|Review:||teh tarik says:|
Hello Zayne! I'm finally here with your requested review. :) So sorry it's taken me ages to get down to this; I got distracted by so many things, including the House Cup excitement and all. I'm so glad I finally got the chance to read this story; I don't usually read a lot of Marauder Era WIPs because they tend to revolve around Lily and James and their burgeoning relationship, and Lily/James is one of my least favourite ships to read about. So it's such a joy to read a fic in this era, which is written through the perspective of a minor character like Mary, and in which the massively popular Lily/James ship is distanced, at least right now.
What I think is particularly strong about these two first chapters is how much detail you've gone into to establish a very unsettling atmosphere, which is appropriate with the context of the First War; there is a general sense of foreboding to the start of the new term. I think your terrific set-up of the ominous mood and the mystery about Laura's sudden change are crucial elements to these opening chapters, and they certainly do set your fic apart from the hundreds of other stories which also begin in a similar scene with the protagonists heading back to school on the Hogwarts Express. Another thing I really liked was the idea of how the recent summer was not as ideal or as pleasant as is usually the case; Mary finds her summer holidays rather bleak and hardly restful, while James is disturbed by a random breakout of violence involving family and old acquaintances.
Another very unique aspect of your back-to-school beginning:
Mary tried to ignore it but it smelt of dung and she was reminded of her earlier thoughts of how unwelcome the castle seemed this year. How it felt like things were just rotting around her.
This is a very powerful image, and it is very striking that Mary has such a strongly averse reaction to Hogwarts, given that she's usually such an introverted and passive character who lets others' opinions and chatter pass over her and through her. It's a very bleak image of Hogwarts, and a starkly different one to the warm, cheerful haven that the castle always seems to be. I'm guessing that this is a foreshadowing about how there is little safety even within the walls, and that the students are more exposed to danger than expected. Also, I remember that Mary was attacked by Mulciber or something in the books? While this image of 'rotting' and decay is really strong, I would have liked to see you incorporate a bit more of this into the first chapter, which is slightly more fluffy than this one. I think it would have made the tones of both chapters a little more consistent, and there would have been some continuity in maintaining the darker atmosphere of the story.
As for characterisation, Mary is certainly very insteresting. She's incredibly passive, and sometimes she's so introverted that it's easy to forget that this is actually her story, and that we're actually reading this through her POV. It's great to see that introvertedness is one of her defining characteristics, but at the same time, I would have liked to feel her presence a little stronger, especially in the first chapter. She's much better developed in the second chapter, where she actively reflects on the action around her instead of withdrawing completely within herself, and of course, there's the very revealing conversation with James Potter. I was actually very pleasantly surprised by that conversation; it was very deftly written, and it's a welcome change to see James have a serious talk with a girl who isn't Lily, and with no mention of Lily. It's also refreshing to see that Mary and James are in fact childhood friends, along with Wilkes, who is now a Slytherin. With that brief conversation, you've shown how the two have grown up, and how they've changed over the years, and there is a lovely moment of nostalgia over there. I also adored your portrayal of Lily! This is one of the most unique Lilys I've ever come across - flawed, not particularly attractive, not the centre of attention, someone who tags along (similar to Pettigrew, in fact), with an unwelcome flair for drama and not well-liked by all. Honestly, I can't wait to see more of her through Mary's eyes. :)
I have to say that I found the pacing of your first chapter a little slow. There was a lot of detail, and not all of it was particularly relevant, and some of the scenes (e.g. the nail polish bit) went on for a little too long. I would suggest going through that chapter again and streamlining things a bit, sort out the unnecessary details and shorten scenes and really focus your description on things that heighten the atmosphere of the story, or contribute to character development. You might possibly consider making your first chapter a lot shorter, and more of a prologue.
Another thing: you seem to be missing a lot of commas. I usually dislike commenting on punctuation, but as I was reading, I found myself tripping over sentences a fair bit, and having to go back more than once to reread certain phrases. I do think the lack of commas in the right places might possibly disrupt the flow of the story a little, and I recommend going back and editing the punctuation as well as the grammatical errors, of which there were a few.
Well, other than that, this is a lovely and very original story, Zayne! It's certainly exciting, and it captures the brooding First War atmosphere superbly. The characters are engaging and they interact well with each other, and there is a great but brooding sense of mystery about the fic, which is definitely keeping me interested! I can't wait to see where you'll take this story to! Great work :)
Author's Response: Hey teh!
I'm sorry for the late response! There really isn't any excuse! I'm just behind on responding to reviews at the moment.
I really love Lily/James actually. I think they're brilliant. However it is rare that I find a good Lily/James that handles them well in my opinion. It makes me not read them as much simply because they're usually fluffy pieces with stale chiches. You are right when you say they are distant in this. Although I will be handling them as it happened in canon, it is definitely a sideshow to the actual story, which focuses on Mary. I find it interesting to write about minor characters and give them a story in canon as well. :)
I really appreciate you saying you liked the details and description of the first couple chapters. I've always felt Hogwarts was hectic during the first war. That it wasn't safe or even really fun to be at. The first war, to me, was always a bit darker then the second and things were in complete chaos. I see the students having to grow up faster than usual. It's one thing I try to keep in mind when I write this.
I'm pleased you liked the atmosphere of this and the rotting darkness imagery. Mary is a passive character at the moment but we'll learn more about her. I get what you're saying about the consistency of the two chapters and i've been unhappy with the first for a while, so, i'm really pleased that you've given some suggestions of how to improve it. I feel like that's where i want to begin the story and show that their life at Hogwarts isn't going to be lovely and fluffy. I agree that the first chapter didn't quite get there.
I do understand where you are coming with Mary but at the moment I need her to be this. I think most people want really strong main characters who can control the story and leave a mark on the reader. The very point of Mary, at the moment, is that she is so passive, and that she'd rather watch life pass her by rather than take an active role in it. Her very characterization means for her to be this way and the fact that people have a hard time defining her actually makes me a little happy. Simply because I want her to seem lost, passive, introverted, and unable to accept herself. This is about her growth and regrowth.
I'm really pleased you enjoyed the James and Mary scene. I had the most trouble with that and was constantly questioning if I should even have it. I almost deleted a few times. I liked the idea that the boys knew the girls and it wasn't Lily that brought them together (which if you think about it, doesn't make sense as they spent so many years in school together before Lily and James got together! You'd assume some friendships would have sprouted between the boys and girls of Gryffindor in that time.) I'm also excited that you liked Lily! I feel afraid portraying her this way because I expect people to yell at me that she wasn't like this, and that she was a lot nicer and more wonderful and perfect. but anyway, it makes me happy that you enjoyed her and I hope that you continue to appreciate her characterization. :)
Thank you SOO so much for this stunning review! It was massively helpful and thanks for helping out with the first chapter! I'm definitely going to have to go back and fix some things with that :)