Mortal Skies is a science fiction horror novel by British author, Rebecca Fernfield. It was published in March 2019 and is the first in a, currently, 2 book series.
Author. Mother. Free spirit. Rebecca Fernfield, is a lapsed medievalist, and former research fellow, given to flights of fancy about the end of the world and what she’d do if the supermarkets suddenly ran out of chocolate, wine, and other essentials! A full-time novelist, she lives with her numerous children among the flatlands of the Humber estuary where Vikings and Saxons once fought and where, sometimes, on foggy mornings, you can still hear the echoes of clashing swords. She writes action-packed, suspenseful tales of horror, the supernatural, and the apocalypse. She can’t stop writing because the voices in her head just won’t shut up and there are so many stories to tell.
Some of her works include the post apocalyptic series, A World Torn Down which has 5 books out so far. She has also written the currently 4 book series, Blackout and Burn as well as the excellent Sci-Fi horror, The Kielder Strain.
Now, to Mortal Skies.
How do you survive when no-one can be trusted and everyone is the enemy?
Two days after a series of repeated radio signals is detected from deep space, clusters of meteors shower across the western hemisphere. Wherever they land, violence erupts, plunging whole cities into brutal chaos. Few are immune. Fewer will survive.
Still smarting from his wife’s betrayal of their marriage, and desertion of their son, security consultant, and now single father, Nate Penrose, is half-way through the graveyard shift when the meteors crash into his own city. He knows that it is only a matter of time before a brutal military quarantine will be imposed, there are even whispers of government sanctioned exterminations across the country. Terrified for his son’s safety, Nate is determined to flee the city and seek sanctuary.
As the contagion spreads, and the country descends into chaos, safe haven is two hundred miles away on an uninfected island, but with violent gangs roaming the streets, and a government determined to exterminate the infected, they may not even survive the night.
And, as humanity fails, something terrible lies in wait behind the skies.
So, Mortal Skies focuses mainly on a guy called Nate Penrose and the characters that impact his story. A pretty down to earth guy who has had a run of troubles that have left him in a pretty fragile state, emotionally. Nate wakes to news of the meteor showers crashing through a tower block in London and the now deceased people who lived within. It seems it isn’t the first strike and we also get snippets of news around erupting violence in the capital city. We learn a little about Nate in these early chapters too as we meet his teenage son, Josh and learn that Josh’s mum, Melanie, isn’t in Nates good books. His internal monologues about her suggest she has been having an affair and has left with her new lover, leaving Nate with their son and a ton of baggage he is trying desperately to juggle.
His assistance comes from Melanie’s sister, Katy. She despises what her sister did to Nate and Josh and helps out with looking after Josh were she can. Today is one such day, as Nate hurriedly tries to get Josh packed up, ready for school and a drop off at Katy’s in time to get himself to work.
We switch to meeting another character now called Ellie. Ellie is in an airport, waiting for a flight to Naples in a rowdy and packed departure lounge. As she makes her way towards the boarding gate, she checks her home cameras using her fancy security app and finds her cat wandering her house as well as her best friend “sleeping” with her boyfriend. A distraught Ellie boards her aeroplane, taking just a second to notice the particle filled, dirty looking sky and wonders whether it is anything to do with the meteor showers talked about all over the news. As the plane takes off, tensions on the plane appear to be running high when suddenly, they boil over in terrifying style.
A man attacks a noisy toddler, a woman attacks a man and before Ellie knows it, the whole plane seems to be turning into savages tearing lumps out of each other. She runs for the toilet, managing to lock herself in only noticing one thing in her terrified state. The thin black lips and dark red eyes of the once normal looking passengers on board.
For large portions of Mortal Skies, we move back and forth, chapter by chapter, progressing Nate and Ellie’s story simultaneously. Back with Nate, who is off to work having left a moody but inquisitive teenage son behind, he chats to work colleagues about the goings on, the meteors and the erupting violence. He notes that the violence seems to be related to the meteor impacts, often erupting initially around the impact site itself. While discussing the possibility of government cover ups and the like, news alerts come through showing meteors have hit their home town now too. Luckily far enough away from Josh but close enough to worry Nate. Unbeknownst to Nate though, inquisitive little Josh doesn’t want to miss the chance to see a crashed meteor up close and is heading to the crash site.
The scene is set and the apocalypse is primed. At Nate’s work, violence erupts as some customers with red eyes attack. At the meteor crash site, the gathered crowd start ripping lumps out of each other as Josh desperately tries to escape their grasps. Ellie’s plane manages to land with her cowering in the toilet while the other passengers violently attack each other. Ellie eventually manages to leave the plane, finding a young girl who has also managed to survive. They make it to a vehicle where they are now bunkered down for the time being. Josh makes it back to Katy as Nate arrives home. They lock up but soon find their house no longer safe from attack. Josh, once recovered from his ordeal explains how he saw white smoke like tendrils come out of the meteor and into the spectators before they attacked.
Meanwhile, separately we meet members of the armed forces working with the scientific community. As chaos envelops the city they are instructed to turn the tide in the only way possible. Extermination. To save the rest of the country, they are being ordered to contain this city by any means possible. Josh, Nate and Katy need to leave now. What follows is a desperate and chilling tale as a father, son and friends try to escape the city as they are hunted by these infected ex humans before the army move in and exterminate everyone. With tragic loss, violent murder and other worldly creatures on the rampage, their chances seem non existent. Can they possibly succeed against these impossible odds? Well, you will have to read Mortal Skies to find out.
Mortal Skies is a very enjoyable read and makes a nice change over the usual apocalyptic fiction, mainly in avoiding zombies. We do have infected people but this is extra terrestrial instead. Even in that, you might expect a big spaceship followed by an alien attack but I love how subtle the story is. A meteor shower, almost unseen infection from the meteors and then the slowly growing chaos. It is all handled gently and allowed to build as a story which itself creates suspense and tension. The characters are great. These aren’t heroes, per se. They are normal people, caught in a crisis and they act like normal people. Moments of bravery through desperation not heroism. Moments of cowardice through fear. They are relatable and likeable. Especially Nate and Ellie.
I am also a big fan of the start of the chapters where the author ends the previous characters story with a line like “As the pilot on Ellie’s flight initiates emergency procedures, Nate is……” That is clever stuff and really helped me understand the timeline. From a horror perspective, Rebecca Fernfield delivers in multiple ways. There are plenty of in your face gore moments. With so much violence, there are ample opportunities for death and destruction and she takes full advantage of this. There is also a whole host of dread and chilling suspense. Often, there is a real sense of desperation around the characters fate and that is testament to the authors ability to make us care about the characters.
There is a small negative though. Mortal Skies is certainly not a fluid read, often jumping from one story to the next after very short chapters and leaving me occasionally having to read back a bit to correct who I was reading about. There are also a couple points in the story where characters are named incorrectly. Katie called Ellie or vice versa. Luckily these moments are fleeting and you can quickly find yourself sucked back in to the story and the characters plight.
Mortal Skies definitely deserves to end on a positive though so do yourself a favour and have a read. It is a very good story that manages to capture your imagination. There is a wealth of character depth to get invested in and a ton of horrific suspense built in to a story that manages to do apocalyptic fiction in a unique way. Very well done and I’ll be getting straight on to the next book.
Mortal Skies by Rebecca Fernfield