** Received a copy of The Empty Ones by Robert Brockway from Agent Sam Morgan in exchange for honest review**
It’s a Saturday. It’s a glorious day outside; feels like crisp October weather despite being the second week of September. Tiny hooligans that belong to the neighbors I’ve never met scream and frolic outside. It’s my day off and my options of how to spend that day are limitless, only growing because of the beautiful weather. So how do I choose to spend it?
Continuing to read one of the oddest book series I’ve ever read.
I take that back. The oddest book I have ever read was back during undergrad and our questionably-all-there-but-we-liked-him-anyway professor made us read The Sugar Frosted Nutsack by Mark Leyner. But The Vicious Circuit is a close second, most definitely.
I reviewed the first of the trilogy, The Unnoticeables, hardly 24 hours ago. It’s a comedic horror mash-up of punk rock, alcohol, sexual innuendos, a lot of talking about sex without anyone actually getting laid, colorful insults and nameless creatures pretending to be human beings that destroy your soul and test the boundaries of what grotesque deaths can be achieved by distorting and corrupting the human body. It was a book that I had no intention of enjoying yet I enjoyed it anyway, falling prey to Mr. Brockway’s dark magic and lies.
Obviously, the spell has stuck, as I liked The Empty Ones even more.
However, unhelpfully, I can’t describe particularly why. Perhaps because I sorta knew what I was getting into, so the shock factor and surprise present for the first book weren’t as strong this time around. Perhaps it is because I found the setting more exciting. Perhaps its because I loved the way it was written, giving the readers info that the characters didn’t know yet, foreshadowing us on what was going to happen and making us think, “Oh shit, stop hitting on her, you idiot, she’s probably going to try and kill you later.” Actually, it’s probably a combination of all of these things.
The first book is split between NYC and LA, while this is split between England and Mexico. Carey and Randall, in 1978, have chased down Gus and his band, intent on revenge. They find themselves submersed in the English punk rock scene, which was fantastic. I constantly wished Jezza was there to experience it and would have loved to see the Brits rip him a new one. Gosh, I would have killed for that scene. But what I loved the most was Meryll. She’s a rocker that Carey tries to save, only to get saved by her. She’s a knowledgeable badass who kills it with her brass knuckles. She’s my favorite character, by far.
Meanwhile, in 2013, Kaitlyn, Carey and Jackie choose to hunt instead of waiting to be hunted, tracking Marco to Mexico. Besides the fact that I’m rooting for Kaitlyn every chance I get, I loved that this section allowed us to see some chapters from Jackie’s perspective (same as how we also saw some of Randall’s perspective in 1978). For both Jackie and Randall, those chapters actually made me like them both less as characters, which isn’t a bad thing. It just hardened my loyalty to Carey and Kaitlyn (even though I absolutely despite 1978 Carey yet actually like 2013 Carey; weird, I know).
What I loved the most, though, was the fact that readers were dropped hints in Meryll’s chapters that clued us into things that were going to happen later, even though the characters were unaware. Personally, I think this outside awareness by readers juxtaposed to inside ignorance by characters creates such a beautiful tension that otherwise wouldn’t exist. I’ve tried so unsuccessfully to build this type of tension in my own writing, so I absolutely love seeing a writer do it well.
Not only did I enjoy the new characters/perspectives and continued to enjoy the way it was written, but I was still impressed by how grotesque some of these scenes were. I made the mistake of eating lunch while I read the second half of the book. I’m not going to spoil anything for you as to what happens, but I can tell you this: my lunch was spoiled for me. As someone with an iron stomach, I am just so impressed how Brockway continually finds different ways to make me feel revolted. I feel challenged to amp up my own game.
All in all, I thought The Empty Ones picked up perfectly after The Unnoticeables left off and improved on all the elements that made The Unnoticeables enjoyable in the first place. It makes me even more excited for when the final book comes out–something I never thought I’d admit when I first learned what book one was about, being so far out of my comfort zone.
Well done, Mr. Brockway. Well done.