The Writhing Skies by Betty Rocksteady REVIEW

The Writhing Skies

Something has come from the sky. It’s distorting everything and infecting every living thing with diseases and parasites. Sarah tries escaping her apartment to find safety. She runs into her boyfriend Derek and her best friend Tiffany the process. As they seek shelter from the things from the sky, they begin to suspect an incident from their past may be the reason for what’s happening.

“Light leaked into the living room, glowing mud that stretched out into fingers. They wanted to touch her. They wanted to ask her something.”

The first thing I read from author and illustrator Betty Rocksteady was her first novel, Arachnophile. That book was a mixture of horror, science fiction, and romance. This, her third novel, fits more squarely in the genre of horror.

The word I would use to describe The Writhing Skies is “nightmarish.” That seems like a run-of-the-mill description for a horror novel, but I mean it more literally. The way the plot progresses often seems to function on dream logic and the imagery is incredibly surreal. In fact, some of the scenes here remind me of actual nightmares I can recall having. The result is gripping and intense. The novel does pull out of its dream-like fugue and becomes more lucid when Sarah finds her boyfriend and her best friend, but slips back in seamlessly as it goes on. It juxtaposes its more mundane moments and surreal horror very well.

This is an overall very unpleasant book. Which is, of course, intentional. The things from the sky are vague and various, but their effects on the characters are described in often gross, horrifying detail. However, there are also parts where the things are actually pleasant and beautiful. For most of the book, it’s hard to tell if what is happening is benevolent but revolting to the human mind or malevolent and trying to lull its victims into a false sense of security. This is a minor spoiler, but the conclusion doesn’t clearly answer either way.

The most unpleasant parts aren’t even the supernatural elements. The things we learn about the lives of Sarah, Derek, and Tiffany are easily the most repulsive parts of the story. While they aren’t particularly deep characters, they have a believably rocky relationship between the three of them. The worst thing that happens to Sarah in the course of the book is in a flashback to before the things came from the sky.

The book also contains illustrations by Rocksteady herself. They make a good, though unusual, addition to the book. Rocksteady’s style is rather cartoonish. Sarah looks like Raggedy Ann and Derek like a Ralph Bakshi character, for example. The cartoony characters make an interesting contrast to the more disgusting looking portraits of the things from the sky and of the effects they have on Sarah, Derek, and Tiffany.

My biggest problem with the novel is that the ending is rather disappointing. For as strange, intense, and downright unpleasant as the story often is, the ending is far too simple and clean. Not to mention abrupt, to the point I initially wondered if my copy was missing the last chapter. While it didn’t ruin the book for me, it certainly left me wanting something more.

Review copy provided

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The Writhing Skies
The Writhing Skies is a dark and intense lucid nightmare. Despite the disappointing ending, this novel reaffirms my belief that Betty Rocksteady is one of the most promising new authors working today. I highly recommend this book to horror fans and I look forward to what she comes out with in the future.