Rating: Outstanding Minus
The Basics: Modern Era (2012), Angst/Romance, 490k
Warnings: Sexual Content, Violence, Gore, Non-Con (not SSHG), Torture
In her fifth year at Hogwarts, Hermione Granger takes on a new role studying under Madame Pomfrey, as she is interested in learning how to become a Healer in an effort to assist in the War. She is sworn to secrecy about the things she will learn in her role as a Healer – because unbeknownst to Hermione, Madame Pomfrey’s chief job is patching up Dumbledore’s double agent, Severus Snape. The story follows canon threads from Order of the Phoenix through Deathly Hallows; however, the deepening friendship between Hermione Granger and Severus Snape changes many canon events.
This story (as well as Loten’s other huge SSHG work, ‘Post Tenebras, Lux’ which I have not yet reviewed) came extremely highly recommended to me by the readers of this blog. I think perhaps I allowed those high recommendations to inflate my expectations. In my mind, I heralded this as the greatest SSHG work ever, that all others would pale in the light of. I saved it for the rainiest of rainy days when I was completely exhausted and needed a great, riveting story to keep me sewing on schedule (I use text-to-speech programs) and to transport me away from my stresses. Perhaps because of this combination of work stress and exaggerated expectations, I ended up very disappointed by this fic. It’s also possible that I was mixing together the recommendations for Loten’s ‘Post Tenebras, Lux’ with the recommendations for this fic – perhaps I’ll like that one better? So, please keep all of this in mind when you read this review. Many fans feel this is the best SSHG fic ever written – and perhaps it is – but not for me.
This fic navigates through OoTP, HBP, and DH from an SSHG point of view. This is not something I see very often, nor is it a method I particularly I enjoy, but it’s done well here. Sometimes the SSHG shoehorning stretched credulity – Snape giving the Golden Trio intensely personal, on point, psychological and physical training for the War, or Snape leading the Trio on a search for the Horcruxes – but often it really worked. I enjoyed Snape’s casting of Fiendfyre in an attempt to destroy Horcruxes, and the struggle of his emotions as he did so. I liked when Dumbledore tried to leave Snape out of the Locket Horcrux adventure, which caused Snape to remark (upon seeing the potion at the Inferi lake), ‘How fortunate that you thought to bring a Potions Master who is also a Dark Wizard on this little adventure to fish a Horcrux out of a Dark Potion.’ I LOVED Ron’s clever idea to destroy the Hufflepuff cup. My favorite moment of the fic (or very nearly any fic) was Snape, buoyed by his friendship with Hermione, deciding that his life was worth something and carrying out a plan to throw off the collars of both of his masters.
The characterizations are also well done, although I would quibble that both are not as interested in academia as they should be (they are described as being that way, but the included conversations are 90% emotional rather than theoretical.) This is jeans-cigarette-emo-music grunge Snape which is not one I prefer, but it’s a viable interpretation here because of how subtly and skillfully those aspects of him are presented. Snape often makes extremely important decisions ‘in the moment’ with no plan in advance, which felt out of character to me. Additionally, he spends an excessive amount of time spent reflecting on himself and Hermione rather than planning for the War or theorizing about the aforementioned important decisions (more on that later.)
The plotting is extremely slow. This is fine in the beginning of the story, because the slow, probing conversations were supported by Hermione’s curiousity about the Snape and the growing romantic tension. But when the romance had been resolved and these conversations continued, over and over again with very little plot advancement, they began to feel superflous and I started skimming. The romance was completely resolved halfway through, and the plot is one we have already ready dozens of times. There was absolutely no tension or a reason to turn the page, for me. Why keep reading? What could possibly fill the second 200k of the story? Severus’ reflection on his feelings, Severus talking to Hermione about his feelings, Hermione talking to Severus about her feelings, Severus talking to Harry about Harry’s feelings, and then a very minor plot event that starts the entire cycle over again, as everyone examines their responses to this minor plot point.
I want to be clear – the study of Snape is beautifully, painfully, artfully drawn. If you are in the mood to fully explore our dark Potion Master’s psyche, this is the fic for you. The issue is that it is 500k with no tension in the last half. Conversations (nearly) alone cannot sustain a fic of this length. I cannot believe that Snape would talk about his feelings more than War strategy, research, and Potions. He is the epitome of duty, sacrifice, discipline, repression and getting the job done. Having long conversations in bed with Hermione every day during the final months of the War just didn’t feel right to me. I needed more clever original ideas, more academic connection, more characters, more plot, more action, and just /more/ in a fic of this extreme length.
One of my readers suggested that this fic is best read slowly, on-and-off, and savored. That could be true; I ‘gobble up’ fics very quickly because I listen to them while I work. Perhaps for this reason, it began to feel repetitious to me while it did not for others.
The bottom line: An excellent psychological study and emotional look at the pain, past, and future of Severus Snape. Recommended for those who are not fans of the pairing, as it exhaustively explores the SSHG connection and the full history of Snape. Also recommended for those who enjoy thoroughly exploring emotion, through music, poetry, reflection, conversation, etc. An Outstanding in the view of the community, but for me the lack of romantic or plot-driven tension in the second half of the story made it a struggle to finish.
Edit, several hours later: I felt the need to come back and report that my feelings on this fic were not precipitated by stress or a bad mood, because I started another fic and am so far immensely enjoying it (Thirty-One Days by keelhaulrose.) There is mystery/tension in this new fic – how will the plot resolve? How will the romance resolve? I have no idea, and that’s exciting. The problem for me with ‘Chasing the Sun’ is that it runs out of excitement and tension 250k words too early.