Well, shortly after I’d finished Robert Brockway’s punk horror thriller “The Unnoticeables” about a month earlier, I ended up finding a second-hand copy of the sequel – “The Empty Ones” (2016). Of course, I got distracted by other books and only got round to reading “The Empty Ones” a month later.
“The Empty Ones” was, after all, the book that had got me interested in the series after I’d read about it on an online list of recommended horror novels. Annoyingly though, copies of the third novel in the trilogy (“Kill All Angels”) were still a bit too expensive at the time of writing.
Since “The Empty Ones” is a sequel, it is recommended that you read “The Unnoticeables” first. Yes, this novel does contain a fair number of recaps – but it’s best to witness these moments first-hand and to get to know the characters (and the series’ mythos) before reading “The Empty Ones”.
So, with that said, let’s take a look at “The Empty Ones”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.
The novel begins in Peru in 1984, with a brief scene showing a character called Meryll transforming someone into some kind of strange monster. Meryll then muses about being God.
The story then jumps to London in 1977. After the events of the previous novel, New York punk Carey has travelled there to check out the music. However, during a Ramones concert, he happens to spot an unnoticeable – a not quite human person who is instantly forgettable and who does the bidding of even worse creatures. Needless to say, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be having much of a holiday here.
Meanwhile, in 2013, ex-stuntwoman Kaitlyn is in Arizona with Jackie and Carey. Ever since the events of the previous book, the unnoticeables have been chasing her. Whilst spending a sleepless night in a motel, she happens to see an interview with Marco – the inhuman movie star villain of the previous book – on TV. He is heading to Mexico to film something. Determined not to run any more, Kaitlyn decides that she needs to travel to Mexico and deal with Marco once and for all….
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is better than “The Unnoticeables” was 🙂 In addition to having some wonderfully grotesque horror elements, it is more of a focused and action-packed thriller story than I’d expected. The novel also keeps the punk attitude and humour of the previous novel too 🙂
As for the novel’s horror elements, they mostly consist of gory horror, paranomal horror, monster horror and/or body horror, with a bit of suspenseful horror thrown in too. Although the novel also contains a bit of Lovecraftian cosmic horror and a few uncanny not quite human characters, there is slightly less of an emphasis on horror in this novel than in the previous one.
The novel’s thriller elements are a lot more prominent though. Not only are there quite a few fast-paced fights with and/or escapes from monsters, but there’s also a fair number of interesting mini cliffhangers, short chapters, dangerous situations and other stuff like that. One cool thing about the novel being set in several time periods is that it allows for some intriguing plot twists too (eg: In 1978, Carey really likes one of the people he meets. But, when he sees her again in 2013, they are enemies etc..).
Like with “The Unnoticeables”, this novel also contains a fair amount of humour too. Although most of this consists of subtle, irreverent and/or puerile humour, there are also some hilarious moments of physical comedy too. Whether it is a chapter narrated by Marco where he suddenly decides that the most efficient way to chase Carey is to literally crawl along the streets of a city, or a hilariously gross mutation-based scene set in a hotel in the 1980s, this novel can be pretty funny at times 🙂
Another interesting thing about this novel is that it expands a little on the mythos established in “The Unnoticeables”. For example, we get to learn why Kaitlyn’s sixth finger is so important, how to defeat the seemingly invincible “empty ones” etc.. Another cool thing about this novel is that, when Carey travels to London, the punks there have different names for the monsters (eg: faceless, husks, sludge and flares) than the NY punks do. Not only that, there are a lot more of them in the crowded streets of London too.
Although most of the novel takes place in both 2013 and 1978, there are also a few brief scenes set in the 1980s and 1990s that help to add atmosphere and characterisation. Like in the previous novel, the 1970s scenes are the best in the novel – filled with fast-paced drama, punk stuff, weird characters and atmosphere. Even so, the scenes set in 2013 were a bit more fast-paced and gripping than I had expected.
In terms of the characters, the main characters get a reasonable amount of characterisation whilst still being very recognisable to readers of the previous book. Another cool thing is that, in the scenes set in London, Carey seems even more like Vyvyan from “The Young Ones” than usual. The novel also introduces a couple of new characters too – such as a crusty old man called Tub and a punk called Meryll. Meryll has a really fascinating character arc and she also takes part in some of the novel’s most badass fight scenes too.
In terms of the writing, this novel uses a similar style to “The Unnoticeables”. In other words, although it uses the dreaded multiple first-person narrators, both the narrator and the year they are living in are usually clearly signposted (so, it isn’t too confusing). Likewise, the novel is also written in the kind of informal style that you’d expect from a punk thriller novel 🙂
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is pretty good. At a fairly efficient 284 pages, the story never feels too long. Likewise, the story’s pacing feels a lot more consistently thrilling than in “The Unnoticeables” too 🙂
All in all, this is a really fun thriller novel that is even better than “The Unnoticeables” was 🙂 Yes, there was slightly less horror than I’d expected, but it’s still a really cool mixture of the punk, horror and thriller genres 🙂
If I had to five it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.