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Fanfic Book Club Week 3: Harry Potter and the Forests of Valbonë by enembee

Discussion in 'DLP & Chill' started by BTT, Oct 6, 2018.

  1. BTT

    BTT Headmaster

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    For the third edition of the book club, we'll be reading Harry Potter and the Forests of Valbonë by our very own @enembee . The usual quick data: 49 chapters on FFN (more in WBA), consisting of 115k words. It started in August 2011 and was completed in November of 2013. Its DLP rating is 4.29.

    The usual discussion questions:
    • This story's divergence starts in CoS, where Harry departs quite unexpectedly from Hogwarts and lands in the titular forests of Valbonë. How do you feel about this divergence? If you were the one who wrote the story, would you change anything about this particular point?
    • This story features several unlikely companions for Harry: the Sorting Hat and the Weasley's car, among others. None of these are exactly human. How do you feel about these companions, their personalities, their influence on the story?
    • As stated by the title, in this story the forests of Valbonë play a huge role. How do you feel about these forests? Do they feel sufficiently remote and "forest-like"? Do the forests square with canon?
    • The story also features significant new information expanding on what we know of canon magic, mostly about enchanting. How do you feel about this new info? Does it make sense within the story, and does it make sense with regards to canon?
     
  2. enembee

    enembee The Nicromancer Prestige DLP Supporter

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    Cool :) Thanks all. As Newcomb before me; I'm happy to answer questions on this. The sequel is currently in progress (30k in 2 weeks) over in WbA.

    As I promised Zombie I would, I'm going to go ahead and post the final chapter of this to FFNet.

    Extra bit of trivia: This is by a considerable margin my most reviewed work on FFN and my lowest rated longfic submitted to DLP.
     
  3. Newcomb

    Newcomb Headmaster

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    Good timing, as this was next on my list of things to catch up on.

    I'm just barely starting out - think I'm on chapter 4 or 5 - but one question I had for enembee right away: was the short chapter length a conscious decision? How did you manage to prevent chapter bloat? Did it take excessive planning to find that many beats to end a chapter on, or did you start thinking of "what is a chapter" in a new way? Basically, just curious about your approach to the short chapter length.
     
  4. enembee

    enembee The Nicromancer Prestige DLP Supporter

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    It was purely a decision based upon what I could feasibly write every day on a consistent basis. It did take a little bit of planning, and you can definitely see where I fucked up from time to time. From a metric standpoint: all but 3 chapters are between 1800 and 2500 words and generally consist of one scene, or a number of thematically/topically consistent scenes. There's also definitely a 'super-structure' of chapters (generally between 2 & 4 with a mini-arc to them) because I'd always intended to go back and combine them into denser chapters when I was done.

    In reflection though, I actually like the short chapters. They remind me of storybook chapters (ala The Hobbit), where you might read one a night before bed when you were a kid, which is definitely an aesthetic that I ultimately think suits the story.
     
  5. Typhon

    Typhon Unspeakable

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    Welp, that's my excuse shot. Looks like you're finally getting that full Valbonë series review from me.

    Besides BTTs standard fanfic bookclub questions, is there anything particular that you'd like opinions on NMB?
     
  6. enembee

    enembee The Nicromancer Prestige DLP Supporter

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    Gotcha eventually.

    Good point, I actually have two questions for anyone who cares to answer:
    1. The prologue is a notable departure from the style/tone of the rest of the story. Is this off-putting/out of place enough to warrant a rewrite?
    2. There is a significant and deliberate change in focus/direction/tone at about the midpoint of the story. Does this detract significantly from the work as a whole?
     
  7. Newcomb

    Newcomb Headmaster

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    Might want to revise my answer once I get further along, but I'd say, tentatively: off-putting, no, out of place, maybe.

    I had no real expectations going in, other than the summary and title, and the first chapter made me feel like I was in for some kind of Unfound Door-style "wild magic more magical than canon" piece. As in, a story that takes HP magic and posits a deep magic / fey magic / Other magic on top of it, usually categorically "better" but always somewhat uncanny. And from the first few chapters with the car and the hat and Harry leaning about bindings and such, it's actually feeling a lot more like a fic that takes HP magic and adds on to it, bolsters it, reinforces it.

    Neither one is better or worse than the other, but it definitely leaves a bit of a "huh?" feeling around chapter 3-4 when the intro chapter's tone of "uncanny/wild magic" is pretty soundly dropped in favor of "canon+".
     
  8. Quiddity

    Quiddity Unspeakable

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    Just to clarify: we have more than a week, right?
     
  9. ScottPress

    ScottPress The Horny Sovereign Prestige

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    I'm about to finish my WYLB reread @enembee, don't report yet plz
     
  10. enembee

    enembee The Nicromancer Prestige DLP Supporter

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    I've been playing it safe and just reported every post you've made for the last week.
     
  11. Quiddity

    Quiddity Unspeakable

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    Finished this, speeding through the last half.

    This story is very surprising to me. I thought it was basically a HP version of Hatchet, because I stopped at about 11 chapters in a year or two ago, and some of the ANs presenting it as a break from other works. I was mildly enjoying the dynamic, but not expecting much more than a long slow story of surviving in the wilderness and growing both in magic and as a person.

    Which is clearly not what this is.

    The story comparison I'm struck by, oddly enough, is Renegade Cause. Now, that is a sprawling, messy epic, and this - despite it's narrative motion - is very much not that, with the focus remaining tightly upon Harry. I think the comparison arises mostly from those last two chapters, and the feeling they leave you with. Harry's horcrux is an obvious reveal, but the Gryffindor addition is an interesting and surprising twist that operates to recast much of what felt like asspulls earlier (acceptable levels of suspension-of-disbelief, but conscious ones). As with RC, we're led to and along the premise - Sternley, Harry's magical/physical/personal progression - effectively, and it is later justified in retrospect.

    However. I'm not so sure that I do in fact accept that. Whilst the escalation in fighting skills, and magic is carefully plotted out, it's still too much, enough that I was consciously noting and ignoring my disbelief at many moments. The mutating magic was the primary magical aspect, but the fight scenes and physical feats achieved alongside significant injuries - even accounting for Wizarding durability - got a bit ludicrous. And that's even if we include the final reveals.

    I don't think there's a remedy for this whilst still telling the story you want to tell. He's a 12 year old boy, at the end of the day. And you're aware of that, and were clearly trying to do your utmost to create allowances - elements of surprise, Gryffindor, Sternley, etc. - but it's just not enough for me. I can enjoy it despite this, but it's still there.


    Sternley is a fun character with a very clear voice that's established quickly and maintained. Mad props.

    I'm not a fan of the Voldemort sequence. It happens too fast, with very little warning, and the fight scene is the most ridiculous (despite being very impressive and gripping). Whilst the moral component is handled well, I really feel that's the exception, rather than the rule. Harry kills and kills and kills in this fic, and I really don't think it has the weight it needs,, or is dwelt on properly. You make noises towards this early on - especially with the Oiks - but it's kinda dropped, imo. The Vorcerr aspect particularly seemed...callous? Barbaric? (Again, especially whenever you step back and think of Harry in the light of his age.) And not in a way that was earned - yes, he's been through a lot of trauma and shit, but we haven't watched at affect him to the level where that action would be followed.

    (Again, Gryffindor can be used to hand-wave. But even in retrospect it doesn't feel enough.)

    The political aspect near the end seems too rushed. In general, the end seems to come out of nowhere. It makes no sense, but you're in a space where you expect him to go lead the charge. But certainly, the final sequences aren't structured in a way that feels conclusory. I suppose I should read the sequel to find out.

    The chapter structure was nice, but it did feel like it limited it in some ways. It gave it a very specific feel, which I liked, but I'm not sure how to articulate. I definitely wouldn't recommend joining them together.


    I'm being too critical. I really liked it, and am glad this made me read it. The fights are really good (but unbelievable). The escalation was generally well handled, which is impressive for its transformation.

    4/5


    I need to reread the prologue and get back to you on it.

    Interesting. Is this what I described earlier re: Hatchet-esque to something very different? I say interesting because in retrospect I see this trajectory changing with the first Oik fight, which seems to come out of nowhere, and is earlier than that.

    I would say that it's a mixed bag. The highs are high, the lows are lower. The earlier version I thought this was going to be has a mild pleasantness to it, a sort of idyllic, lazy enjoyment. It ain't trying to be much, but it's doing what it's doing well. As it goes on, it bites off a heck of a lot more, with some great scenes/elements, and some clunky and problematic scenes/elements.
     
  12. Newcomb

    Newcomb Headmaster

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    I’m getting into the “magical epiphany” stuff just before the wolf battle and a bit after it - like the description of the spell to dig the graves - (and yes I know I’m reading this incredibly slowly, I’m just super RL busy right now) and it hooked me and also made me really happy I’m only reading this now because otherwise I’d feel like I ripped you off for WYLB.

    Super fascinating how we came to a pretty specific similar mental map of how magic works.
     
  13. Zombie

    Zombie John Waynes Teeth Prestige DLP Supporter

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    I would say, in the entire first book, the canon divergence is the most jarring. I don't think there is a really easy way to handle it. Like a lot of stories from that time frame, a CoS divergence is actually pretty common, what this story has over other stories is the brevity in the details. Instead of any kind of build up, we're thrown point black into it, and then we see Harry running away. While the brevity lends itself to the mobility of the story, I think you could flesh this out and it wouldn't impact the story all that much.

    I have three four five clear breaks in my mind in regards to this fic:

    The beginning where Snape is an absolute piece of shit.
    The next break would be where Harry starts learning magic from Sternly, and the wolves.
    The third bit would be the climbing of the mountain, and meeting that weird creature(s) that I've forgotten the name of at this point.
    Voldemort
    The war

    Each section of the story, as it were, is compartmentalized with an idea, I think, and if I look back at the beginning where the divergence happens, I would say that its consistent with the feel of the entire story. There is an underlying sense of mobility that when I first read this as it was updating, that I missed, but having the full picture in front of me, its there.

    The objects that Harry interacts with is secondary to the entire story, I think. Sure, Sternly plays a large role in shaping Harry into what he's eventually turns into, I still think that it was handled with a deft hand. The only other story I could compare it to would be Jberns, and there are two distinct differences here:

    Sternly is actually helpful.
    He teaches Harry, and doesn't have a shitty attitude.

    The Car is nothing. While it plays a huge role in his escape from the forest, there isn't much personality there for me to bite into. I think the most interesting aspect of the car was when Harry is learning about binds and he discovers the bit of magic that's giving it its sentience. I remember wondering about that myself, longer after I read it and trying to think what motivations Arthur would have in creating something like that.

    I think Sternly is nicely executed, his knowledge dropping is tempered with the fact that he withholds more than he tells, which is made apparent later in the story. He also forces Harry to learn things. I like how organic the learning turned out because its less about Harry's struggle (which is a thing) and more about his successes and how he can use them to benefit himself.

    I don't know if anyone else has ever read Hatchet. I'm gonna assume a fuck ton of you have, but its like the pivitol YA Coming of Age, Survival story about a young boy named Brain. Brain's parent's are getting a divorce, he's going to see his father, somewhere up north. The pilot of his charter plane has a heart attack and dies and crashes the plane in the middle of the woods and then the rest of the story is all about Brian surviving, celebrating his successes, and learning from his failures, but over all coming out of the forest a different person.

    I see that in this story. His departure from the castle is his heartattack plane crash.

    His successes would be his abilities with magic where as Brain it was fire, getting the spare rations off the plane, and the first snare trap he ever made.

    His failures are the fact that the reason he's in this whole predicament, running away, Snape being an absolute shit, and the wolves and starting shit with the Goblins. Brians failures was the first time he had to kill an animal, the time he ate the "choke cherries" off the tree and got the shits and nearly died, the time he fell into the frozen pond trying to get the radio and nearly died of hypothermia.

    While two different stories, those elements are clear here.

    There is an immensity to the forest that people usually have a hard time conveying. Like, even with all I know about canon, the idea of the "Forbidden Forest" still warps my mind. I find myself thinking "Well, is it just a narrow band around the castle grounds, or does it sprawl? Where does it meet muggle populations? How does no one else not know of this forest?

    With Valbone, I'm given the idea that its contained, that it exist in a way separate from the Forbidden Forest, but at the same time, shares many of the same elements. Creatures, dangers, old, large and expansive without outright saying its large and expansive.

    I think Enembee at some point described the forest as a type of reserve, I might be wrong, I'm doing this too early in the morning to think clearly, but in my mind that separates it even more from a canon like forest because the forest around the castle isn't a reserve, protected or otherwise.

    But, at the same time, while it feels separate from canon, I feel like it meshes well. Its an extension of lore that we take for granted. The evolution of the Goblin story line is well thought out and seems to make sense with the larger scheme of things, and the fact that their domain is the forest itself, also feels right.

    I will be honest, pre-wolves, I felt this looming sense of doom in regards to Harry's time in the forest I knew without a doubt that his time spent there was going to be fraught with danger. There were many enjoyable aspects from it that I wish I could have seen more. If this had been a Harry stuck in the forest and he has to learn how to live again, I'd have read it no matter what. His interactions with the fae in the forest by the river, his primal victory over the wolves, his successes with "old magic" that Sternly was teaching him was all fan-fucking-tastic. I could read sooooo much more of that.

    I would say my dissatisfaction lies entirely with the goblins, and the Voldemort reveal.

    I felt like the Voldemort bit could be removed entirely, although it makes sense, since during that time frame he's rumored to have been in those forest. So, I'm kinda of two minds with this. I like it in the sense that I really liked Harry fucking Lucius up, and getting a W on Voldemort in a sense, even though it cost him his hand.

    The thing with the goblins is that while I feel like its logical, yes he's an intruder in their domain, the fall out feels like an exercise in futility. Both with the Romanian ministry, and the Goblins. I feel like the British Ministry and the ICW fallout was kind of beside the point, and I liked some elements of that, but just not the whole picture.

    It could be that there is a muddling of ideas there, which if streamlined could be a bit better executed.

    The only thing about that is if you kept the elements that I liked and changed a few other things around, I don't know if the outcome would be quite the same, or if it would be worth it. Even though I said I was dissatisfied, I still liked this story quite well.

    The prologue is the weirdest bit of the entire fic. There are a lot of elements there that are not immediately legible on a second read. There's the fact that Snape's an absolute asshat, the dancing with Luna, the stealing of the hat and sword, and then him being taken from the grounds with the car. I feel like there is something there you were trying to convey, but you didn't quite hit the mark, but ultimately you were able to salvage it. It doesn't detract so much as leave a few unanswered questions. One, why did the car take him to the forest. I feel like you were trying to hint at why later when they were reconstructing it, but that largely fell flat and didn't go where I thought it would.

    Two, why did Harry feel the need to take the artifacts of the founders, and to abscond with them from the castle grounds in the car. I don't know if maybe the car read his intent and just took him far away (albania is a bit weird any way) or if there was some clear motivations here that I'm just not getting.

    Should you rewrite it? Yes and No. For legibility sake, I'd say go for it. You could clean that bit up and make it fit with the rest of the story, the beginning of this is distinct enough that it conflicts with the rest of the story. The reason I say this is because the point in which he leaves the castle and the point he wakes up in the forest, this is two different stories. I feel like one is a story of desperation, escape from obligations, imprisonment, and the other is discovery of a new world, surviving, freedom, understanding of self.

    So if you were looking for contrasts when you wrote it, I'd say you were bang on and you don't need to rewrite it.

    But if you were not looking for those things, then I 'd say rewrite it to make it more in line with one aspect or another. There are too many things that go unanswered. There was no fallout from Harry taking the sword and leaving the grounds both in this story when he makes it back to civilization, or in your later story (which is another topic of discussion) that I feel you've left unattended for a reason, but I think you should explore it. The major repercussions for Harry's actions at this point is that he's responsible for a war that he's started and he feels obliged to settle it. But I think that Dumbledore was a lot more congenial towards Harry, and I think that Snape's animosity which was at a high 11 there, is not carried throughout in later interactions, and I don't quite know why.


    I would say the deliberate change in focus would be the hero's quest given to Harry by the eagle dude. Its the only thing that stands out to me as distinctly different, because without that things machinations (plus the breaking of the sword) Harry would have never engaged with the Goblins and the war never would have been started, and we wouldn't be where we're at now. I think the tone is somewhat consistent, the only thing that strikes weirdly with me is when Harry's making his dash from the forest and he's all YEEEE HAWW GIVE'EM HELL BOYS with the aurors as they're trying to capture him. That was a weird thing to me and felt like an acid trip gone strange, but not wrong.

    I guess it was trying to show Harry's evolution of self to an extent, but I felt like that moment didn't really fit in too well with the overall character that you established for Harry.

    So, I could be entirely wrong on the shift you're talking about, if you want to be more specific, I'll be happy to answer that. I think this is a great story, while its got some weaker parts to it, overall, its the most intact story I've read, ever, in conveying certain ideas and then delivering on them without getting lost in the small details. Like I said, I could read a hundred chapters of just survival, that kind of stuff is interesting for me in a way that most other ideas are not. I've been trying to think what I want to write on this, and spent a lot of time writing and rewriting my review.

    I feel like maybe I didn't go into detail enough on certain things, but ultimately this is what I've settled with. Valbone deserves its place in the library. For those that haven't read it, give it a chance, I think you're going to find some element that you can identify with, and that's whats important here. Its that for all readers, there are things here that everyone can get with and like about it, and very few faults I could rightly identify.

    4.5/5 Because I enjoyed this story. I remember all the times I gave Enembee hell for writing it and not BTDL or CS, and how I'd never read it until he'd stopped updating all together and how it just made me want more of the story. Which we're getting that with Vaults. So, I'm super pumped.
     
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