Forged in Flames – by mswhich

Link: https://archiveofourown.org/works/1862259/chapters/4008186

Rating: Acceptable Plus

The Basics: Modern Era (2011), Action/Romance, 84k

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

Bellatrix Lestrange puts a twisted curse on Hermione to prevent her from conveying vital information to the Order unless she unlocks the spell using with a Key assigned by Bellatrix. The Key is a humiliating task that will change Hermione’s relationship with her professor, Severus Snape, forever.

This fic is only 84k, which means it is shorter than what I usually review, but I read it and figured I might as well review it.

There were a lot of aspects of this fic that I enjoyed. There is a very, very clever Voldemort-defeating mechanism. The writing is aggressively paced (as one would expect in a short fic) but each scene still feels fleshed-out and whole. The characterizations are reasonably good (more on this later), including the side characters. The romantic pacing is nearly perfect; the climax of the plot almost coincides with the climax of the love story, as it should. This sounds like fairly benign praise, but in my fic experience it’s rare for this simultaneous plot + romance climax to occur (yes, yes, obvious simultaneous climax joke is obvious, well spotted) and I’m always delighted when I find it. Even an ‘almost’, as it is here.

The chief problem for me in this fic is that Snape is aggressive and lustful, while Hermione is meek and innocent. I really dislike it when still-her-professor Snape is attracted to a still-his-student Hermione without a strong established friendship. I realize because of the plot events that the sexual aspect had to come to the forefront immediately, but I think Actual Snape would have erected 10 mental brick walls between himself and Hermione after that encounter, rather than watching her and lusting after her. This is exacerbated by a busy, tired, oblivious Hermione who does not often reflect on her feelings and seems confused by Snape’s behavior. A domineering Snape can work, if Hermione is quite mature and can stand up for herself, but that does not happen here. It felt like she was an innocent child and he was her lecherous teacher because there was not enough friendship/relationship development and because Hermione was so meek.

Similarly, I struggle to believe that Snape would have initiated breaking Bella’s Key task. I think they would have brought the information to the Order, and the Order would have argued about what to do, and Hermione would finally volunteer to have the information tortured out of her (since Snape later admits this would have worked.) That whole scene was squicky to me because Hermione did as she was told (by a frightening authority figure) with very little agency or choice in the matter. There were hints of non-con because of the power dynamic that made me uncomfortable. There needed to be other people involved in the decision, or it needed to be privately initiated by Hermione. To be clear, I am not overly sensitive to these issues. I don’t mind the teacher-student dynamic as long as the relationship is firmly established first. To have Snape command her to do it without consulting other adults felt like an abuse of power (as did a lot of his other actions in the fic.)

This is now my third paragraph of complaints about a good fic, but I’m tired and rambly today, so here we are. There were a few Harry Potter as-a-whole mistakes that surprised me. Some exaples: Hermione enduring 15+ rounds of Crucio and retaining her sanity (after checking, I guess this isn’t officially wrong but most fics put insanity and death around 6-8), students brewing Polyjuice in class (nope, the recipe is in ‘Most Potente Potions’ in the Restricted Section; it would never be taught in regular class) and the Yule Ball being held every year (nope, only during the Triwizard Tournament). These seem like minor infractions, but they add up. The Polyjuice error especially made me wonder if the author was new to the pairing or even new the fandom. That lowered my immersion and interest quite a bit.

The bottom line: Very well paced, plotted and written with fun original ideas – but I struggled with Snape’s characterization. It might be personal preference because I like highly disciplined academic recluse Snape while this Snape struggled with lust, aggression, and self-control. If Hermione had been stronger and stood up for herself more, or if the fic had developed the friendship connection more, his characterization would have worked better. To be clear, it’s still a very good fic, especially if you’re in the mood for some Innocent!Hermione and TemptestousRage!Snape.

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8 thoughts on “Forged in Flames – by mswhich

  1. I was halfway through this story when I saw you were reading it. I was expecting a lesser rating, because it really didn’t felt like your Snape. I was actually excited about this story because of its beginning. It was clear we were dealing with Nasty!Snape here, so I was expecting some cruelness and TemptestousRage!Snape. I haven’t read that Snape in a while and I was curious to see where the story would go after its start, specially how the lust would affect their interations going forward (which is a different thing in this pairing – usually lust comes after a while). I didn’t felt, like you did, that the whole situation was caused by Snape because he was giving the orders. For me the whole thing felt like Bellatrix.

    Also, I think the author regreted the bit about being possible to torture the information out of Hermione. In a nother chapter Snape think that Bella knew her curse was strong enough to withstand torture. And I believe that Snape would have initiated breaking Bella’s Key task. This Snape, at least, would because of war – anything can be justified by that.

    I started having real problems with this story by chapter 19. In the end I felt like the fic was all over the place. It seems the author thinks she was writting romance, but that’s not what came through. There were parts in which a romantic relationship was going on, and then a abusive relationship, a relationship based solely on lust, the (very) beginning of friendship, some collegism and even some scenes that resemble dominance and submission. I have read stories in this pairing in these different approachs, but these approaches don’t necessaraly work all in one story. For that to happen, the writer needs to be a really good one – which, no offense to the writer, wasn’t the case here. Think of Cloak of Courage, for instance, in which Snape doesn’t torture Hermione exactaly, but he does manipulate her. This didn’t nullified the romance in CoC – at least not for me – because there was reaction from Hermione. In FiF Snape comes through as a sadist, which I do not necessaraly have a problem with, but the lack of reaction from Hermione really bothered me.

    I didn’t regret reading this story, it has a lot of great scenes and moments. But it was a weird ride.

    PS: In the first notes she says this was her first fanfic.

    • Very well said! It feels like we had similar experiences. There were a lot of great aspects, and a lot of really bad aspects, and when you put them all together you end up with an above average fic, I suppose. I definitely agree that it takes a special author to navigate Rage!Snape properly. It’s a viable Snape, for, sure – just look at the Shrieking Shack at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban – but it’s very, very difficult to write a Rage!Snape who does not come across as abusive. I also think it’s a mistake to pair this kind of Snape with a very young and innocent Hermione; you need a strong, fabulous Hermione who can bite back to keep the power dynamics healthy. The power dynamic really killed the romance for me, but I liked the plot and the writing style well enough to still really enjoy the fic.

  2. I really tried to get through this fic. It was long, well reviewed, really well written. But. I. Just. Couldn’t. Snape was just so unlikable (and not in a dynamic, chance for growth way but like just incredibly slappable). Hermione was more in character than him, to be sure. She’s a fairly mule-headed, single-minded witch and it’s both her greatest virtue and her fatal flaw. The author really captures that.

    But Snape. Just. I don’t like.

    • “Incredibly slappable,” well said. I wrote this with the assumption that the Snape was merely not my preference, but now two of you have agreed with me, hmm. I almost feel like I should lower the rating.

  3. I really liked this fic, actually, but it’s not a patch on the one Mswitch is posting now, which has a truly excellent hook 🙂 I honestly think she’s gotten a lot better since then.

    There’s always a risk when you’re writing school-era fics where Snape is still her professor because, let’s face it, our boy is a petty, bullying arse. In one very popular fic The Problem with Purity (which is long as balls and has a Tragic Misunderstanding go on for something like a thousand Kindle pages, but which I kind of love like the tropey cliche-ridden work of art it is) the Snape is so completely jealous and irrational that by the end I was hoping that Hermione would just hex him and leave forever. They have a fight, so he SETS HER ON FIRE with a hex during a duel. They make up. They have another fight, and he wrecks her research and retracts her permission to call him by his name. They have a massive misunderstanding (not as long as the previous Tragic Misunderstanding but more life-or-death as opposed to Severus’ ickle feelings having been hurt) and he actually comes after her with a knife. I mean that’s not…that’s just not okay.

    I mean that’s not the only one with that kind of rubbish going on, but it’s definitely one that’s very memorable for the sheer EPICNESS of Snape’s abuse of the power and authority he has over Hermione.

    All of which is kind of a long-winded way to say that when writing them having a relationship while she’s in school is dangerous as hell, because there’s a fine line between regular levels of Snapey gittishness and Snape abusing his power as a teacher in order to control Hermione.

      • The writing IS phenomenal, isn’t it?

        And I’m not sure whether it’s actually overrated or not. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t recommend it to a newbie SSHG reader, because it would probably scare them off – I can’t imagine anyone being convinced to enjoy a ship by a fic in which Hermione ends up halfway cooked because Snape is jelly. I would, however, recommend it to someone who enjoys the ship already and might be wanting to dip a toe into writing themselves. It’s a perfect lesson in the way that technically excellent writing can be undermined by overinvolved plotting, and how drama, while perfectly acceptable in moderation, can wreck a fic.

        I mean it when I said that it’s a work of art. The sheer level of dedication and effort that went into writing it, and the technical skill with which it was written makes it so. There is, in fact, only one scene that I think was actually badly written, and that was the scene where Hermione ends up burned. In every other scene, the characters stay within believably human reactions. However, Hermione’s skin is described as being ‘blackened and cracked’ and yet she’s still talking. She’s actually quite quippy, and as someone who has some experience with bad burns, I can almost guarantee that she would not have been able to be that coherent in that situation.

        The fic had the potantial to be great, but I feel like she tried to include too much and it became a bit bloated. Cure lycanthropy? Fine. Be a special unicorn? Fine. Be a superpowerful witch? fine. Not all of them at once though, ftlog!

        And then there are the misunderstandings and Snape’s reactions to them, which make me deeply uncomfortable. I was pretty uncomfortable with the idea by the time he started being snide; by the time he hexed her I was pretty sure I didn’t want them to be together. When he tried to actually kill her I sort of started to wonder why she was with him in the first place, when he’s been so incredibly awful to her in so many ways. It seems somehow that the author started the story going “Snape and Hermione are meant for each other” and then neglected to justify it in any way. By the knife incident, there was literally nothing keeping them together except for the fact that Hermione ‘loved’ him, but is it really possible to love someone who treats you THAT badly?

        It probably would have been a better fic if she’d cut some of the Tragic Misunderstandings, and put more effort into showing any reason at all for Hermione to want Snape aside from some halfway-alluded-to tripe about unicorns mating for life.


        um

        reading what I just wrote, it appears that I like this fic way less than I initially thought…

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