The Phoenix, the Raven, and Prince Charming? – by Dragons Quill

Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/3530941/1/The-Phoenix-The-Raven-Prince-Charming

Rating: Acceptable

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Angst/Romance, 160k

Warnings: Angst, Torture. I did not finish the story so there could be more.

Severus Snape kills Albus Dumbledore. Harry Potter saves the world. Now, Snape is in Azkaban for his crimes. Curiously, Albus Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes, voluntarily joins Snape in Azkaban and refuses to leave his side. Hermione Granger is intrigued by this mystery – and besides, she needs Snape’s help.

This is a really interesting fic. It’s a combination of factors that I don’t think I’ve seen before – excellent, creative, original ideas and storylines combined with really, really bad writing. I actually prefer it to well-written fics with terrible ideas/characters, which is usually what you find in fanfiction.

I skimmed most of this fic because the writing was so bad – I just couldn’t fully immerse myself in it because I was constantly drawn out by mistakes and awkward phrasing. The worse offense is the author’s proclivity to summarize rather than flesh out a scene. The majority of chapters are summaries of events rather than concrete moments. This works really well for something like flashbacks – of which the story has plenty – but it feels cheatingly disappointing to read what ought to have been an interesting scene in a short summary.

There are some awkward conceptual mis-steps, too. I’m selling this idea of an idiot savant creative genius author who is only held back by bad writing, but that isn’t strictly true. For example, Hermione wants to bring Snape some comfort in prison. He is starving to death and has lost the will to live. She brings him…shampoo. Cringe. Any serious fan of the pairing should immediately recognize that this is pouring salt on an old inflamed wound of Snape’s. It’s not comforting! She ought to have brought him a collection of books or a Potions journal. There are plenty of other examples like this, too. Overall, though, the concepts of the fic were excellent and the writing was terrible. I found that dissonance interesting.

It’s also interesting to see how the writing improves throughout the story. The author gets a beta reader, which helps tremendously. She is clearly utilizing feedback from her reviews. The writing is still pretty bad at the end (for example, having a 4000 year old phoenix use the phase, ‘get the ball rolling’) but I enjoyed the meta-journey of watching the author grow.

The bottom line: Honestly, this is worth a read for almost any fan of the pairing. You’ll know right away if you can tolerate the low quality writing or not. If you can’t, well, skim a bit like I did. If you can, you might be in for a treat. Fawkes looking over Snape in Azkaban! Hermione Granger, Mistress of Horses! Snape, learning to forgive himself and find the will to live. There are great concepts and soulful insights here, hidden beneath layers of grimy writing.

Advertisements

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.

His Draught of Delicate Poison – by Subversa

Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10393075/30/His-Draught-of-Delicate-Poison
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.

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.