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Persistence in the face of an unhappy ending
If one emotion underlined Sozin's Bay, it would be bittersweetness. All the characters, including Mai and Zuko, are very upfront with the fact they'd never be able to carry on a substantive relationship. Zuko was banished forever. Mai will never be allowed to join him in exile, and if she tried the consequences would be bad for everyone involved. There's no hope of a happy ending to their situation.

Despite that, Zuko and Mai don't give into despair, and it's their resistance to the inevitable that sets Sozin's Bay apart from most shipping fics. We readers may know the ultimate outcome to their story, but the characters don't at all. It's fascinating to watch them try to make the best of their bad life situation in turns that are both mature and childish (they are still teenagers, after all, and haven't really experienced the war yet).
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A really rare kind of fanfic
This is a really original, well-thought-out, delightfully cuddly fic that's very refreshing in its uniqueness. It's got a lot of wonderful details about things like Mai's family dynamics and how they're not as horrifying as some people think, what Mai's father does for a living (having him work at an actual job is something that adds a lot of realism and humanity to both his character and Fire Nation civilians in general), and a crazy-awesome new setting that feels like both a real place and the sort of place that would show up in Avatar.

The chapters alternate between Mai's and Zuko's points of view, highlighting the differences and similarities between them as people. The fic also does a great job portraying the relationships that Mai has with her dad and Zuko has with his uncle (the latter is one of my personal favorite things to find in a fanfic, ever), and gives Mai's mother another dimension to her usual "Evil Matriarch" portrayal. Blue-lacquer's portrayal of pre-redemption Zuko is also really great, showcasing his softer side without diminishing his angst, tendency towards violent mood swings, and obsession with catching the Avatar and regaining his honor.

Also of note is that this story takes place pre-Season 1, during Zuko's banishment, a rare, refreshing setting for Maiko fic (or just fic in general). It has humor and heartwarming throughout, but ends on a bittersweet note that makes Book Ends with the bittersweet beginning. Overall, a fun fic that's well worth a couple of hours!
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