Status: Complete, Word Count: 428,000, Pairing: Spoiler, Genre: Adventure/Romance
Summary: “When the dementor attack presents Harry with an opportunity to begin to fight back he gladly sets himself on the path to have a hand in his future. But as time goes on, it’s clear that not all is the same as it once was. Why has his scar stopped hurting? What are these seemingly random objects he’s drawn to? How deep does the connection between him and Voldemort truly run? Post GoF”
Read the Fic Here: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9720211/1/The-Merging
My Thoughts: The Merging is a story of highs and lows, and very little in the middle. There are points in the story that are executed to perfection, and have true emotional resonance, there are tense, exciting action sequences, and there are character arcs both original and intriguing. In between all of that, however, there are slogs upon slogs of a meandering nothingness, oddly placed canon rehash, prose of the utmost mediocrity (and often veering into the territory of plain bad), and enough bloat to make even Harry Crow raise an eyebrow. So today, I’d like to unpack and pick apart the entertaining mess that is The Merging.
Shaydrall has stated before that his intent with The Merging was to write an Indy (or Independent) Harry story that avoided the tropes, cliches, and power-fantasy aspects that usually dominate that genre. Another way to think of this is that he wanted to write a goal-driven, powerful, proactive main character, but didn’t want to give him a harem, or bash Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, and the Order to make him proactive, or make Harry a magic god, or make Voldemort a pathetic, easy-to-kill worm. That is a goal that I can get behind, as I agree with him that there’s a fundamental nugget at the heart of the Indy!Harry bullshit that’s interesting and worth exploring, and I think he did a pretty good job telling an Indy!Harry story with some creativity and nuance to it. There are very few important characters who lack depth, the fic is fucking brimming with creative ideas, and many of the trope subversions are very clever. (I particularly appreciated the subplot with Stella, Merlin, and the Room of Requirement. Outside of the interludes, that stuff is really where this fic shines for me).
However, this is also where The Merging runs into its first big problem, which derives from a combination of poor pacing, bloated prose, and the sheer number of things that this fic tries to do. I just mentioned the number of ideas Shaydrall manages to work into the story in a positive light, but the fact is that he writes with such a bloated writing style — and did such a poor job pacing the first leg of the story — that he seldom has time to flesh any of them out. I mean, some of them are, such as the Room of Requirement subplot that I mentioned earlier, or Narcissa’s arc, or Harry’s whole arc with the horcruxes, but some of them really, really aren’t. For example, Tonks is a major character in this story, and her interaction with Harry is focused on for a long, long time, but it’s also never exactly fleshed out either. Which is an enormous shame, because there’s a ton to unpack there, and I got the feeling that Shaydrall really wanted to dive into it. It’s just that he never had the time, because he was too busy setting up dozens upon dozens of other story threads, many of which never come to satisfying conclusions.
But honestly, what bothers me most about this is that 400k words should have been enough to juggle everything going on, and tie it together into a satisfying conclusion. This fic could have been a pinnacle of fanfiction epic storytelling, if only the prose had been tighter. If there’d been less writing bloat, but the word count stayed relatively the same, and every cut word and scene was repurposed into things that have more purpose and cohesion, then I think this might have been able to work. Although with that being said, it would still suffer from the poor pacing of the first 18 or so chapters.
See, The Merging is a story that takes developing its characters quite seriously, and in a vacuum, I think it does a very good job. The characterizations feel dynamic and fluid, they go through setbacks, it’s not all linear, and yet a lot of this comes at the expense of plot. Shaydrall basically dedicates the first half of the story to pure character development and lets the plot meander for this time, and the result is that, by the time the action picks up, it isn’t quite able to recapture my interest. I think this could have been fixed by putting a bit more of the horcrux-centric action in the first bit, and running it parallel to Harry’s initial development. Not only could it have allowed the story to maintain a brisk pace in the second half, but it would have provided some much needed initial excitement to properly drag the reader in.
This brings us to this story’s final flaw: its ambition. As I mentioned earlier, Shaydrall tries to do an absolutely obscene number of things in this story, and while many of them are interesting (the founders’ portraits, Harry’s relationship with Tonks, Daphne Greengrass, Merlin, his connection with the horcruxes, Dumbledore, the Room of Requirement), there just isn’t time. One story shouldn’t be the home of every good idea an author ever has, and by trying to do too much, Shaydrall ensures that not enough of his ideas execute into the story to make it continually engaging to read.
That isn’t to say that I don’t like parts of this fic, because I definitely do. Narcissa growing to love Harry like a son is both inspired and something I’ve never seen done before (without some serious OOC characterization for them both), Harry learning magic from Dumbledore has never been more fun, the Room of Requirement is awesome in this fic, and not in the normal over-powered boring way, and Harry’s character growth is very, very strong. It’s just….not really enough to save it.
One final thing I’d like to touch on is the pair of Interludes that this story has. Neither are particularly plot-relevant, but I am very happy they were included, as they were the best part of the fic for me. A series of short stories, that chronicle Harry dimension hops into a world in which Neville is the Boy-Who-Lived and his parents are alive, and really demonstrate the potential that Shaydrall has as an author. These interludes are emotionally touching, they are deeply engaging to read, and they feature the best characterization and the best prose writing that this fic has to offer. These interludes alone make the damn thing worth reading, even if they only make up about 30k words of the story.
Finally, I’d like to do a rapid-fire list of some other things this fic does right. Snape is awesome, Ron and Hermione are both fleshed out, Tracey Davis is a super fun character, Draco is a fun villain for a couple chapters, Voldemort feels like a genuine threat, Lucius Malfoy’s death is a great character moment for all involved, Bellatrix is written extremely well, and Sirius is fun.
While this fic does a lot wrong, and can be a genuine slog to get through at times, I’m glad I read it. I don’t see myself ever coming back to it under any circumstances, and I think the flaws outnumber the positives by just a bit, the highs are truly high, and some might find that makes it worth the read. As for me, I’m going to slap a big fat “meh” onto it, and move onto something (hopefully) better.
Tier: Average Tier
Written on 02/11/2022