author exhaustively goes out of her way to explain why this Hermione is the way she is, both in terms of psychological trauma and in terms of added backstory (lost her link to instinctual magic as a result of a childhood accident, causing her to rely obsessively on brains and books.) This Hermione is very independent, full of secrets, ruthless, oftentimes mocking or cruel, and even a bit insane. It’s like Hermione mixed with Bellatrix Lestrange. There are definitely scenes that feel totally out of character, but it’s explained well enough for me to accept it. The author works hard to establish the changes that she has made and earns the alterations in my opinion – but this Hermione will not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Snape is also in character, although he’s a bit weak at times to me. This is becoming a trend Half-Blood Prince era fiction, it seems – there are many, many fics with an emphasis on an extremely strong Hermione and that tends to weaken the Snape. He’s manipulated by her more than once, and again, the author sort of ‘earns’ that by the way she’s written Hermione, but it’s still unsexy to me to see him outsmarted and out-magicked by this crazy Hermione.

The prose in this fic is absolutely excellent. It’s written in a bit of an unusual style; it’s exciting to me to read an author who has such a strong stylistic signature. She writes a paragraph describing something, and then has a statement standing alone, like, ‘That sad little letter was a symbol of all she had lost,’ before moving on to the next paragraph. It’s not every paragraph, of course, but often enough that I noticed it and really began to enjoy it. Her descriptions are unique and vivid. She makes bold, interesting choices like having the climactic Voldemort-defeat seen entirely through the eyes of Lucius (a character with no other screen time.) She invents a TON of fabulous Wizarding World ideas, from Rivening to the Spellnet to Binding/Copying to breaking down the science of spellcasting and linking it to Muggle science (while simultaneously exploring the ‘instinctual’ and ancient side of spellcasting which links to ancient bog-witches and druids!) The intense delve into the nature of magic also reminded me of Cloak of Courage, as I mentioned earlier, as that fic also has a vengeful Dark!Hermione exploring the nature of magic. She also invents a whole set of social rules for Pureblood culture (also done in Cloak of Courage!) There is a ton of wild, unbridled, spilling-out-in-all-directions creativity on display here that was very exciting to me.

As for the bad – the romance in this fic is a bit disappointing, I’m afraid. The author seems much more focused on plot and world-creation than the actual relationship. I suppose not all SSHG fics NEED to be romance – I’ve given good reviews to plenty of fics without it, like ‘Dark Gods in the Blood’ which is strictly a friendship buddy-cop fic. But Spellcaster seems to WANT to be a romance novel, so the lackluster romance is a problem for me. The romantic pacing is perfect; the climax of their relationship occurs simultaneously with the climax of the warplot. So few fics manage that! Amazing, right? Except…not, somehow. The romance had no pulse or body; it just seemed to happen between the pages, between the plot points and exciting ideas. There are sections devoted to it, but even those sections seem more focused on warplot than each other (which makes sense, between a Death Eater spy and a ruthless insane witch bent on revenge), but I still wish there were a bit more heat and interest in the romance. I think the author’s determination to have Hermione be so strong, secretive, and supremely clever made a romance impossible, because she doesn’t ‘need’ Snape. He feels like a means to an end, and like he has no agency, and that is no relationship. I think if Snape had actively decided to heal and bring peace to this raging Hermione, and he was able to calm her insanity and that’s what allowed her to defeat Voldemort, then the relationship would have felt real. But as it is, Hermione is in control of all secrets, power, and cleverness the entire time, and that’s not much to build a relationship on. Despite the author’s best efforts, the relationship never really feels ‘there.’

I have one other major problem with this fic – and that’s that the author’s too-strong focus on theorizing, conceptualizing, brainstorming, world-building, and politics-twisting. That’s all great, but the frenetic energy of an always changing plot wore on me after a while. I started to feel that the things that happened in one chapter were barely connected to the next. The author seemed far more in love with her ideas than with sensible plotting, romantic or otherwise. Hermione wants a bunch of Grimiores. Hermione wants a bunch of Dowries. Now she’s putting Grimoires in Dowries…you mean the last 15 chapters of social maneuvering and power plays have just been for a tiny side project of Grimoire-Dowries? How long is this fic going to go on? Next, Hermione bombastically and bloodily demonstrates her role as Secret-Keeper to the Slytherin pureblood leader at the school, Yardley, for…some reason? And it’s never mentioned again? Much of fic is social maneuvering for reasons that are never really explained. Every scene, Hermione and Snape are mind-racing through the political ramifications of their actions and playing chess pieces far in advance. This is really, really cool, except that the puzzle pieces don’t seem to form a picture. I love the idea of a political intrigue dystopian Evil Ministry fic, but this doesn’t quite get there. It felt like a lot of great ideas all thrown together in a pot and shaken up.

I will say, though, that the author managed to reign herself in about 4/5 of the way through and focus on writing an excellent wrap-up. The author says in her notes that she is running out of time to work on the fic and needs to wrap it up, and apologizes for the time-jumps and heavy-handed plotting. I actually appreciated it, because it brought the focus the fic was missing back and things really started to make sense and happen in a linear fashion. I usually hate ‘tacked-on endings’ but this was done extremely well and stopped the fic from expanding beyond the author’s ability to complete, like Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time.’ (RIP Robert Jordan, I love you.)

The bottom line: A really, really excellent Dark!Hermione fic with a lackluster romance. The beginning and the ending are especially great. The middle spins out of control for a while with seemingly unrelated scenes of new ideas and new characters, but the author manages to cut to the end, eventually. If you can stand the lack of romance, the Dark!Hermione, and the frenetic idea-stacking of the middle section, you will absolutely love this fic. The quality of the writing and the fabulous ideas more than outweigh the problems.