Rating: Outstanding Minus
The Basics: Modern Era (2016), Epistolary/Romance, 113k
Two years after the fall of Voldemort, Hermione Granger is the manager of a prestigious wizarding book store in London. She receives a request for several extremely rare Potions books from a mail order patron named Simon Sopophorous.
I am very tempted to write a whole little essay about all of the epistolary stories I read as a child (Boomer’s Journal, Go Ask Alice, Babysitter’s Club: Chain Letter, the Dear America series) and as an adult (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Yellow Wallpaper, S) and even expand into how my favorite films are narrative-driven documentaries and found footage horror which are the film equivalent of episotolaries; but look, I managed to squeeze all of those thoughts into just one overlong sentence and spare you the drudgery of reading a longer version. Suffice to say, this is my favorite narrative framing device and I was absolutely over the moon when I discovered that there were a few SSHG fics that used it. So, take my rave review with a bit of caution, given my zeal for its structure.
Almost everything about this fic worked beautifully for me. This was the best building-passion scintillating romance that I have read in ages and ages. I can’t even remember the last time that the passion of a fic was good enough for me to feel that giddy excitement and grab a glass of wine. A romance through letters is slow enough for me to really believe it and feel it. I talk so often about the importance of building passion through ‘standing too close to each other, trying to resist’ foreplay of restraint. The letter format causes this to go on for many, many chapters because they aren’t physically near each other. When they finally do see each other in person, the history of denied passion crackles between them, adding electricity and weight to the slightest of movements.
The plotting and pacing are nearly perfect. After they come together in real life, the romance is believably and slowly drawn out due to plot. These plot hurdles are no mere ‘tragic misunderstandings’; they are tied directly to the characters in a way that moves the story forward and further explores their relationship. I absolutely loved the nature of the curse that they discover together; I loved it to the point that I stopped reading and raved excitedly about the curse idea to my husband who agreed that it was an awesome idea nearly worth of head-canon. The full understanding, commitment, and closure to the relationship did not happen until all of the plot was resolved, just as it should be.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely excellent writing. The old-fashioned wit of letters is perfect for Snape’s personality. The subtle insults and wordplay were delightful to read. This is Severus Snape at his finest; snarky, insulting, sharp, closed, reclusive, lonely, guilty, bitter, hilarious. It’s sometimes difficult to believe that Snape would let someone in but the premise of letters subtly and believably penetrates his solitude. He might very well be more open in letters under a pseudynom and of course Hermione Granger would be smart enough to eventually put the pieces together. Everything here is so well-conceived and so excellently done.
I will say that the in-person scenes in the final quarter of the story were not as strong as the letters. Snape would rave to his letter falcon Yorick, which I found strange and a bit out of character. When Snape and Hermione are together, towards the end, the author used a quick back-and-forth point of view that I disliked. I think it was intended to mimic the feeling of letters, but the viewpoint changes made it difficult for me to keep track of what was happening (perhaps because I listen to audio rather than reading.) I felt as though some of the latter important scenes moved too quickly and did not allow enough breathing room to fully convey the weight of the events. This was especially true in the last chapter. It’s possible that the author rushed things a little bit in the end; but it’s a minor complaint in the overall scope of the fic, and the only complaint I can muster.
The bottom line: The crackling electricity between Snape and Hermione given their history of a long romance of letters with no physical contact made this one of the most scintillating romances I have read (keeping in mind that I am uptight/Victorianish; I doubt what is exciting to me is normal.) Beautifully paced and plotted. Sharp, intelligent, and witty throughout. Plot ideas worth raving a about. All wrapped up in epistolary form? Perfection, except for some of the rushed chapters towards the end. Recommended to everyone unless you feel that the letter format is not for you.