I decided that this story is so different from the usual Zero no Tsukaima/Familiar of Zero fare that it deserves a full review of its own.
Loopholes by DschingisKhan
The basic plot is that Louise summons Tabitha from across the field (after she summons Sylphid, though that’s not really emphasized much) instead of Saito from another world.
Naturally, this throws the canon dynamic completely out the window even before Kirche invites herself into the group and it’s the feel and focus that makes this story so noteworthy. It focuses a lot on the characters’ thoughts and emotions.
For example, when the tone swings light, like the the time Kirche grabs the suspicious cloaked figure coming to Louise’s room, only to discover she’s just molested the princess, the overall dynamic actually feels like what I might come up with if I were to try to take the feel I enjoyed in harem romantic comedy anime like Ai Yori Aoshi and then stir in a liberal dose of what I’ve seen in shoujo manga. A lot more focus on their thoughts and feelings and minimal tacky fanservice-y stuff aside from Kirche occasionally being too Kirche. With no male protagonist, there’s instead hints at a possible future intent to blur the line between friendship and romantic interest between multiple female characters.
When the tone swings more serious, we get to see Kirche showing her more serious, more competent side… and her emotional baggage. Not for too long at a time, of course. Kirche wouldn’t be Kirche otherwise.
With her familiar being female, a fellow noble and mage, and not someone who irritates her, Louise has little provocation to act her canonical tsundere self and, combined with the amount of focus spent on seeing things from her perspective, I actually spent the first couple of chapters double-checking that she was sufficiently in-character because it’s such a departure from the norm.
That said, It does feel like there’s room for improvement in the writing style at the beginning. There were parts that felt like they were missing something they needed to connect. Given other evidence, like the short length of the early chapters and one of the examples I was able to put my finger on, I think it’s that the writing style was too brief and didn’t have enough flow.
On a couple of occasions when I’d stayed up late reading, I found the process grinding to a halt. I’d slipped into skim-reading, and the style made it too easy to miss an important detail which completely changed the mental picture for the following few pages.
For example, in chapter 6, in the “under ordinary circumstances” sequence, I somehow missed the fact that Tabitha had whistled for Sylphid and taken Louise airborne and didn’t realize something didn’t match up until a whole screenful of text later, at which point my befuddled mind had to read backwards up the page to figure out what I missed. It’s very rare that I run into something where the implications of such a major change don’t flow into the prose after, providing a supporting cue that I was about to skim over something very consequential to the mental imagery.
I’m still not sure about the later chapters to be honest. It’s just such an alien feeling to see Louise knuckling down and being that reliably serious and competent.
That aside, once it gets over its teething problems, it’s a very pleasing read and I like how it takes proper advantage of the opportunity to address canon events differently. For example, with Tabitha managing to get Fouquet/Mathilda’s story out of her, recognizing a kindred soul, and insisting that she come back with them so they can try to help her… which then flows into a very significant divergence from how canon events unfold.
Overall, it’s definitely worth a read and I’ll give it a tentative 4.5 out of 5 despite its flaws. Given how significant a divergence from canon and shift in tone it makes so close to the end of the chapters which have been written, I don’t yet have enough information on the author’s strengths and weaknesses to guess whether it’ll maintain that rating going forward.
Fanfiction – Loopholes by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.