A city gathers stories and legends like a snowball rolling down a hill, stories of secret places, and disused train stations, and old theaters fallen into disrepair. About creepy rituals in subway tunnels, and secretive parties attended by the upper-crust elite, some of whom seem just too slightly off to be human. These stories become part of the identity of a place.
Which brings us to The Unnoticeables: Robert Brockway’s debut novel is an urban secret history, a thing of rituals and cycles and barely-human horrors that plays out in two different time periods, but the story only serves as the backdrop to a weird larger cosmology. The book only starts as urban fantasy, soon busting out into cosmic horror, and weirder territory still. Amid this genre-smashing, it never once loses focus.
Carey and Kaitlyn are separated in time by about 40 years. Carey, a punk living in ’70s-era New York, sees his friend get devoured by a strange acid creature with a face made of gears, and barely escapes with his life. And that’s before the group of unnoticeable humanoid monsters shows up, and his remaining friends start to vanish one by one. Kaitlyn is a struggling stuntwoman living in present-day Los Angeles who one day sees an angel outside her house, and is being menaced by a former teen heartthrob who seems to be something less (or more) than human. And then her best friend vanishes without a trace. Both Carey and Kaitlyn have a strange connection to an unknown man dying in a Motel 6, a man who claims that his guardian angel sees him as a problem that needs solving…
Brockaway handles pacing like a world-class racer: while the story starts off obeying the speed limit, by the third chapter, the accelerator is down for good, and things don’t slow down until the very last chapter. In-between, he deftly weaves through three separate plots across a decades-long span of breathless escapes, tense (often one-sided) fight scenes, disturbing monsters, and at least one case of grievous bodily harm via subway train.
It’s doubly impressive that Brockaway manages to juggle so much story (and in such a slim page count) without hitting a single sag along the way. The stories all feel separate and unique, but when the connections start coming together and the characters are drawn toward the explosive climax, it all feels of a piece.
This is a story with stakes, pitting its heroes against God, angels, and unstoppable monsters, keeping them constantly on their back feet. When they lose, it tightens the net and ratchets up the tension. When they win, it feels that much sweeter, because they had to fight tooth and nail to earn it. It is rare to read a book and more often ask yourself not “how will they get out of this?” but”will they actually get out of this?” I appreciate books that actually land a few punches on me.
The Unnoticeables is lean, mean, and perfectly balanced. It’s a rare find among urban fantasy novels: one that manages to genuinely terrify and excite in equal measure. It’s twisted, and original, and yes, I’m going to say it, an essential read for the fantasy lover looking for a story with a little more bite.