"The Empty Ones" Book Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Published by Tor Books
Written by Robert Brockway
2016, 288 Pages, Fiction
Released on August 30th, 2016
I confess that, until quite recently, I had never heard of Robert Brockway. Then I read The Unnoticables, the first book in The Vicious Circuit series, and I became an instant fan, practically his own personal Annie Wilkes. There are several reasons for this. First, he's a fellow Portlander, hometown representing in the most awesome of ways. Second, judging by his sense of humor, he's as crazy as a loon, and I mean that in the best of ways. In Portland we embrace our weirdness and guys like Brockway help to keep it real, creative, and even borderline profound in the sense that it's a clever, insightful sort of weird. But the most important motive for my status as fanboy is that he's an author of considerable talent and wit, always entertaining, engaging, and ridiculously funny, and in The Empty Ones he's applied his unique flavor of hilarity once again to the plights of his hapless protagonists, Carey and Kaitlyn.
Like The Unnoticables, this second volume in the series takes place along two different timelines, one telling the story of Carey's late seventies escapades as he seeks revenge for the deaths of his friends, and the other telling of Kaitlyn's modern day efforts to stop the empty ones from harming her or her friends. Also like that book, The Empty Ones is a darkly disturbing, surreal tale, packed with horror and humor and dripping with the black sarcasm that Robert Brockway is so famous for. The story takes up where the first book left off and wastes no time in slamming forward with that same break-neck pace that makes this ongoing saga such a blisteringly entertaining thrill ride.
As The Empty Ones commences, we find our protagonists on some wild road trips, with Carey chasing Gus through the rainy streets of London and Kaitlyn tracking down Marco and his minions in Mexico, where the former child star is currently filming. It's usually difficult for me to find talking points when reviewing successive books in a series, as my thoughts about them often align with what I've already written about the first entry. And while it's true that much of what I said about the first book applies to the second, it was pretty easy to come up with new things to say about this one. Brockway takes his characters to previously unplumbed depths, showing the changes wrought in our protagonists via their experiences in The Unnoticables and building on the lore and history behind the angels and the empty ones, constructing a collection of villains that is epic in scope and horrific in nature.
If there's one thing about this book that stands out above all others and really makes it work, it's Carey. Robert Brockway has a readily apparent love for this affable, leap-before-you-look punk rocker and that adoration bleeds through, causing the reader to be just as enamored of him. Present in both timelines, Carey is the cement that holds this story together, bringing guffaw-out-loud hilarity and unapologetic, often ill-considered violence to damn near every paragraph of the book, keeping you glued to the page and riding the edge of your seat as laughter-induced tears stream down your face. He brings an adrenaline rush of excitement to every scene and he owns the story whenever he's present, keeping you laughing and gasping in equal measure at his increasingly outlandish antics.
Just as the ever-present and prodigious amount of humor is a shock to the limbic system, the brutal violence and unflinching horrors are a blunt-force blow to the brainpan that will leave you punch-drunk and longing for more. Robert Brockway builds heavily on his monsters and introduces a new one who, in her own way, may be the most horrific yet, if that's even possible, making for a motley gathering of some of the most terrifying and unique antagonists to ever grace the pages of a horror novel and giving him plenty of material to build on in future entries in the series. And there will almost definitely be future additions to The Vicious Circuit. Brockway leaves the story wide open for a follow-up, something you'll be delighted to know as you come to the hugely satisfying conclusion that leaves one gigantic and intriguing question waiting for an answer. But you'll have to read the book for yourself to find out what that question is. It's exceedingly rare for a sequel to compare super favorably to its predecessor but this one does that and more, ramping up the hilarity and terror in delightfully original ways and creating an exceptional tale that could only have flowed from the pen of Robert Brockway.