Fallout Equestria is one of the most beloved fanfictions in the My Little Pony Fandom, and with its rich world and character design it was inevitable that other talented writers would expand on Kkat's universe. One of the things that makes Fallout Equestria such a fascinating world to write for is that it nightmarishly twists the lore of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic but still manages to stay true to the virtues and values expressed by the show.
Murky Number Seven is one of the major side stories for FoE. I have always loved 'journey to freedom' stories, so it seemed pretty much perfect for my tastes. Please note though that this review will contain some spoilers and was written after reading up to Chapter 15.
Murky Number Seven is, at its core an emotional tale of a slave's journey to freedom.
My first impressions of Murky Number Seven were very positive. I noticed immediately that its writing style was superior to most other fanfics I have read. It's good to see a story that doesn't waste my time with needless or confusing description and focuses on telling a story rather than simply padding out its word count to make itself look more important.
Of course, this needs to also be balanced with good pacing and word choice, and I'm pleased to say that MN7 excels here for the most part. The opening chapters bring us quickly into Murky's world and mindset, the technique is emotive and descriptive and I couldn't point out many errors in the writing itself, and finally I appreciated how well Fluffyveevee was able to realistically convey a slave's mindset.
It's interesting that Fluffyveevee chose a slave as his protagonist, usually Fallout Equestria fics feature strong willed female protagonists (usually unicorns) with powerful combat skills and for some reason a very snide and cynical attitude but Murky is neither of these. Murky has his own unique voice, he's been a slave since he was born and the psychological effect this has had on him is very clear. Even as he starts to experience free will and dissension for the first time in his life, he is constantly fighting against his own instincts to obey his slavemasters. The choice is also good for worldbuilding, we see a lot of slaves in the main story for FoE and side fics but we never really know what they go through aside from the typical 'torture the slaves for fun' trope that you usually see among raiders and the like and typically this is just simply used as a plot device to justify killing slavers and raiders.
Now for the characters. Fallout Equestria has a fantastic cast of memorable characters typically because of their psychological complexity, a unique voice, and the sense of friendship that brings them closer together, but Murky Number Seven doesn't really have this at first. Murky is as I mentioned before a fantastic character, I found him immediately likeable. He's a survivor, rather than a hero. He is a runt, which makes him small and vulnerable, he is malnourished because of his cruel treatment, and he has spent his life being abused and used by others and sold off between slavers. His personality reflects this treatment, he's excessively submissive to his masters (at first treating the term like as if the pony has a divine right to control him), he is cautious around his fellow slaves but this is justified because the nature of many slaves he's come across is predatory and given his small size and stature he is easy prey for having things stolen from him and being used for selfish needs. There is of course some things about him that some readers might find a little tiresome or frustrating. His normal response to adversity or pain, especially in the earlier parts of the story is to go into shock and curl up into a crying ball, and he does have some rather clumsy mannerisms but given his upbringing and how he's really only survived because of his obedience this is perfectly justified. The author also cleverly inserts a colourful metaphor for his art, Murky carries with him a journal that is the only method of self expression and freedom that he has and it's built upon as an essential part of his character given that he can't read or write.
The other main characters that form his small group of friends are Brimstone, an ex-raider warlord who is using Fillydelphia as a means of repentance and is fiercely protective of Glimmerlight who is a Steel Ranger initiate who becomes a big sister figure to Murky. However, Unity is a character that I feel has been rather awkwardly inserted into the story. Her involvement in the opening act was reasonably large, she was kind to him when nopony else was and was pretty much his first friend, but I felt that she came off as a bit of a mary sue – she speaks mostly in cheesy one liners and doesn't seem to have any flaws and just feels underdeveloped. This isn't helped when we don't even know her name until around chapter 13 after she hasn't been mentioned at all for the last eight chapters or more, which is around two hundred and fifty plus thousand words. It seems that the author wasn't quite sure what to do with her, it was clear he wanted to give Murky a friend but when Glimmerlight is such a good character and the two personalities are remarkably similar although Unity so far just doesn't have the flaws that Glimmerlight has she feels a bit like an unnecessary.
Probably my favourite character though has to be Protege, he's a refreshing change from the rest of the needlessly cruel slavers who run Fillydelphia. He is still a villain in the sense that he's still a slaver but he sees it as a sacrifice for the greater good and at least treats his slaves with dignity and respect. I particularly liked how the author was able to show this with his relationship with Murky, Murky finds it strange but Protege clearly sees him as a friend and although the two have differing ideals Protege treats him with respect and this is something that Murky's never felt before.
However, this leads also into my biggest point against the story so far. While Protege is a great example of a villain because of his ideals that sadly requires sacrifice but other villains such as Wicked Slit (yes even Murky pokes fun at her name), The Master, Whiplash, Grindstone, Barb, and the various other slavemasters are flat characters with little justification or backstory and are nothing more than unrepentant, murderous monsters. The Equestrian Wasteland is certainly a place that would bring out the worst in anypony, but works such as Project Horizons have proven themselves to be so compelling and successful because the motivations of their villains are plausible and allow them to be even sympathised with. An example of this would be that pretty much whenever Murky doesn't follow their often inconsistent instructions he is harshly punished and gets beaten, stomped, cut, and maimed so many times that it's hard to see these characters as anything but monsters and they kinda blur together after a while other than name and appearance and their preferred slavery method. I can understand this though, because if the slavers weren't horrible villains then Murky wouldn't have quite as much motivation to escape but at the same time it would have been nice to see a little more development in these characters. This becomes most apparent with the raiders. I'm aware that raiders in the fallout series are typically pure evil, but some characters like Barb seem to exist for no other purpose aside from killing or torturing ponies and their only reason is that 'it's fun'. It's lazy design and really hurts what could have been a good cast of villains.
This will lead onto a point as to why this story is not for everyone. The slaves see Murky as a vulnerable victim, and are all too eager to exploit or use him as a convenient punching bag. For example, the start of the story introduces us to three ex-gangers who seem to not have any purpose in life other than making Murky's life miserable for no explainable reason. Things only continue to get worse even among the 'innocent' slaves when they discover that Murky is actually a Pegasus who was crippled by his owner when he was a foal. This has major ramifications in his relationship with the slaves because they blame the pegasi for the wasteland. I can't quite remember how much prejudice Pegasi who weren't with the Enclave received, but when the slave mobs discover he is a Pegasus the scenario practically turns into a witch hunt.
I also cannot help but notice that the Slavers doctrine also seems very counterproductive to Red Eye's (the villain's) great plan to revive Fillydelphia. Slave casualties in Fillydelphia are so high that Slavers dump the bodies in mass graves and incinerate them with flamers on a regular basis. Fillydelphia is pretty much the ponification of the very worst offences against human rights. Slaves die in droves from haphazard work equipment, starvation, radiation sickness, abuse, torture by raiders, and killed by other slaves.
As for its opening arc, Murky Number Seven has a rather disjointed and weak start, the first two chapters in particular. Chapter 1 introduces us to the protagonist and his world. For reasons unspecified, he is forced to fight in the pits beside Littlepip. There, he meets an immensely powerful but seemingly gentle pony who helps him escape in the ensuing riot when Littlepip and Xenith escaped in the main story. The strange thing about this part of the story is that it's very close to the beginning, and the main character had a chance to escape Fillydelphia with this powerful ally, but the author clearly wouldn't want the story to end there and Murky backs down at the last moment. It's understandable that he doesn't know what freedom is and he's scared of the concept, but it feels like an enormous tease to the reader when Murky's salvation is in sight but he decides not to take it. This is especially a problem when the ensuing chapter is a crash course in the Murky's nightmarish existence as a slave in Fillydelphia. He is savagely beaten by the gangers, realizes he's dying from chemical poisoning, beaten by slavers, and chased by an angry mob after discovering he is a Pegasus. At the very least, the writing technique is solid.
After slogging it through these first two chapters however I was glad that I continued. Murky experiences friendship and kindness for the first time, and there is an underlying hope that he will someday escape. I won't spoil it of course but I will say that the rest of the story is very emotional with many twists and turns and well developed main characters.
In conclusion, despite a few faults faults Murky Number Seven is a solid addition to the ever growing library of Fallout Equestria fiction. It is well written, has a sympathetic main character, and is a unique take on the Equestrian wasteland that viewers haven't seen before. I give it a very strong recommendation to both fans of the original and those who haven't read fallout equestrian before.