By Less Wrong
Status: Complete, Word Count: 80,500, Pairing: None, Genre: Drama/Humour
Summary: Chapters 23 – 37 of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality
Listen to the Audiobook, Narrated by Eneasz Brodski, Here: http://media.blubrry.com/hpmor/p/www.hpmorpodcast.com/wp-content/uploads/episodes/HPMoR_Part_2.m4b
Disclaimers: Although this fic was uploaded to ff.net under the name Less Wrong, the name of the author is Eliezer Yudkowsky, and I will be referring to him as Yudkowsky for the rest of this review. I should also make clear that the way I experienced this fic is through the official audiobook (linked above.) While this doesn’t change any of the actual text being discussed, it is very likely that an especially excellent voice, or an especially bad voice could colour my judgement on certain scenes and even overall characters. So if this review persuades you to either read or hold off on Legion of Chaos, do keep in mind that all of this is just my opinion, and this is just one instance where that becomes a bit more obvious and quantifiable than it normally would be.
Plot: The early chapters of Legion of Chaos are probably some of the worst in the entire fic so far. It picks up right where Methods of Rationality left off, with Draco and Harry performing experiments to try and prove or disprove blood purity, and we basically get five more chapters of that, except there’s even more endless exposition, even worse dialogue, even weirder characterization—culminating in a scene where Draco casts a torture curse on Harry’s hand and Harry’s just kinda chill with it—and it’s an absolute slog to get through. Fun fact, the first time I tried to read this fic, I dropped it in the middle of chapter 25, because I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. Now, you might think that this is all leading up to a scathing dunk on Legion of Chaos’ plot—just like what happened with Methods of Rationality—but that actually isn’t how this is going to go down.
You see, after these abysmal few chapters, the fic makes a very rapid, very sudden turnaround, and introduces the first major arc that Professor Quirrell is involved in: the simulated war arc. I don’t know if that’s actually its official name, but I’m sticking with it because this is my review, god dammit. So what happens, is Quirrell decides to split each year of Hogwarts into three “armies”, and he selects three people from each year to be the armies’ generals. Then, he schedules times and locations in which the three armies will go to war, and gives the armies time to prepare and formulate strategies. Instead of aiming to kill each other, he equips everyone with a spell—”somnium”—which puts the target into a magical sleep when hit, and that’s all there is in terms of rules. People go undercover into other armies, there are double agents and traitors, and….it is so very clear to me that Yudkowsky had a fucking blast writing this arc. Quirrell makes Harry, Hermione, and Draco the generals of their year’s three armies, and chaos ensues. This entire arc is jam packed with jokes, light hearted and goofy scenes, and is one of the purest examples of a writer coming into their own while having an absolute blast that I’ve ever seen. Harry’s army names themselves the Chaos Legion, and he creates an evil lair for himself, in which he does his absolute best to emulate Emperor Palpatine, and he makes his army’s battle cry The Imperial March, but that’s not really the important thing. Like sure, that all makes for a very pleasant read, but what really sold me on this entire arc is how perfectly balanced and evenly matched Yudkowsky made the three armies. Like, I’ve seen a lot of people say that Harry in MoR suffers from Specialest Special-Boy Protagonist Syndrome, and while I get why they think that, I don’t think any fair reading of this arc could give off that impression. In fact, I think what is most brilliant about this arc is that Yudkowsky manages to capture an actual, tangible sense of tension and balances it perfectly with the light-hearted, quippy tone the arc has overall. It just keeps building and building, and all three teams create interesting strategies that sometimes work and sometimes fail, and it’s just the most perfect version of eleven year olds trying to be clever and plotting against each other that I’ve ever come across. You all know that I’m unafraid to criticize MoR and call it out for the stupid shit that it does, but honestly, the majority of this arc has a lightning-in-a-bottle feeling to it that makes it an absolute blast to read. Honestly, if it wasn’t for those first few chapters, this section might be in the running for a 10/10, but as it is, I can safely say that this fic’s plot belongs in the top tier.
Characterization: So just like with the plot, Legion of Chaos does, unfortunately, have to deal with all the issues from the end of Methods of Rationality, but once that shit is out of the way, it also picks up. So….let’s just get a few quick things out of the way. Ron still annoys the fuck out of me whenever he shows up, which isn’t often, but it’s still worth mentioning. I think that’s mostly because the audiobook people decided to give him the stupidest sounding voice I’ve ever heard, but….whatever, he shows up, like, twice. Also, Quirrell and Dumbledore are still both awesome. They are consistent strong points in the fic that I can rely on to be good, even when everything else is shit. But now, let’s talk about the interesting stuff. Neville’s arc in this section actually progresses very nicely. He has this great little arc where he helps Harry stop some bullies, and then he gets some very nice moments to shine throughout the battle scenes. It’s some well done character work, and of the many, many “Neville finds his confidence” arcs I’ve read, it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Beyond that, I think that Harry is, generally speaking, better in Legions of Chaos than he is in Methods of Rationality. With one exception (which I’ll get to in the Tone section), there isn’t anything in the simulated war arc with Harry’s character that really annoys me. Does he still exposition about random philosophies and scientific principles? Yes he does. However, I generally feel like Yudkowsky makes much more of an effort in this section to make these exposition dumps fit in with the story, and have some plot relevance, and you know what? When he does that, they’re honestly bearable. And just to be clear, I am not discussing whether Yudkowsky gets these philosophies correct or not, nor am I weighing either their actual moral worth or whether his real life opinions on their moral worth are accurate. I am looking at them solely from a storytelling perspective, and they work within the confines of the story. So yeah, overall, I think Harry is quite good in this section. His over-the-top caricature he creates of himself to lead the Chaos Legion is hella fun to read about, and I love that while his schemes are undeniably brilliant, they are both very low stakes as well as very clearly fallible. If Harry won a single one of the battles in this section, it’d be a completely different story, but the fact that he loses makes the entire thing click.
Now what really impressed me with the characterization in this section is that I suddenly really like both Draco and Hermione. Now to be clear, I am not saying that I think the development they went through in Methods of Rationality makes sense, nor am I arguing that their characters in the war arcs are natural progressions of their arcs up until that point. However, about a fourth of the way through this section, both of their characters flip on a dime and become completely different people compared to who they were before, and I very much like these two new characters. Keep in mind that I do hold this sudden flip against MoR as a whole, but in the context of this section, I like what is done with them, and watching Hermione and Draco slowly realize that they must overcome their differences and work together or else Harry Potter will kick their asses in Quirrell’s little war games is genuinely really satisfying. I honestly wish more fics did stuff like this to kick Draco onto the path of redemption, because it’s a very eleven year old thing for him to be driven by a simple desire to beat one of his friends, and I think his gradual character change is very believable. As for Hermione, she’s just another fun character. I love the Sunshine Regiment and everything that goes with it, and I love that Hermione actually wins one of the battles, because I wasn’t expecting that and it shows that Yudkowsky actually does have some idea how to competently write Hermione. So overall, I think this section’s characterization is, on average, great tier material. Another big step up from Methods of Rationality.
Dialogue and Tone: Let’s get one thing out of the way. There is a single scene in this section that I fucking despise, because it’s one of the few instances where I understand the criticism that MoR is contemptuous of canon. In this scene, Quirrell rants to Harry about how a sixth year Gryffindor tested an unknown spell, that he knew was meant for enemies, on his Slytherin rival, and almost killed him. Quirrell and Harry lament on the stupidity involved in doing such a thing, and they move on. For the people in the back not paying attention, this is an obvious nod to the Sectumsempra scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. This is one of several little nods to future canon events that exist in MoR, and this is probably the one that angers me the most, because it really does feel like Yudkowsky pointing out that someone in canon acted irrationally, and smugly jacking himself off for noticing, while missing the obvious fact that that’s the point of the scene. But besides that—and the absolute catastrophe that is the first few chapters of this section—I think that both the dialogue and tone of this section are perfect. Throughout HJPEVLC, Yudkowsky strikes this perfect balance between tension and levity that really make reading the simulated war arc an absolute blast. Beyond that, the dialogue is really fun and inventive. Watching these three eleven year olds hamming it up and trying to be these serious war generals, while Harry is quoting Star Wars and acting like Darth Vader, and Draco is acting like a mini-Lord Voldemort, and Hermione is doing…..Hermione things is just insanely entertaining, and I honestly couldn’t stop myself from smiling throughout a lot of this arc. While it unfortunately does have some stuff dragging it down, when it’s at its best, HJPEVLC’s tone and dialogue are crusade-worthy, which means that the…..less good stuff only drags it down to high great tier overall.
Action: Finally, I can talk about something that’s just unequivocally good. The only action in this section is the simulated battles, and for all of the reasons I’ve mentioned above, it’s fantastic. Easily some top tier stuff, and one MoR’s highest highs so far.
Writing Mechanics: The general mechanics are fine, but I do want to mention that the pacing in this section is superb. It’s only 80,000 words, and this is a perfect example of less being more, because there’s always this sense of forward momentum, and nothing lingers for more than it should. Great stuff all around.
Overall: Despite starting at something of an all time low and having a few dumb moments throughout, Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres and the Legion of Chaos is an excellent step up from Methods of Rationality. Many of the things I disliked about the first section are much less prominent here, and it even successfully makes something interesting and fun out of previously annoying characters like Draco and Hermione.
Final Thoughts: I really like this section of MoR, and it’s really the first section I’d point to as an example of one of MoR’s unequivocal highs. Well done Yudkowsky, you successfully wrote a great arc.
Tier: Great Tier
Written on 07/20/2021