Rating: Exceeds Expectations Minus
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; I like highly disciplined academic recluse Snape, and this Snape struggled with lust and self-control. If Hermione had been stronger and stood up for herself more, or if the fic had developed the friendship connection more, the Snape would have worked better. As it was, the romance didn’t work for me because Snape was so aggressive and out-of-control, while also wielding all of the power. To be clear, it’s still a very good fic, especially if you’re in the mood for some Innocent!Hermione and TemptestousRage!Snape.
Rating: Exceeds Expectations Plus
The Basics: Modern Era (2012), Action/Romance/Time-Travel, 110k
Warnings: Sexual Content, Non-Con Reference (not SSHG), Time-Travel
Hermione Granger’s emotions are raw in the heat of the Final Battle in the devastation of what Harry has told her about Snape’s memories, of Harry’s upcoming sacrifice, and the death all around her. She is given the choice by a Headmistress portrait to go back in time and change the fate of one of the war’s casualties – her former professor, Severus Snape. Little does she realize that this is no mere time turner – the Headmistress transports her all the way back to Severus Snape’s sixth year at Hogwarts in the 1970’s. She has thirty-one days to change his fate. But how?
This fic is just what I needed after reading two 500k+ highly revered epics back to back. A short, charming, witty and well-conceived fic that brings Hermione and Snape together in a realistic way. I don’t often enjoy time-travel fics because I imagine teenage Severus as being sort of a Kylo Ren-esque nightmare, but he is drawn much more subtly here. I really enjoyed his character. Hermione was even better; a razor-sharp Gryffindor spitfire who would not suffer fools or tolerate being mistreated. She’s far braver and sassier than I, a rather spineless Ravenclaw, prefer, but honestly, it’s perfect! She’s a Gryffindor! It felt right. Excellent characterizations.
I also appreciated that Hermione did not have a clear understanding of her mission; this provided so much page-turning tension. At first, she thought she should stop him from trying to join the Death Eaters. Then she thought he needed to make other friends, like the Ravenclaws. She thought perhaps she could convince him to invent a powerful antivenin to use against Nagini. Of course, the true answer involved her starting a relationship with him, and I won’t spoil the reason that this would help him survive Nagini. It was so true to Snape’s character, and so beautiful; her realization about what she needed to do nearly brought me to tears.
I will quibble that the ending, when she arrived back to the present day, was not quite what I hoped. They had this beautiful, emotional moment, which one chapter later was destroyed by Snape immediately joining the Death Eaters in his rage, but I guess that’s how it had to be. Hermione’s discovered ‘purpose for going back’ did not play out plotwise, which I found very disappointing. The method of his survival was not thematically satisfying, nor it didn’t make sense. Why even bother going back, if she was just going to meddle in the present to save him?
There are a lot of minor plot mistakes and inconsistencies like this (some of them are enumerated below in the comments.) The fic is imperfect and imprecise, almost rushed, which would usually bother me – but somehow it seemed to fit with the aggressive pacing of the fic and Hermione’s sense of disorientation. Another interesting issue were these little ‘this is what I learned today’ character reflections at the end of each chapter which felt too neat, too juvenile, like a Young Adult version of SSHG. The pairing usually needs more seriousness and heft than this fic offers; but I was in the mood for it and found it charming and refreshing.
A small digression: one of my favorite hobbies is board games. I used to think that I preferred huge, epic, all-day-long board game adventurers like Twilight Imperium III or Arkham Horror because I enjoy deep immersion and flavor. But as I have advanced in the hobby a bit, I’ve learned that some very clean, very well-designed games can deliver this feeling in a much shorter time. Arkham Horror: The Card Game for example delivers all of the awesome Lovecraftian spine-tingling adventure of Arkham Horror in a condensed version in a tiny box. I can have an adventure in one hour, put it away, and pick it up again to progress the campaign later. All of the same awesome immersion, but much more accessible and honestly more satisfying because it’s far less hassle. That is what I feel this fic is; almost all of the romance, emotional content, and satisfaction of a sprawling epic, but condensed into a tiny box, a few hours. A truffle instead of an entire cake, with almost the same satisfaction level. That’s incredibly difficult to do and I think she the author does a bang-up job delivering her story in this short length.
Lastly, I issue my standard disclaimer for all Maurader-era time-travel fics; it’s not believable that Hermione would meddle with Snape’s life but not whisper to James and Lily, ‘Do not make Pettigrew your Secret-Keeper.’ I understand all of the reasons why she ‘can’t do that’, but I find it unbelievable than anyone could resist that temptation, or that Harry could ever forgive her for not doing so. This is a huge, story-breaking issue that needed a lot more explanation than it was given. This is one of the reasons I struggle with time-travel fics.
The bottom line: This is a clever, intriguing, page-turning fic with tons of momentum and fantastic characterizations (above and beyond the norm, a truly excellent witty spitfire Hermione) and a beautiful emotional heart that nearly brought me to tears. There are some plot mistakes and inconsistencies that are disappointing, but the fic is still worth a read. If you are looking for a deep, immersive, thorough undertaking, this is not for you, but if you are feeling like a bite-sized SSHG romp that still delivers emotion, romance, and satisfaction, this is just about perfect.
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.
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.
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.
This one doesn’t seem to be hosted online currently; I’m hosting my own copy until it’s up on a proper archive again.
Rating: Exceeds Expectations
The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Romance/Drama, 100k
Warnings: Non-Con, Pregnancy, Seventh Year
Hermione Granger wakes up from a long coma, suffering from memory loss. The last thing she remembers is taking the Hogwarts Express for her Seventh Year. Little by little, she pieces her life and her memory back together.
I first read this fic in 2006 when it was originally published. I did a full re-read for this review.
In my last few reviews, I complained about many Half-Blood Prince era fics being the same. Hermione is kidnapped by the Death Eaters, Snape ‘rescues’ her by claiming her, and they are forced to pretend they’re more intimate than they are for the benefit of the Death Eaters. However, I had to shut my mouth after reading this fic. It’s the EXACT same story elements, but it is leaps and bounds better than the fics I’ve previously read with this plot. Almost all of the complaints I had with those fics are thoughtfully addressed here.
In bad HPB fics, Hermione (and the author) seem to forget about or disregard the question of where Snape’s loyalties truly lie. In this fic, it’s one of the very first questions Hermione asks, and she’s constantly evaluating the evidence available, trying to piece together the truth. THIS is what an in-character Hermione is like! She is on top of the situation; hungrily eating up all of the information that she can obtain, making clever use of it when the time is right. Snape is also in character; he is polite and protective, but from a distance. He does not give away or offer any more than the bare minimum. I think he maybe is a tiny bit too open and kind, but I could believe it in the context of the fic; he must have been feeling guilty and wanting to comfort the traumatized Hermione.
There is a brilliant and enjoyable hook to this fic. Hermione wakes up with memory loss, and slowly recalls the events that she has missed as part of a storytelling therapy. I intensely curious (even though the premise is a bit guessable.) I just couldn’t wait to uncover the forgotten secrets in her mind. I found this storytelling premise refreshing; it was interesting to see the reactions of her friends and family to her confusion and mis-attribution. They can’t tell her what has happened, because that might interfere with her memory recovery. They have to be silent and let her piece things together herself. Very well done!
I want to re-iterate the intelligent ideas and self-aware characters in this fic. The author comes up with one of the most brilliant dueling ideas I have ever read about – using Legilmancy to see what spells your opponent will cast before he or she casts them. WHAT? AMAZING! Right? The Golden Trio develops their Occlumency skills in order to prevent duelists from reading the spells in their minds. There are many little things like this; the author is able to put together puzzle pieces from the Harry Potter stories in clever ways that make sense. It helps the fic to feel like a continuation of the real books. She’s not just playing in the HP sandbox, she’s adding entirely new toys to the playground.
The romance is just okay. ‘Kidnapped by Death Eaters’ creates the same artificial intimacy as ‘Marriage Law’ fics and the romance is not allowed to grow slowly and organically. It is believeable and it is not rushed, but these artificial intimacy fics can never be as scintillating or exciting as a romance blooming strictly from common interest and attraction. There is also a problem with the romantic pacing of the fic; everything is resolved and consummated about halfway through. There is no smut or sexual content, if that is a concern for you. Even the very-important-to the-plot non-con scene is politely skipped over.
In the first half of the fic, I really thought that I was going to give this my top rating. Unfortunately, the plot deteriorates quickly after the mid-way point. It’s one of those fics where the action is resolved, and the romance is resolved, and Voldemort is defeated…yet the fic just keeps chugging along. It’s as if there is a 40k epilogue. An entire chapter about a special ceremony. An entire chapter about the trial of a minor character that we don’t care about. An entire chapter about the history of Hermione’s family name. Just…why? If the author wanted to include these elements, it should have been done before the action or romance was resolved. To have it stapled to the end of the fic is tedious and quite frankly, boring. I was so disappointed that such a clever, interesting fic meandered into nothing.
The bottom line: It’s an exciting and page-turning fic with intelligent, in-character heroes. The premise is familiar, but it is rejuvenated by the exciting ‘storytelling memory recovery’ hook. I fully recommend the first half of the fic for any fan of the pairing (if you can stomach the warnings.) Consider putting it down when the action winds down, as the last half of the fic is essentially a 40k epilogue.
Rating: Exceeds Expectations Plus
The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Humor/Snark/Romance, 100k
Warnings: NC-17, Sexual Content, Alternate Universe, PWP-esque
In the weeks following the final battle of the Wizarding War, Hermione Granger adopts a miserable-looking stray black cat that follows her home. Unbeknowst to her, little Puss-in-Boots is her former Potions professor, Severus Snape.
First of all, full disclosure, LadyoftheMasque is my favorite fan-fiction author that I’ve yet read, and her stories are among my favorites of all time. I was delighted to see another one of her works come up on my chronological ‘To Review’ list. I have read this story before and did a full re-read for this review.
There is very little plot, but that doesn’t stop the fic from being enjoyable and page-turning. You don’t need a plot to have an engaging story, not when you write the kind of charming and witty dialogue that this story does. It almost seemed as though the author was being intentionally tongue-in-cheek about the sillier aspects of the story. A hilariously obvious dues ex machina takes place when Hermione’s wealthy aunt dies, leaving her and Snape her entire fortune; so they are free to pursue their dreams without worrying about finances. “Great Aunt Eumenia.” Definitely tongue-in-cheek.
The characterizations are very good, but imperfect. I find Snape to be a bit too open. I also found both Hermione and Snape to be exceptionally arrogant and rude, often to people who do not deserve it. Sure, canon Snape is arrogant and can be acerbic, but in this fic, Hermione is just as bad, or worse. Being of higher intelligence does not mean that you can scoff at everyone else as inferiors, at least not publicly. Snape and Hermione treat everyone, deserved or undeserved, as third-rate dunderheads. It bothered me. Ron is extremely out of character. I don’t like Ron any more than the next SSHG fan – he’s a bit of a scapegoat for us – but he deserves better than this fic gives him.
There is also way too much smut, but that is the case with every LadyoftheMasque fic. The smut is very well-written and has a progressive arc to it, but there’s just way too much of it, for my tastes. I think the best romance for epic-length fics is slow-simmering and full of growing tension. This one fast forwards through all of that because of the forced intimacy of Snape being her cat. There is still a bit of romantic development after he’s turned into a man, but they’re already comfortable with each other and have their walls down, so the most interesting part of the romance is glossed over, in my estimation.
This story transforms a silly fluff premise with almost no plot into an excellent 100k epic-length tale, without stretching the words too thin. It seemed too quick and as though it ended too soon, if anything. I suppose it’s just extremely high quality writing. The pages fly by enjoyable, because they are filled with clever dialogue rather than descriptions of actions. There is so much charm and cleverness packed in to to every chapter, without the pretentiousness that often weighs down intelligent stories. Just wonderful.
The bottom line: Even the ‘worst’ of LadyoftheMasque’s stories is required reading, my friends. It’s good for almost any fan of the pairing, unless you are in the mood for something serious. Skim the overlong smut scenes and forgive Hermione for being a bit arrogant towards her friends, and you’ll very much enjoy it.
Rating: Exceeds Expectations Minus
The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Angst/Drama, 130k
Warnings: Extreme angst, light sexual content, weird scenes that might be non-con but I can’t really tell?
Hermione Granger, Severus Snape, myth, the past, the future, the heart, and a dark phoenix work together in a Dark Arthimancy equation that foretells the fate of the Wizarding War.
This is the most difficult to review fic I have encountered yet. It took me 5 months to read, partially because I picked it up at the tail end of one of my reading ‘cycles’, and partially because I wasn’t enjoying it at all. So, why didn’t I just skip to the end and review it, like I normally do for fics I don’t enjoy? I couldn’t bear to do that because the writing is spectacular. It wasn’t skippable, but it also wasn’t readable. Hence, an almost 5 month break in my fan-fiction review. But tonight, I finally finished it! Phew!
I want to lay some groundwork before I explain my major gripe with this fic. My favorite author is Virginia Woolf. I find her style of dark, lyrical prose-poems extremely beautiful. I enjoy fractured narratives and the beauty in searching through her words to find meaning, fractured meanings, many meanings. My college thesis was on ‘The Waves.’ Now, saying all of that…
This fic is way too dark, way too lyrical, and the narrative is way too metaphorical. I was so frustrated reading this; especially the first quarter or so (the fic progressively becomes more linear.) I would read entire chapters and have /no idea/ what had transpired. Even the authors notes mention reader questions with, ‘You aren’t supposed to know’ or ‘enjoy the journey’ answers. The writing is very beautiful at times, but it just isn’t beautiful enough to support this kind of narrative structure. The author is clearly very gifted, but not Virginia-Woolf-level gifted. To use this style of writing for a Snape/Hermione fanfiction is extremely ambitious and I commend her for it, but for me, it just did not work. A dark lyrical prose-poem that does not contain enough beauty or truth to create a sense of wonder is a VERY difficult read.
I will attempt to break down this fic with my usual criteria, but it doesn’t really fit in to those boxes. The characterizations are decent; I saw glimpses of ‘my’ Snape and ‘my’ Hermione and I can’t specifically point to anything that was out of character. All of the side characters were very much in character, too, which is not easy to accomplish. However, because of the writing style, I didn’t feel as though I was visiting my old friends; it seemed as though I was looking at them through thick dirty glass, watching them act out long scenes about Egyptian mythology and phoenixes. I longed to go inside and visit with them, but I couldn’t.
There are a lot of great ideas in this fic. The Dark Arithmancy equation that predicts the Wizarding War is excellent. The final defeat-Voldemort gimmick was interesting (albeit confusing and lacking explanation, like everything else in this fic.) Phineus Nigellus’s portrait and Mrs. Black’s portrait being partners in crime was fun and clever. Of course, they would be friends! Somehow, though, all of these good ideas failed to come together to form a page-turning plot.
The romance is very disappointing; I actually left the “Romance” tag off of this fic because there is no rising romance. There is a big scene in the very beginning where weird things happen (Seriously, I don’t know what the things were or I would tell you. Possibly non-con? I really couldn’t tell. Prose-poem.) and then they’re suddenly in love, boom. It’s too bad, because I think one of the things this style of writing IS suited for is the slow burn of rising romance. Too bad we went straight for, ‘Something Weird Just Happened Under This Table and Now We’re Egyptian Tattoo Soulmates, or Something.’
I feel as though I’ve been too hard on this fic in this review. I really struggled with writing this as much as I struggled to finish reading the story. I hope that you can glean something from this mess.
The bottom line: If you are in the mood for a nebulous lyrical prose-poem about Egyptian mythology with a side of Snape and Hermione, give it a try. Seriously, though, the first handful of (short) chapters will tell you whether or not this is for you. For me, it was a bit too different from the style of ‘Harry Potter’ to satisfy my fan-fiction itch.
Linking my own file only because Ashwinder is currently down.
Rating: Exceeds Expectations
The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Romance/Humor, 160k
Warnings: Seventh Year (involving time travel, though), Sexual Content
Hermione has a crush on her Potions Master. Frustrated that he doesn’t have any interest in her, she decides to use her time-turner to meet him on fair ground when he was a student at Hogwarts. The author says she intended to write this as a parody of the ship, but for me it didn’t really read as a parody? It seems to me that there should be a OBVIOUS difference between an earnest fic and a parody. I didn’t even know it was meant to be a parody until I read her notes afterwards.
I have only read one SSHG time-turner fic before. As I started reading, it surprised me that I haven’t seen it more often. After all, not many ships include a student and a professor; for that reason, shouldn’t time-turner fics be rampant in this ship? As I continued reading, I started to realize why we don’t see it often. First, there are the basic time-travel paradoxes; Hermione travels back because Snape is ignoring her, but of course Snape knew all of that time that he loved her because he’d met her in the past…? Secondly, seventh year Severus Snape is in the darkest period of his life. He’s desperate enough to take the Dark Mark. How does one write a light-hearted romance, given that? How do you write Snape’s friends – Rodolphus Lestrange, Macnair, Avery – when we only know them as cruel, evil Death Eaters? Why would Snape take the Dark Mark, after meeting Hermione and having this positive force in his life?
I adored this author’s answer to one of these questions – the young Death Eaters are the Knights of Walpurgis, a Shakespeare-quoting, cloak-swirling, hyper-intelligent group of men. The pride of Slytherin. (How they turn into monsters who torture people into insanity is not answered, but I enjoyed them in the context of this fic.) The best part of the fic was Hermione’s time spent in the past with teenage Severus and the Knights of Walpurgis.
When Hermione comes back to the present day, the author tells the entirety of The Half-Blood Prince through Hermione’s eyes. I thought this was an clever idea, but the tone was off. Half-Blood Prince is about the Unbreakable Vow; saving Draco Malfoy, and killing Dumbledore. Strangely, this fic almost completely ignores all of that. Hermione and Snape spend most of their time in the bedroom, fighting with McGonagall, attending to their company’s business, playing pranks, etc. I realize the tone is meant to be light-hearted, but come on, it’s Half-Blood Prince! Where are Snape’s meetings with Dumbledore? Order meetings? Death Eater meetings? Why isn’t Hermione trying to figure out what Horcruxes are, or what Draco is up to? None of this happens. Snape and Hermione are more focused on each other than on Voldemort, Dumbledore, or Harry. This gets a pass in Classic Era, but in Half-Blood Prince, when Voldemort is on Hogwart’s doorstep, these things cannot be ignored.
All right, I’ve spent a lot of time rambling. Let’s break down the basics. The romance is okay but not great. It peaks too early, earlier than halfway. There is also way too much smut. Hermione is decently in character, although she ignores her friends and interests once falling in love. Hermione would never do that! As for Snape, he’s softer and less damaged, but given the time travel aspect, a little straying from his character felt natural. The plotting/pacing is terrible – everything grinds to a halt when Hermione comes back to the present. Honestly, I think the fic should have ended there. Why bother going all of the way through Half-Blood Prince if you aren’t going to address any of the core issues of the story? Everything was trivial nonsense after the halfway point.
I will say that much of the ‘trivial nonsense’ was very, very funny. The author definitely has a gift for wit and clever ideas, though she frequently sacrifices sensible plot and characters for laughs. McGonagall, Luna, Flitwick are all horribly out of character. There are also a few original characters (cameos only) that are meant to mimic famous SSHG fic authors. I understand that it’s a cute gimmick, an inside joke; but for modern readers it’s an unfunny waste of time.
This review is mostly negative, but there are absolutely some high points; after all, I rated this Exceeds Expectations! The witty banter is great – wonderful creative and clever lines. The teenage romance and much of the adult romance, is believable and endearing. There are also some really beautiful, tender moments. Hermione’s first few minutes after coming back to the present are wonderful; one of the best scenes I have read in ANY fic. The Knights of Walpurgis are beyond amazing. I even enjoyed some of the crazy slapstick style comedy – a battle at Stonehenge comes to mind. Don’t let me talk you out of this fic with my anti-comedy bias.
Fun fact: An actual JK Rowling quote from a 2003 BBC interview: “…in here is the history of the Death Eaters and I don’t know that I’ll ever actually need it – but at some point – which were once called something different – they were called the Knights of Walpurgis.” I think it’s amazing that this author used this old sort-of canon name in her fic for the young Death Eaters! Super extra gold star bonus points.
The bottom line: This is a charming and occasionally beautiful fic. Lots of people adore it. But for me, most of the laughs come at the expense of plot, character, and sense. The flippant tone, set in such a dark era, was frustrating. Overall, I would say that the first third is excellent and worth reading. Read it for the Knights of Walpurgis and a well-written teenage Snape romance. Put it down a few chapters after she comes back to the present, unless you really like a meandering comedic plot and tons of smut.
Rating: Exceeds Expectations Minus
The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Action/Adventure/Angst, 110k
Warnings: Seventh Year
The most important thing to know about this fic is that it is a wonderfully written, excellent fic, but it barely qualifies as SSHG. If not for that fact, I would have ranked it higher.
After the death of Albus Dumbledore at the hands of the traitor Severus Snape, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, and Harry Potter search for the Horcruxes from their home base at Hogwarts. Hermione has a great secret she must keep from the Order and her best friends…she is secretly working with the traitorous Potions Master, and believes he is still on their side.
This, like many fics before it, absolutely delighted me for the first third or so. Snape is largely absent, because he is a ‘traitor’ and spends his time with the Death Eaters. ‘How exciting,’ I thought. ‘This will be such a delicious slow burn!’ Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. The romance became physical way too early, seemingly out of the blue. I just can’t believe that a highly disciplined, paranoid, double agent spy can lose control in a moment of passion with an 18 year old he’s had a handful of meetings with. It’s just absurd. If the romance blossoms because one of them loses physical control – which I don’t think really works for this pairing – it has to be because they are spending bucketloads of time together and have become very close emotionally. That is not the case here. It just happens. I actually groaned out loud in dismay when that bubble of rising tension burst prematurely.
However, the saving grace is that the warplot is beautifully told. The Hogwarts crew are well-written and in character, as are the Order members. The action and adventure was the highlight of the fic. It was amazing how much the authors ‘got right’ pre Deathly Hallows. They had really done their research – from the locket in Kreacher’s nest, locket to Hufflepuff’s cup, even Nagini. Maybe they added those in after the release of Deathly Hallows? I would have the check the dates. I kept reading all of the way through the story, mostly eagerly, despite the absence of Snape and my annoyances with the romance. An excellent warplot, indeed.
I will say, as a negative, that many of the characters are hot-headed and childish. It’s always the Hogwarts students, and usually Gryffindors, so it might have been a deliberate choice by the authors. Still, it’s difficult to sympathize with characters who are making impulsive decisions and screaming at each other in caps. I always skim ahead, frustrated and bored, when that happens.
Gold star to the Draco in this fic. He had the best storyline of anyone, although it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. A letter he writes near the end is my favorite Draco moment of all time. I laughed hysterically and even read it out loud to my husband.
Honestly, you might just read the first chapter as a one-off and leave it at that. The first chapter is the best romance (and the biggest Snape appearance) of the whole damn thing.
The bottom line: This is an excellent fic, but Snape is barely in it, and when he is, he is often out of character (no enough self control, not enough hiding of emotions.) If you are in the mood for romance, I’d recommend something else, but this is a great read if you feel like a fantastic Hogwarts Horcrux adventure with a dash of barely believable SSHG.