"The Unnoticables" Book Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Published by Tor Books
Written by Robert Brockway
2016, 288 Pages, Fiction
Released on June 21st, 2016
Urban fantasy is often a hard subgenre to swallow for me, even when it's billed as dark fiction. Too many times I've been reeled in only to discover that what I'm reading fits better into the Jim Butcher Dresden Files trope than anything remotely resembling horror. Not that it isn't valid or even quality literature, but it isn't my thing and it's been done so many times that it starts to feel like you're reading the same story repeatedly. So I was a little bit hesitant about Robert Brockway's Vicious Circuit series. But the book's description intrigued me and the author's reputation sealed the deal. The columnist and Sr. Editor for Cracked.com has written two previous works of what could only be billed as hilarious terror and they were both immensely popular and received high accolades from critics and readers, including the great David Wong. And that was really all it took. Wong says the guy is good, count me in.
Featuring dueling first-person storylines, The Unnoticables is set in the backdrops of New York City and Los Angeles, two of America's greatest—and most notorious—cities, as seen through the eyes of Carey Horton, an affable yet intentionally offensive punk rocker in 1977 NYC, and Kaitlyn Barr, an aspiring stuntwoman in 2013 Hollywood. As the story progresses, Carey starts noticing punks disappearing from the streets at an alarming rate and begins seeing "tar-monsters," cosmic creatures that apparently consume the street kids, absorbing them into their bodies. Meanwhile, in modern day LA, Kaitlyn is repeatedly violently assaulted by Marco Ruis, a former teen heartthrob and current "empty one" whose character is a thinly disguised and altogether hilarious copy of Mario Lopez from Saved by the Bell.
The Unnoticables starts out very much tongue-in-cheek, snarky, and sarcastic, but it doesn't take long to escalate from darkly comic to horrifically cosmic, as Carey encounters almost Lovecraftian creatures and "empty ones," people whose faces are impossible to focus on, and Kaitlyn begins seeing angels. But these angels are not benevolent beings sent down as guardians of the human race. They are malevolent monsters intent on "solving" people. What that means is rather complicated—you'll have to read the book—but suffice it to say it isn't a good thing. As the book progresses, the two storylines begin to merge, hurtling our protagonists toward a terrifying, mind-bending climax that could have been produced by the offspring of a union between Hunter S. Thompson and Clive Barker. Maybe with a little Carlton Mellick III thrown in for good measure.
Packed with macabre and sometimes nasty humor, the story doesn't really take itself too seriously for the most part and neither should the reader. This is one you should just sit back and enjoy the ride with. Carey and Kaitlyn are well portrayed, sometimes sympathetic, but thinly developed characters that are immensely fun to read about and follow in their antics and escapades, and the lack of backstory is in no way detrimental to the tale. It may even be a plus. The Unnoticables, though it alternates between timelines, is all about pacing and forward motion and Brockway handles it with the alacrity of a true master, rocketing the tale forward at a breakneck pace from its blackly hilarious beginning to a harrowing and horrific ending that winds down with a small note of hope.
Another thing that really rocks this story and makes it so incredibly readable and fun is the monsters Robert Brockway has created. In a lot of ways they make the story. If you're like me and really love a great, hair-raising villain, you're in for a huge treat here. The angels are enigmatic and terrifying, yet strangely beautiful, and the empty ones are as delightfully horrific as any humanoid monster Lovecraft ever dreamed up. The tar-monsters on the other hand are grotesquely hilarious, bordering on being a bizarro construct, yet still managing somehow to be hideous and horrifying. And therein is where I think Brockway's true mastery lies. Everything he does in The Unnoticables makes the attempt to be simultaneously mortifying and raucously humorous and somehow succeeds brilliantly.
The Unnoticables is a lighthearted urban fantasy/horror novel with unexpected depths, deliciously broken characters, and unabashedly evil villains that will raise goose bumps on your skin and make the small hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It's a story that's designed to be truly entertaining, escapist fiction, and it does so remarkably well. If you like horror with a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek, unapologetic humor, this book is right up your alley. If Brockway was hoping for a true breakout of a novel, he certainly got his wish.