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29 December 2011 @ 12:01 am
2011 Yuletide FK Stories Reviewed  
This year's Yuletide scored two Forever Knight stories. Unusually for me — eternally behind on my fanfic reading — I jumped my own queue, downloaded the AO3 mobi files to my Kindle, and have read them while they're still anonymous. I enjoyed both in very different ways.

My remarks below contain spoilers! The ratings and warnings/tags in these reviews are mine as a reader, not those of the authors. Finally, please understand that, writing here in my own journal about [currently] anonymous stories, these are indeed actual, old-fashioned reviews, not comments nor recommendations. That is, they frankly consider both good and bad elements as I have fun musing and analyzing. (If you prefer to avoid negative opinions, please skip this post!)

"The Cross" (PG, Gen, ~1K words)
Characters: Lacroix, OMC
Warnings/Tags: Historical, Early Middle Ages, Vampire Violence, Mob Violence, Murder

"The Cross" addresses questions of Lacroix's name: why this name, and why so consistently and persistently.

Early in second season ("A Fate Worse Than Death"), we learn that the character went by Lacroix at least as early as c.1070-1100, and then late in that season ("A More Permanent Hell") that he had been a Pompeian Roman named Lucius (not, interestingly, a name etymologically related to the Lucien established for both c.1229 and the present day in "Be My Valentine," which aired earlier than AMPH in second season). Yet long before those episodes, of course, when no canon existed on Lacroix's age or origin beyond his claims in the "Dark Knight"/"Second Chapter" flashbacks (Ghengis Kahn, Charlemagne, Nero), people speculated about so symbolic a name (he's Nick's cross to bear, etc.). I remember one story, written during the hiatus between first and second seasons, in which Lacroix witnessed the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and consequently adopted the name "The Cross;" I imagine that there were more stories of that trope, especially before second season laid down the canon. Of course there were uncounted crucifixions of ordinary people through too much history, not just by Romans, and there is many a meaning for the word "cross," but there's really only the one meaning in English when the word is a proper noun. (By the way, in the scripts I've been privileged to see over the years, when other characters address him in dialogue, the capitalization is "Lacroix," not "LaCroix.")

This story's Lacroix, injured, takes refuge with a hermit clever enough to nurse his patient without getting drained. Nursing and cleverness together spawn friendship, as the story perceptively finesses Lacroix's canonical obsession with suitable companions ("What I've always wanted: companionship." —AMPH) into an early attempt at making a Nick (or a Janette). Appropriately at the nexus of companionship and names, the story glancingly invokes Divia by giving this Lacroix a fuller name, from which his daughter's name derives. The attempted conversion fails, a la "Near Death" (another second-season ep), when the hermit chooses the door to the Light. Neatly, Lacroix's failure to convert the hermit to vampirism parallels the hermit's failure to convert Lacroix to Christianity. Following the unexpected, unwanted loss of this valued friend, Lacroix takes this name forever.

But why, precisely, does Lacroix take this name? Is it to honor the hermit's beliefs? Or to mock them? Or as flagellation for his own failure? What was so intensely powerful about this friendship that he takes this name for all eternity? Is there something about this hermit that we should know; is he a historical figure, perhaps? "The Cross" does not bring us — or, at any rate, me — in on that. Respect and love would fill in the blank for any ordinary person, but... canon's Lacroix is hardly ordinary. His reaction to even the suggestion that someone would defy him, would reject his invitation into the night, is incredulity, anger, injured pride (cf. ND). Only the imminent end of the world drags out of him acknowledgment of divinity ("What kind of god is it that can create such perversity...?" —AMPH). "The Cross" obliges us to reason backward from the persistence of the name in canon to the importance of the hermit in this story.

This very short story takes a detached, omniscient perspective, moving unobstructed from one character to another like a documentary camera, inside yet ever outside. This brisk reportage enables a lot of action in the small space, and its swift plottiness can be very engaging. However, it slides readily into more telling than showing. Some readers may find the detachment welcome, allowing them the more easily to accept the story as compatible with their own interpretation of Lacroix. Others, hoping to be guided to a new understanding of Lacroix, may find eliding the emotions of the climax and the motivation of the name dissatisfying.

Overall, the piece is entirely readable, the tidy parallel between the two failed conversion attempts pleasing, and the effort to address the mystery of Lacroix's name worthwhile.

"A Dark and Stormy Night" (PG, Gen, ~9K words)
Characters: Nick, Tracy, Barbara, Natalie, Sydney
Warnings/Tags: Weather, Hurricane, Flooding, Policework, Homicide, Alcoholism, Family, Flashbacks, Historical, 1950s

"A Dark and Stormy Night" could almost have been a third-season episode — almost, if ever third-season would have dared an episode with no Lacroix and no Raven, if the crew could somehow have used historical news footage in place of special effects they could never have afforded, and if a murder investigation would have been left with the murderer unknown, to be pursued further another day (realistic, yes; episode-like, no). There's a firm grasp of canon here, but there's also a comfortable evasion of third season's avalanche of doom; this is clearly the dignity of late third season, not the sleaziness of early third, but the atmosphere of diligence, cooperation and possibility recalls second or even first.

The cop plot concerns a body found on the banks of the Humber river during a storm warning reminiscent of the flashbacks, which relate Hurricane Hazel, a real 1954 disaster in Toronto, and posit a Nick returned to Toronto, motivated by what happened to his friends the Barringtons in the "Forward into the Past" flashbacks, after being displaced from Chicago by the events of the "Spin Doctor" flashbacks. The personal plot is Tracy's, trying, conflictedly, to take care of her needy, alcoholic mother without shirking her work, and Barbara Vetter is, unusually but surprisingly smoothly, the knot at the center of the story, tying together the storm, flashback and character elements. Barbara, still terrified of storms as a grown woman because of childhood trauma during Hurricane Hazel, turns out to be the little girl Nick rescued during the flashbacks; Natalie caring for a storm-shy Sydney when she needs to get to work provides a miniature parallel to Tracy's challenges with her mother.

"A Dark and Stormy Night" renders its outdoor sets and geography vividly, especially the ravine in the rainy night. The story's notes and a quick glance at Wikipedia suggest high historical accuracy, making the Hurricane Hazel references a fair chance for the reader to learn something new. However, the fidelity to reality seems almost to paralyze Nick in the flashbacks. This Nick watches, and waits, and then watches and waits some more. (In FK, it's usually Lacroix who watches and waits!) Of course it would be under the table, so to speak, to take the real-life heroics of the real human men and women of that night and bestow them on fictional vampire Nick, but, still, having Nick observe them without acting himself is disconcerting; it feels a bit out of character, or perhaps like Nick at his indecisive worst. His active, "shoe leather" detective work in the present day further contrasts his flashback bystanding.

Tracy is the character-development winner in this story. Both Nick and Natalie occupy large chunks of "A Dark and Stormy Night," equal to or greater than Tracy's, and they score points doing their jobs well, but neither overcomes any significant obstacles, learns any lessons, or earns any developmental payoff. They end the story where they began it. Tracy, on the other hand, grapples with her frustrations with her mother, and moves from being present but terse and burdened, to generously stretching her imagination and increasing her understanding of something that was there to be understood all her life, but which she wasn't ready to see (perhaps until she was an adult and could see her mother's vulnerabilities differently; perhaps until Vachon "opened her eyes" —AtA). Because all the story payoff is Tracy's, some readers may feel that the story could balance a little better by increasing the percentage of the story focused on Tracy, or perhaps instead that Nick could muster some payoff of his own in the flashbacks by coming to a realization about Toronto, or human fragility, or nature's fury, or the solidarity of living (and undead)... and then using that realization in the present, somehow.

(The story suffers three typos, if I remember and observed correctly, in the form of missing little words (e.g. "in"); I'm sorry I didn't think to mark them at the time. Really, though, in a ~9K words story, that's not to be blinked at. Formatting-wise, I wasn't wild about the choice to designate flashbacks by italicized blockquotes, and not only because they came slightly mangled — apparently, there's an upper limit to text indenting via blockquote in mobi on Kindle (don't know which is at fault), and these passages all exceeded it. It's a very personal reaction, obviously, that my brain kept wanting to process the blockquotes as quotations, which is not what they are here. No big deal, just: "Note to Self: Use other methods for flashbacks!")

I have many preferences in common with the recipient for whom this story was crafted. We both like gen, canonicity, strong Nick and policework. On top of that, this story offers history, too, which I love. To that extent, this could have been written for me as easily as her, and I enjoyed the reading of the first third or so enormously! After that, my delight tapered, as I waited for this Nick to make a move, and slowly realized that this Tracy was where my attention belonged. Once I got my head wrapped around the Tracy dimension, and saw the parallels — I have great fun recognizing parallel constructions and making connections — I was content, but the dawning disappointment that it was not really a Nick story, for all his presence, and that the murder would not be solved, created a drag on my personal reading reaction.

[Addendum: I agonize about "payoff" for the reader when writing fanfiction. Goodness knows, I hit the mark less than I'd like! I often think that romance stories have it much easier than gen stories in generating "payoff." After all, in romance, emotional resonance and release may almost always come in fundamentally the same way: bringing the couple together (or keeping them apart). In gen, a new mechanism — indeed, a new target! — must be invented every time. No one accuses a 'shipper of redundancy for writing yet another story uniting her preferred couple, but a gen writer who repeatedly cures Nick, for example, may well be found tedious.]

Overall, the ride of this story is great — compellingly paced and reminiscent of canon — but the final destination may ring hollow for some readers. Hopefully, if you go in expecting a Tracy payoff rather than a Nick or Natalie payoff, you'll avoid my detours and arrive satisfied.

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greerwatsongreerwatson on January 1st, 2012 04:17 pm (UTC)
Now that authorship has been revealed, I'm free to comment on your reviews.

The idea for "The Cross" came to me years ago, before I got on the internet. It was a bunny for a flashback, for I was at the time still writing virtual episodes; but, without a matching main plot, there was nothing I could do with it. When I started to write short FK fic (inspired by fkficfest), no prompt fitted this particular idea, at least not until now.

LaCroix (or Lacroix)'s choice of pseudonym seems perverse; and I'm surprised more people haven't tackled it. People have created Roman names for him; and Lucius Divius...followed by some family name...is fairly common. That Lucius is the source of the name "Luke", not "Lucian", is something that tends to get overlooked. (I suspect it was equally overlooked by TPTB.) The latter actually comes from "Lucianus", which is a derivative of Lucius, used as a family name. In Roman times, the first name was rarely used except by close relatives, or maybe boyhood friends. The family name was the one used by adult friends and close colleagues: if LaCroix's family name were "Lucianus", then one can see why "Lucian" would be his preference as a personal name in later times.

Deciding on that, of course, was the easy part. Why, though, would he pick "The Cross" as his surname?

You offer several possible reasons. I am sure (as, I suspect are you) that honouring the hermit's beliefs is not his motive: if anything, he would be furious at Christianity for keeping him from achieving his intentions. However, even through the intensity of his anger (indeed, exacerbating the intensity of his anger), he also feels loss—as I'm sure, after the events of "Last Knight", he felt both anger at Nick for putting him such a situation as well as deep grief for his son's death. In part, then, the name is a commemoration of his friend.

Even more, though, I can see LaCroix wanting a permanent reminder. He castigated himself: he should have realized that the intensity of the hermit's devotions would preclude his returning as a vampire; he should have realized that the man would step through to the light; and so on. So, taking "The Cross" as his surname is not only a cross to bear, in the sense of bearing his grief for his friend (though it is that, too). It is also a reminder to take better heed in future before investing his emotion in a human, so that he won't be hurt again. A reminder to choose his future companions more wisely, choosing with an eye to their emotional state or beliefs, so that they will come back when he calls them. As we know, both Janette and Nick were susceptible; and clearly there were others as well, such as Tran and Francesca.

As for the "detached, omniscient perspective" on which you comment, it was chosen, along with the style of language, to give the impression of a legend from the distant past. For the same reason, I never name the hermit (who is not intended to be any actual historical figure), and leave LaCroix's name until quite late in the story.
greerwatsongreerwatson on January 1st, 2012 06:04 pm (UTC)
Like "The Cross", "A Dark and Stormy Night" is based on a plot bunny that has been lurking in the warren a while—though not quite as long as the hermit plot. It was Hurricane Katrina that reminded me of Hurricane Hazel; and I immediately matched it with the idea that one of the older characters had been a child at the time, with memories of the storm. When I came to write, I debated with myself whether I should make it Capt. Cohen; but the picture of her daughter on her desk suggested that Cohen would be too young to play such a role. Barbara, on the other hand, has an adult daughter, which would put her at just about the right age.

I was barely born when the hurricane hit; and, although I heard it mentioned as a child, I knew none of the details. So a lot of research was needed; and, as I wrote, I had to keep multiple tabs open to various pages on different sites as I checked, and checked, and checked again. What is perhaps less obvious (at least once one knows that the author is from Toronto) is that I had also to research the geography, and had Google Maps open as well. I've never lived in the west end of the city, and know very little about it. I'm not surprised you recognize the amount of research needed for the story, since you clearly do a great deal of research yourself for your own fan fiction.

I have always liked the characters from Season Three (while still enjoying those of previous seasons). I prefer to see them working as a coherent team, at least once Nick got used to his new partner and she got more experience in her new posting. I know that many people, especially those who didn't care for the casting changes, focus more on the negative synergy that culminated in the series finale. However, like the recipient, twilight2000, I prefer to act as though "Last Knight" never happened. (Well, as you know, I based the whole of FK4 on that very premise.) So it was easy for me to write teamfic and casefic, as her prompt suggested, in which the ensemble worked together well. Bearing in mind that we met Barbara late in Season Three and it was only then that Tracy realized that her mother was back in town, and adding the fact that hurricane season is in the fall, it pretty well follows that this story must take place in the autumn of 1996. By that time, Nick and Tracy have been partnered for over a year—and, somehow, "Last Knight" has been silently avoided.

One consequence of the research is, as you point out, that "the fidelity to reality seems almost to paralyze Nick in the flashbacks". This is partly a consequence of the way I began the sequence of flashback scenes. Realizing that the worst of the flooding was in the west end of the city, but that Nick would almost certainly have been living in the inner/central suburbs or downtown, I needed a way to get him out there. Perhaps it would have been better to have him simply hear of the floods on the radio and fly out to see what was going on. However, having already used "Forward into the Past" to get him back to Toronto after the Senate Committee hearing in "Spin Doctor", I worked Barrington Stanton Industries more deeply into the flashback by sending "Nicholas Fleming" out of town on his investigations so that he'd be returning around midnight from the west. This meant, though, that he was stuck in his car with no immediate knowledge of what was going on—not until he was stopped at multiple roadblocks and started to get annoyed. Certainly, once he did know how serious the floods were, he took to the air. However, it required a hefty proportion of the story to get him to that point.
greerwatsongreerwatson on January 1st, 2012 06:04 pm (UTC)
Of course, once he was airborne, I could have had him take a major role in multiple rescue efforts. As you say, though, that would diminish the heroism of the human beings who historically worked so hard under such dangerous conditions trying to save those in peril. I did have Nick try to save one man, only to lose him at the moment he turned to rescue him. Would it have been more satisfying for the reader to have Nick succeed in saving the man stuck in the tree? Perhaps—but I was more concerned to use the scene to show, not just the danger of the storm, but the force of the wind. I could then pick up on this again in the scene where little Barbara is saved. (It is, of course, quite possible that Nick then went on to save others—but, by that time, the story is over.)

I started the story with Natalie and Sydney (and I'm glad you liked that scene). Perhaps, given that the personal plot is actually Tracy's, I should have included an early scene with her, rather than introduce the Tracy-Barbara plot only when the victim's apartment is being searched. I have not yet put "A Dark and Stormy Night" on my website. Perhaps a revision or two is in order. I will need to think about this.

As far as the unsolved mystery is concerned...well, my sister (who beta'd the story) said the same thing. Or rather, she said that I needed to write a sequel, if I was not going to solve the crime in "A Dark and Stormy Night". It's a problem: the story is really about Hurricane Hazel. The murder mystery is just the matrix for the flashback—and, of course, the scenes with Barbara and her daughter, which are connected with the flashback. The whole story takes place over the course of a single evening; and most of the actual Forever Knight episodes take two or three days, as indicated by the stock footage of the setting or rising sun. I don't want the climax of "A Dark and Stormy Night" to be the dramatic take-down of a killer (in which respect, this is not at all like an episode of the show!); I want it to be Barbara's rescue, and the evolution of Tracy's relationship with her mother.

You know, I think I'm talking myself into revisiting the story to try to put in more Tracy at the start!

And, of course, I must spot those typos.