The Empty One by Matthew Stanley is an epic, fantastic tale in a very unique form.
Combining religious philosophy, vivid battle scenes, biblical undertones, political and social commentary, and incredible magical forces, The Empty One is much more than your typical fantasy. The plot base of Matthew Stanley’s story is the tale of two warring superpowers – one dedicated to mystical belief, the other to social order – but this epic story comes with a major twist. The entire text is presented in verse form, making it a highly unique reading experience, supported by a fascinating (albeit convoluted) plot that unfolds in a strange new world.
The Akalan Nation and the City States of Shaweh have undeniable similarities to countries in war-torn regions of the real world, giving the entire story a bit more relativity to readers, despite being set in a fantasy context. Much of the story’s action centers on the turmoil within these two nations, as they not only battle one another, but also dissident voices within their own ranks.
The parallels in the story relating to unfair justice systems, blind religious devotion, demagoguery, and political corruption cannot be a coincidence in these troubled 21st century times. Stanley blends relevant modern themes into a poetic voice reminiscent of Homer, Norse mythology, and a range of sacred texts, giving readers a strange and compelling hybrid of past, present, and fiction.
A common problem with writing in verse is the strict allegiance some writers feel to perfect rhyme schemes, which often makes their writing seem forced or trite. In the case of The Empty One, Stanley does bend the occasional clever line for a particularly satisfying rhyme, but also relies on assonance and consonance to maintain the structural integrity of this “epic.” A great deal of time and thought was put into the careful crafting of these lines, and while the imagery is rich and thorough, the plot also moves along at a healthy clip, forcing readers to focus and immerse themselves in the flow of poetry.
Just as it takes some time to fall back into reading or hearing the words of Shakespeare, this book does have a learning curve, but the melodic rhythm of reading can be felt within a few pages, and there are few instances where the narrative is jumpy or unnecessarily disjointed. Stanley uses succinct dialogue and nontraditional syntax to drive the story forward, while also artfully providing insightful details about the key characters.
That being said, there are a few moments throughout the book that are anachronistic from the overall style and assumed time period of the story: “How can they do that…the people are already taxed until they are broke!” and “The war has taken its toll…and unless we help, the City of Light may go up in smoke.”
These slightly awkward points jolt the reader out of the book’s magical thrall, but these stilted lines are few and far between, easily masked by the generally strong storytelling and poetic skills of the author. As a whole, The Empty One offers a complex plot within a detailed new world, while also using allegory, clever dialogue, and a highly unique writing form to stand out within the fantasy genre.