FimFiction Link - Short ID: 316852/empty-horizons
Published: Feb '16 — Dec '18
'Empty Horizons' is a circa one hundred and ninety-thousand word longfic and the first act in the 'Horizons' trilogy. I admit, when I first came across this story, I was not really interested, I have just been burnt by a recent even longer story and the last things I needed was being disappointed even further by something that inherently requires your time and investment. Yet, after the author persuaded me and I've mulled over the description once more, I figured, I'll give the first chapter a go, surely if the story is bad it'll be obvious from this much. The story wasn't bad. I was immediately hooked.
'Empty Horizons' is an incredibly colorful novel marrying the genres of political drama, action-adventure, tragedy and in a few, carefully placed patches even comedy. This all done in a world, that simply oozes with potential. It is an unspecified, but long time after the show's own timeline and in this story catastrophe struck at the Canterlot-wedding, eventually causing a supernatural flood that made Equestria unlivable. Civilization survived on floating islands that emerged shortly after the flood started, each forming their own little island-nation which stay in a shaky alliance with each other. Meanwhile the flooded mainland hosts many treasures of the old world, while also being chock full of dangerous fauna and the remains of the creatures that used to live there twisted by a mysterious corrupting energy. Even if you were to chuck out the rest of the story (which I'll talk about in a second), this setting in itself is amazing! Before I sat down to write this review, I've talked to a friend of mine and he immediately remarked that this world would work excellently in a DnD campaign and that it's far more creative than anything he ever came up with. And atop all this, all of the islands the characters visit throughout the story are very different, yet believable within the confines of the narrative. The fic features cities reminiscent of the Industrial Revolution-era London, decadent palace-islands, feudal colonies that regressed to almost to the Middle Ages and none of them feel out of place.
Alright, we have a great world, but what about the characters that inhabit them? There too the story excels... for the most part, but we'll get there. The protagonists are of course the M6, who through mysterious means somehow survived the giant time-skip and are rescued by a team of salvagers, ponies who specialize in daring the flooded underworld for its riches and artifacts. As it turns out in this new world the Cutie Marks, which used to be more or less the birthright of every single pony have become exceedingly rare and even those who receive them (called the "Gifted") are far weaker than ponies used to be. The salvagers after a climactic chase against some mutated Changelings take the ponies to their ship, the Argo, a steampunk zeppelin, and then transport them to one of the floating cities.
I am not going to recount what happens next in great detail, because I believe the story greatly deserves a blind reading through. Instead I would like to isolate specific scenes out which I've exceptionally liked or have found a bit silly, so if you haven't read the story yet, but like what you see from what I've wrote above, this is your cue to drop this review and see things for yourself, but before you do that, a word of warning: As mentioned in the beginning of the review, the author intends to write a trilogy. While 'Empty Horizons' has an ending I personally consider satisfying, it does not answer all the questions. Hell, it leaves even more open, that are then, at least I assume, answered in the sequel, 'Sunken Horizons.' If you go in with the expectation of a fully finished plot, you will be disappointed. Instead, I recommend to read the story with this piece of info in your mind, you'll appreciate it this way much more.
With the warning out of the way, in mostly chronological order these are the things I've wanted to mention:
I've greatly enjoyed the descriptions of areas in this story, the author pays much attention to detail and I've found it exceedingly easy to visualize the extremely varied locations in this story due to the excellent way they are presented. This is doubly so, when the story intentionally withholds information from the reader at first, only to shock them later, (e.g. mentioning the "pale white orbs" the salvagers use to scour the depths and then later casually revealing, that it is actually Hornbane, a material created from ground up horns of dead unicorns.)
I have found the "Getting an ID-card for Twilight subplot" a bit pointless in the grand scale of things. It's not bad for world building, nor a bit of situational comedy, but it literally never comes up in the rest of the plot and the potential danger the salvagers imply turns out to be a complete dud. I assume the author originally intended to give it a greater purpose, but then realized there is not much more that can be done with the concept so quietly wrote it out.
The supplemental notes are great! Honestly, I could even read a full fic that's just made up of a haphazard pile of Twilight's research notes. It's a great non-diegetic way of revealing key information (and also trivia) about the world, while also keeping things vague enough in a way that does not feel forced.
Sadly, while some of the M6 get great roles, the rest have issues even the author admits. Pinkie is the most interesting out of these, when she's first introduced, she's nothing like how she acts in FiM. Understandably she is incredibly shocked by the death of everyone she knew and the story sets her up as a depressed and trauma-ridden character. I was personally okay with this, most authors use Pinkie as comic relief only or what has been dubbed as others as "Deadpooling" or breaking the fourth wall in a way that detracts greatly from the story. I am happy to say, Pinkie doesn't Deadpool in 'Empty Horizons,' however, she recovers very-very quickly and her trauma never really comes through after the first few chapters which hurts her arc a bit. I really liked how she is portrayed, don't get me wrong, I just feel like the transition between broken and okay Pinkie should have been a slower process.
Rainbow Dash probably has probably the most action next in line and frankly, I don't have too much to say about her. I like her arc, when she eventually loses an eye after acting too cocky felt like the right jump in tension. Her also nearly becoming a killer to protect her friends also fits her character and raises the interesting moral dilemma of just how far the M6 can go to fix things. They are after all, the Elements of Harmony, not the Elements of The-Ends-Justify-The-Means. The only thing that I might consider a negative is that she gets over the fact that she lost her eye extremely quickly. It is addressed, but come on, she's the best flier in Equestria and she just lost her depth perception. Something like that is near career-ending.
Applejack doesn't get enough time, her action scenes are remarkably cool and she also acts like one of the greatest mental crutches to Twilight, but she is sadly very underused otherwise. I do very much like the contrast that even in one of the last fight scenes, while she fights side-by-side with one of the salvagers, who is not afraid to kill several others, she only knocks them out. It fits her personality really well that even though she has the most physical strength of the M6, she still doesn't stoop so low.
Fluttershy is a waste. I freely admit, that I wouldn't really have any ideas what to do with her either, but she spends half of the story in magical coma and the other half of the story doing basically nothing. She has one moment to shine, which I did enjoy, but during the rest of the story, she could just as easily not exist and the story would work with minor revisions.
As for the "main-main characters" Twilight and Rarity, I've enjoyed both of their arcs and journeys a lot. Twilight quickly became the spearhead of the adventure-arc, while Rarity leads the political drama-arc. Seeing Twilight nearly crumble under all the stress she's under and yet still go on is really nice, but what really sells me on her portrayal is how despite her action-focused role, she still does her usual stuff of digging through books, making elaborate checklists and triple-checking things. Authors can bend the characters' personality, but one can never forget about their core characteristics and the writer of 'Empty Horizons' did not forget. Her having to witness the murder of not just one, but two of her old friends and also having to face the fact that her mentor is still alive, but corrupted, nearly breaks her in itself and then atop that comes the third main plot device of the story: Twilight’s own slow corruption. The emergence of the "Other" is intriguing, especially because it doesn't seem to be a cookie-cutter villain. While it seemingly lacks empathy, it also isn't interested in pointlessly hurting Twilight’s friends. Its main objective just seems to be to survive, whatever it takes. I admit, Twilight suddenly going berserk and destroying the bounty hunters' ship and ripping a chunk off the island felt a bit over the top for me. Yes, Twilight is an amazing mage, I can even buy that the corrupting power can even boost her innately high powers, but her suddenly turning into the equivalent of a nuke combined with a very violent thunderstorm kind of sets the bar very-very high. Where do you even escalate from there? Turn her into two nukes?
Rarity's plot takes a far less bombastic, but regardless just as (or in some cases even more) interesting turn of events. Her being introduced as royalty sets of a chain of events that allows her (and through her eyes the reader) to explore the rest of the world in its relative normalcy and meet characters who have different issues than what Twilight tackles. Her journey from someone who's almost embarrassed from the white lie said about her into someone who uses her suddenly gained power and influence to try and make the world a better place fits her character as the Element of Generosity perfectly. The writer actually even takes this one step further by making it her folly, as she sticks her nose in a situation she has no obligation to do anything about and it ultimately leads to a very unfortunate situation for her, just because she wanted to people who don't entirely deserve it. Making a character's defining trait their character flaw is not an easy feat to pull off correctly, but here it feels just right.
Her dynamics with Pinkie are also very entertaining and the characters introduced through her are all quite interesting. I am going to watch with great interest what will become of Whitehorn in 'Sunken Horizons.' The Duke is also fascinating, because while he acts "villainous," you still can't really call him evil. His methods are immoral and goals largely selfish, but he still ultimately works for what he thinks is good for everyone. His son's personal dilemma of needing to act like his father, but also wanting to act with compassion is a really nice bit of personal drama. If only he hasn't been give such a silly name as Pontius!
The island falling from the sky is probably one of my favorite chapters. The foreshadowing of the tail-twitch made me anticipate it, so when it actually paid off I was excited. It's just sheer terror as everything turns upside down and civility breaks down in a second. Pinkie and Rarity's daring escape and their resolve to save as many people as they can is a high point of the story. The whole thing becomes even more bone-chilling as Twilight and the crew later return and we revisit familiar areas that are now entirely dead.
The Bounty Hunters are kind of a mixed bag for me. Gava is entertaining, but I feel like she's a bit too cocky and mustache-twirling for one to really feel for her most of the time. However, in the few scenes that she's with Ana, things change and she shows a much more vulnerable side of herself. I like this duality a lot, but still from the duo, Ana takes the cake. She despite being allied to the closest thing to what we can call "evil" in the story, is a very nuanced character and one that in the sequel can basically go in any sort of way and it would not feel out of place. She wears a mask of being slightly flippant and egoistical, but below that it's obvious that she's conflicted about hunting down Rarity and Pinkie Pie after the two have shown her much kindness in a world, where such things are far rarer than they used to. Her careful planning and inner monologues are also great at letting us look into the head of the "enemy." Of all the side-characters in the story, she's probably the one whose fate interests me the most. As cliche as it might sound, I hope she's redeemed.
The ending fight scene was as one would expect bombastic and served its purpose well. I admit, I've enjoyed the story's less "Top 10 Anime Battles" parts more, but of course I realize the need of an explosive epilogue after so much buildup. The fights are remarkably brutal and Twilight's rampage is a great crescendo after so much suffering she went through. I can't wait to see what comes next.
Overall: 9/10 It's hard to even give a score to this story, because nothing I've read before really compares to it. Amazing setting, great and loveable characters who you can't help but care about. A plot full of intertwined intrigues and mysteries. Supplements that further broaden the scope of the world... and a few dumb choices that forbid me from giving it a perfect score. 'Empty Horizons' is a quintessential read to anyone who likes long adventure stories that don't consider its readers dumb and for those who like to be invested in a science-fantasy world that feels logical. Also amusingly enough, those who enjoyed Bioshock: Infinite, as the author took inspiration from that game. While it remains to be seen whether the 'Horizons' trilogy will ever be finished, I end this review with hope and faith in the author's skills. Thank you for shilling your story to me, I really did not regret reading it, and thank you friends for sticking by and reading this review.