Beyond 84 Charing Cross Road – by Darnedchild and Devsgama

Link: https://archiveofourown.org/works/5604049/chapters/13480363

Rating: Outstanding Minus

The Basics: Modern Era (2016), Epistolary/Romance, 113k

Warnings: None

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.

Advertisements

Chasing the Sun – by Loten

Links:
https://www.fanfiction.net/s/7413926/1/Chasing-The-Sun

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.

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.

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.

Seven Preposterous Things – Bloodcult of Freud

Link: http://archiveofourown.org/works/9389336/chapters/21255608
Thank you to the commenter who let me know that this fic was recently posted on Archive of our Own! It is so exciting to me that some early SSHG authors are reposting their classic fics.

Rating: Acceptable Plus

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Comedy/AU/Romance, 100k

Warnings: Violence, Pregnancy, Kink, NC-17, Language, AU elements

Severus Snape and Dracy Malfoy have a plan to flee the British Wizarding World after the Final Battle, regardless of the outcome. Severus, hand on Portkey, makes a last moment decision to take a shocked Hermione Granger with him.

This is the second fic I’ve reviewed by Bloodcult of Freud – the first is Tyger, Tyger. It’s amazing how different they are. Tyger was a fairly serious, covering-a-lifetime, mostly classic story. Seven Preposterous is often comical, takes place over only a couple of months, and is so wildly different from most SSHG in setting and tone and character that it feels AU. Pretty much the opposite of Tyger, Tyger.

This fic spends a lot of time – at least a third, maybe more than that – on the perspectives of Millicent Bulstrode and Draco Malfoy. Millicent is very fleshed-out and interesting. I found her more compelling than the Severus and Hermione in this story. Her background is rich and detailed, delving into Pureblood culture by bringing in elements of fairy tales, which is something I had never considered or seen before. in fanfic. Those parts of the story were very fun. Draco is a bit more useless and dandy than I prefer, but I can’t really argue that it’s too far out of character.

So, Millicent and Draco are married, and they hatch a plan with Severus Snape to all escape together to the United States after the Wizarding War – Texas, specifically. The majority of the fic takes place there. They live in a Muggle home and take Muggle jobs, and rarely use magic to avoid the radar of United States Wizarding authorities. Severus is in love with Hermione and has been for years, but is reluctant to pursue her, so Hermione takes matters in to her own hands. I don’t usually give this detailed of a synopsis in my reviews, but this fic is so nutty that it seems necessary. It’s also important to note that the random insanity of these events is a major intentional theme; I am tempted to write ‘this fic is a mess,’ except that I know it was done intentionally and even the title ties in that theme. ‘Seven Preposterous Things.’ Life changes on a dime. Coincidences, foretelling, a kind word; the smallest things can shape the future. Life is wild and unpredictable.

With the lengthy preamble completed, let’s get down to the meat of it. My biggest problem with this fic is the characterization of Severus Snape. In this fic, he’s a pitiful mess – no confidence, bad hygiene, no game with women, victim complex, and a drunk. For me, Snape is many things, but he is not a groveling slob. He works with dangerous chemicals, has three jobs, and is a spy – he has to be disciplined and on his toes at all times. His entire life is about discipline and outward strength. I think that’s the key point for me here, where I differ with the author’s portrayal – I think Snape has many of these traits (self-loathing, self-pity, frustration with his life, bad habits) but in my opinion, he goes to GREAT LENGTHS to hide his faults from others. He always wants to seem in control, in the know, in authority. He is no longer Snivellus who gets bullied; he is Professor Snape, he is formidable, and no one will dare. He keeps his insecurities and faults LOCKED.UP. Bleeding out on the floor of the Shrieking Shack, he still performed his duty with dignity, without a trace of Snivellus. This disgusting, smelly, groveling man begging for scraps from Hermione is Snivellus, not Severus, and I couldn’t get over it.

Hermione is fairly in character and Millicent is fantastic, but Snape and Draco are both alternate reality pathetic groveling slobs in comparison to their canon personalities. There are a lot of feminist motifs in the story, which is awesome, but emasculating the two male characters is going a bit too far. Speaking of motifs – it seems worth pointing out that the foursome encounters 2 abandoned infants in the course of the story that they take in and make their own. It serves no purpose in the plot. I thought the first one was weird, and then they found a second? I suppose the story is called ‘Seven Preposterous Things’ and the strangeness of life’s course is a theme, but it felt messy and strange.

The writing is acceptable. I know the author is very well read and intelligent (there are a ton of literary, historical, and philosophic references in Tyger, Tyger,) but this fic has a much more casual tone and the writing reflects that. Most of it feels rather slap-dash, definitely written for fun rather than perfection. I liked the tongue-and-cheek nature of the fic – the author acknowledges that her fic is pretty insane at times by having her characters joke about it. However, I had the feeling that the author really enjoyed writing some sections and would put a lot of detail in to them, and then would boredly sketch out other sections with minimal effort. I found most of the Millie sections more compelling and than (generally shorter) Hermione and Severus sections; it seemed like the author was a lot more interested and invested in Millie than anyone else.

Additionally, I think the author changed some of her ideas as she was writing. There is a mention of a time travel machine, and what appeared to me to be a set-up for a time travel plot – lots of weird coincidences and random things working out for the group. I thought, ‘Oh, this will turn out to have been set up by one of them from the future, coming back and placing things for them to encounter.’ Nope…although the author went out of her way to exclaim how weird the coincidences are, and explicitly mentioned a time machine, they turned out to just be coincidences. The story wrapped up with a very weird deux ex machina, which I won’t spoil, but it was just another head-scratching thing this fic does. It plays to the theme, but it makes for a very weird reading experience.

Gold star for a fascinating Millicent Bulstrode and a positively magical take on Pureblood culture. Those were absolutely my favorite parts of the fic. Millie’s backstory is ‘delightful,’ to steal a word from one of my commenters, but…this is not a Millicent Bulstrode fic review site, and the rest of the story is not nearly as strong.

The bottom line: A very strange fic. One of its themes is the madness of chance and choice, and the author sets up many ridiculous, comical situations to explore that theme. There are a lot of good ideas and fun moments, but for me the Snape was gross and unfamiliar. Recommended if you want to try something zany and enjoy humor fics (and can tolerate a pathetic Snape) but I’d skip if you’re looking for great SSHG romance.

Of Debts and Debt Collection – by Anastasia

Links:
http://www.thepetulantpoetess.com/viewstory.php?sid=5075
http://ashwinder.sycophanthex.com/viewstory.php?sid=15825

Rating: Acceptable

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Romance, 180k

Warnings: Violence

Severus Snape barely survives the battle that results in Dumbledore’s death at his hand, and completing this final duty, he finds himself unable to return to the Death Eaters. He staggers back to Hogwarts and throws himself at their mercy, where one Hermione Granger nurses him back to health.

I feel like this is going to be one of the lamest reviews I’ve written, so apologies in advance for that. Every once in a while I run into a fic that I can tell is decently good, but that I really just don’t like. I can’t quite bring myself to skip to the end, but reading it is miserable, so I put it off for months. I’ve just come back to it again, for the third time, and I still can’t read it, so I’m finally skipping to the end. It’s pretty unfair to review a fic that I’ve read in spurts, separated by six months, and finally gave up on, but here we are. So, keep that disclaimer in mind.

This fic was well-received when it came out, and it won some fic awards, and is on most SSHG rec lists. It is decently written (somewhat messily in the beginning, but improves over time.) The plot is fairly basic, but not egregiously so. It’s unique in that it has Snape on the grounds at Hogwarts with the Trio and the Order searching for the Horcruxes. 90% of Half-Blood Prince fics have Snape with the Death Eaters (as he is at the end of HBP) and have to resolve that issue somehow, with a kidnapping or communication device. This one just turns him right around and sends him back to Hogwarts.

The main problem I have with it, other than the blandness, is that everything tilts towards classic romance novel tone, which does not suit this pairing. Snape is ridiculously idealized – great at sex, great at dueling, always has a witty one liner, always supremely confident, knows exactly how to interrogate a prisoner, can get whatever response he wants out of Hermione (or anyone), etc. It’s very predictable and makes it difficult to connect with him, or with the story, on an emotional level. The supreme confidence is the worst of it. Snape is outwardly confident, yes, but inwardly? Not at alL.

It’s not that he’s completely out of character – all of the classic Snape mannerisms and descriptions are there, it’s just this layer of Sexy Tough Romantic Hero Football Player added on top of it. Everything he does is ‘CSI Miami putting on the sunglasses and offering up a one-liner for the camera,’ you know? The worst example of this is Snape’s torturing of Lucius – that’s when I finally gave up on the fic. Snape carelessly, joyously, tortures his friend, with all sorts of great lines – but without a word on what he was actually feeling or thinking. It could have been a great scene of the author had delved in to the emotional level. The tone was completely wrong. This was a scene for character development, for sadness, for empathy, for nostalgia, but resolution to do what was needed. But no, just a bunch of cool one liners and zero emotional depth. A nice summary of the entire fic, as it happens.

As for the romantic pacing, it moves way too fast. The delicious coming-together is basically non-existent. It’s the ‘nursing him back to health, oops we’re in love’ trope that has been done hundreds of times, and not especially well here. They are kissing in the first few chapters. So, we can’t look to the excitement of romance to save this fic.

The bottom line: A fairly interesting set-up for a Half-Blood Prince fic, and well-written – but the supercool/confident Snape, rushed romance, and lack of emotional depth made the fic unenjoyable for me.

Chocolate Enchantment – by Vivian B

Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/4706835/1/Chocolate-Enchantment

Rating: Acceptable Plus

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Romance/Action, 200k

Warnings: Non-Con Pregnancy (sex was consensual, pregnancy was not), Seventh Year, Violence

Triggerish warning for this review.

Fred and George place a special potion into the Hogwarts biscuits; one that makes people aware of their own soulmates, if they happen to touch each other. It was meant to be a harmless prank, but the ancient and very serious potion has lasting consequences for a flabbergasted and enraged Hermione Granger and Severus Snape.

There is one important thing you should know about this rating; it dropped about a full rating in the course of several chapters, where something that deeply offended me was presented as easily forgiveable and understandable. I’ll get into it later so you can judge for yourself whether or not it would bother you, but I thought it fair to mention that the fic certainly qualifies for a higher rating, if you subtract my disgust and rage over that one particular incident.

I very much enjoyed the beginning of this fic. The ‘potions accident’ trope is something that was often used in the Classic Era, and I haven’t seen it much, if at all, in Half-Blood Prince. It was refreshing to see the crew in their Sixth Year at Hogwarts (the book includes the events of the Half-Blood Prince, happening off-screen) and to have a soul mate potion as the inciting incident. The difficulty with these potions is, of course, the forced intimacy it creates. It’s rather difficult to write an exciting romance when the protagonists are being forced together emotionally and physically by an outside force like a potion (or a marriage law, or a kidnapping, blah blah…I can’t remember the last time I read a fic where they just fell in love of their own accord.) The romance progressed much too quickly for my tastes; marriage and consummation happen in the early chapters of fic. That leaves the reader 180k of warplot to muddle through.

That said, the warplot was well-written and enjoyable. The author really takes her time with each Horcrux, coming up with clever ideas and implementing them in realistic ways. The Trio, realizing that Horcruxes are a bit too much for them to tackle alone, recruits Order members on the quest when their expertise is needed – Bill Weasley for Curse-breaking and disabling of Cursed objects, McGonagall for Animagus training, Lupin and Tonks for Ward-building and training, etc. Each Order member only knows their specific piece of the puzzle, so no one is given full knowledge of their Horcrux quest. Additionally, the Trio takes a cerebral, let’s-plan-ahead approach to defeating Voldemort. They talk about the best plan for defeating him and develop a spell that will let them accomplish that. They study Occlumency and hexes. They take a Muggle police approach and put their current knowledge up on a board to consider visually, which gives them a breakthrough in the Horcrux hunt. The Trio in this story are smarter and more careful than the real Trio, and for me, that was very enjoyable.

Hermione and Snape’s characterizations are where we run in to trouble. I found Snape to be too possessive and domineering – not horribly, but just a bit. Hermione is a bit of a GentleAngel!Hermione, too pliant and open to his manipulation and demands, with too many people in love with her. As an example of what I mean – someone (Lupin, Ron, Bill at intervals) grip her upper arm and leave bruises, and then Snape gets enraged about it. He casts an ancient Greek spell on her that shocks anyone who touches her with romantic intent (no spell on himself that does the same.) The spell also allows him to ‘call her to his side’ at any moment (no spell for her to do the same.) Misogynistic nonsense. None of it seems to bother Hermione. This makes the romance between them quite wooden, with him constantly ‘crushing her lips’ and her ‘sinking into his arms’ and other generalized romance cliches that do not belong to this pairing. I rolled my eyes quite a bit at the romance scenes.

Despite my annoyances, I was still very much enjoying the fic – until Snape purposefully and intentionally gets Hermione pregnant without her knowledge or consent. In fact, she believes that he is giving her Contraceptive Potions and has expressed that she has no wish to get pregnant. Voldemort says that he wants Snape to get Hermione pregnant in order to enrage Harry. THE REAL Severus Snape would have discussed this with Hermione and probably the entire Order before taking action, but this Snape takes it upon himself to give her a Fertility Potion, and let her be pregnant for a long time, unbeknownst to her, without saying a word. She puts herself and the child in considerable danger by turning into her Animagus form, taking serious injury while destroying Horcruxes, Apparating, etc., because she does not know about the pregnancy. Snape apparently doesn’t consider this. That is bad enough, but willfully impregnating her against her wishes is unforgivable. It is just as bad or worse than physical rape. It is life-rape.

And let me be clear – there is no explanation. There is no reason for him not to tell her. Snape even thinks to himself, ‘I should tell her right now, but she’ll be so upset, and I just can’t deal with that right now.’ That’s his reasoning, apparently. Emotional inconvenience. I would not have forgiven him so easily – I very well might never have spoken to him again. I would still meet him once a fortnight for a tryst so I wouldn’t die of potion-induced madness, but I would shut him out of my life completely, or at least for a very long time. I usually am pretty calm and prefer characters to be calm, but this is one situation that required Unspeakable Rage (while still listening to explanations first of course, which Snape does not have in this case.) But no, Hermione basically shrugs it off and is happily engaging in sexual activity with him just hours afterwards. I was shocked and furious. I actually quit reading at that point and skimmed to the end.

I have spent a lot of this review complaining, but I want to emphasize again how well-written the fic was, and how much fun the fully-functioning, fully-intelligent Order and Trio were. There is a lot of good here, despite my previous two paragraphs.

The bottom line: Read it for an excellent Horcrux adventure and great writing. If you don’t mind a domineering Snape, and the non-consensual pregnancy doesn’t enrage you, definitely give it a try. For me, the romance was a bit too bodice-ripper cliche and I could not forgive the purposefully-inflicting-an-undesired-pregnancy-upon-an-unknowing-woman issue.