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Should We Make a Pact That I Won’t Make Any Puns In This Title? Wait, No, I’ve Made a Terrible–

By Billy Higgins Peery, author of A Bad Idea

Jul 11, 2015: Pact. Pact, Pact, Pact. Paaaaaact.

Before I start, I’d just like to say that I enjoyed Pact. Wildbow’s a great writer and over the span of a heckuva lot of words, he entertained me. This particular review has some negativity (more than I expected when I started it, tbh), but I just want to give an accurate appraisal of what a new reader would be getting into. Because there are many joys to be found in Pact, but the serial is not without its flaws.

At its core, Pact is termite art. That’s a film theory term which essentially means that it focuses on one thing—in this case conflict—and goes for broke with it, to the detriment of everything else.

There’s a lot to love about termite art. It’s rarely arrogant, and really tends to deliver on that one thing. Still, with the many hundreds of thousands of words that compose Pact, the conflicts get old.

Unfortunately, Pact doesn’t have the characterization to balance the conflict. Blake is interesting in his way, but not interesting enough to sustain the narrative.

There are, of course, some characters who shine (I agree with G. S. Williams that Peter and Mags are great. I’d also like to add to that list Alister, Jeremy, Johannes, Roxanne, and Fell), but we don’t get to spend enough time with any of them. And most are introduced during the second half of the serial, which, as I’ll explain in a moment, is the stronger half.

I think the interludes are a big problem. They’re one of the keys to Wildbow’s writings—one of the biggest of his many strengths as a writer—but here they end up not giving us the varying perspectives that we need. It’s interesting to watch him experiment with the form, but in a serial where many characters aren’t well-developed, stronger interludes would have helped.

This obviously isn’t to say Pact doesn’t have its merits. In particular, I’m surprised that no one’s mentioned how well it works as a metaphor for homelessness (land has to be claimed magically in order for a magical practitioner to have much power, most families help their children get that power, Blake doesn’t get the proper support, everyone treats him like a monster, etc.)

Still, most of that criticism lies with the first half of the serial. During the second, things get a lot better. If you’re somebody looking to understand narrative structure, Pact is a great case study. On the one hand, you can see the bits where the structure falters—all the excess characters and conflicts and plot elements which sort of gum up the engines.

On the other hand, you can see what is to my mind one of the best halfway points ever written in the web serial world. It explains away a number of the flaws in the first half, makes sense as a huge twist, and sends the conflict rattling towards a conclusion. We still had to read the first half, but at the very least it looks better in retrospect.

Despite my criticisms of the overall picture, the devil’s in the details, as this groan-worthy pun is pointing out (Wildbow made the same pun in the site tagline don’t judge me). Pact gets a lot of the details right. While some of the big picture stuff could’ve used a little work, the journey was still worth it. For that reason, I’m giving it four and a half stars.

Note: The fact that the tag "hackers" is applied here is interesting. It makes me suspect that at least one of the characters was supposed to have a lot more screen time, but she doesn’t get it. So, if you’re looking for hackers, sorry. You’re probably going to be disappointed.

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