"The end of the world is nigh...or is it?"
Reviewed by Debbie Wiley
Posted November 20, 2015
A conspiracy is afoot and Jake Carter finds himself smack
in the midst of it. Strange signs are emerging, both
through the natural world and manmade. In fact, the sun
itself appears to be failing and a worldwide blackout has
everyone predicting the end of the world. Jake is dragged
into a hidden world when he receives a phone call from an
ex-girlfriend asking for help. Can Jake survive when the
stakes are worldwide?
SUNFAIL is an intriguing and fast-paced story. In fact, I
could easily envision SUNFAIL as a movie as author Steven Savile
has a gift for crafting exciting action scenes. Even more
stunning, however, is Steven Savile's talent at producing
eerie scenes in the midst of the familiar. Whether the
scenery is the New York City subway or underwater, the
incredible details and eloquent phrasing create just the
right sort of ambiance to make the worldwide conspiracy
theory seem plausible.
Steven Savile weaves together a wickedly clever tale in
which the action never relents. Jake is the sort of main
character who will appeal to readers of action stories.
He's working as a NYC electrician but has a background in
Special Forces. His skills and prowess are outstanding,
perhaps a little more so than I typically like as I'm
more a fan of flawed heroes. If you like your stories
fast paced and full of various prophecies and conspiracy
theories, then look no further than SUNFAIL.
Learn more about Sunfail
Dogs howl in the streets, running wild. Birds fall dead
the sky. Even the sun itself is failing. As darkness
descends all hell breaks loose, terrorists strike hard
fast, taking out the army base at Fort Hamilton,
Jake Carter, formerly Special Forces, is now an NYC
electrician who finds himself dragged into a world of
conspiracy and menace by a woman he hasn't spoken to in
a decade. When Carter finds two young men spraying
across the subway station walls, he realizes these marks
aren't gang tags or band names, they are a message, a
to arms spelled out in a lost language. The Hidden are
communicating with each other.
Carter must now answer some impossible questions: How do
fight an enemy you cannot see? How do you stop some of
richest and most powerful men in the world when they own
shadows? And most important of all, how do you stay alive
when the world around you is dying?
ExcerptIt started with the dogs howling.
Their desperate barks mingled in the dark to become a
single dangerous note. They prowled the streets, claws
skittering across the blacktop. Their eyes glowed
feverishly in the shadows as their growls echoed off the
stone, brick, and concrete to fill the night. They were
the creatures of nightmare, driven mad by some unseen
force. They ran the avenues, hunting in packs.
News reports were already calling Manhattan “Dogland.”
Above the skyscrapers and tenements storms brewed. The
cloud formations were unlike anything that had been seen
over the city before. It was more than just winter skies.
They gathered, churning, swirling, swarming, promising
the storm of the century. At first a flicker of wind
would spring up, barely a breeze, but those flickers grew
and grew until they were bullying people through the
streets. As the wind raced through the canyons of the
city it gathered in strength, feeding on the vitality of
New York City as it whipped up the trash and yesterday’s
news lining the gutter and tossed both equally high in
the air. From that little flicker of wind a maelstrom
grew, strong enough to pull lovers’ hands apart as they
crossed Central Park, strong enough to panic horses and
send their carriages careening across the six lanes of
blacktop, uprooting saplings.
And then the rains came.
They pelted the brownstones and office blocks alike with
bullet-hard drops, the deluge deafening as it drowned the
world in a gray blur.
The sky itself was tortured, bleeding purple, sometimes
green, sometimes blue-black, shot through with veins of
lightning that barely lit the damned dark long enough to
cast forked shadows on the ground. It seemed that the
storms were never going to end, as though the sun itself
had failed them, and then as suddenly as they began, the
storms ended with the clouds rolling back across the
heavens, golden rays spearing down.
It was almost as if the city had been born again.
Evangelists took to the subways and the street corners,
preaching a brand-new gospel. This time, they swore on
their holy books, the end truly was nigh. They asked the
question: “Have you made your peace with your god?” It
didn’t matter what creed or denomination, all of the gods
old and new were ready for your confession, they
promised. And why not? It was the end of the year, why
not the end of the world as well?
They always talked about the end of the world, nuclear
winter, mutually assured destruction, asteroids colliding
with the earth, knocking Gaia off her axis, the sun
imploding or burning out; there was always a cult
somewhere in the city that believed all of these
eventualities and more. As each year wound down, each
decade ticked over, they’d crawl out of the woodwork to
claim we were killing our planet. Fear is part of the
cycle of life; it’s as simple as that. Fear that tomorrow
will be different. Fear that it won’t. But with the
storms and the dogs and everything else, so many portents
everywhere you looked that couldn’t be ignored, it felt
different this time. They even had a hashtag for it on
Twitter, #sunfail. It trended for six days. On the
seventh day there was no Internet.
It was only natural that people panicked, that manners
faded and the rules of polite society crumbled and slowly
broke down. They were thinking about survival in terms of
the fittest making it to the other side of the darkest
days. People whispered their deepest fears: the earth was
poised to strike back, to prove just how temporary we
were as a species, motes in the eye of time. They barely
dared to breathe the scariest thought of all: We are the
dinosaurs of our age, lumbering toward extinction.
Tempers grew short, arguments were solved with fists,
knives, and, more times than the stretched-thin law could
cope with, guns.
A new culture thrived, not the old gangs of the seventies
that the city had worked so hard to stamp out, not the
old turf wars and tagging, but rather ordinary everyday
people banding together, and more dangerous than any of
those old gangs because they were fighting to protect
their homes and livelihoods from looters and thieves.
These “watches” coalesced in alleyways and vacant lots
and abandoned buildings, putting down markers to divide
the city into entirely new territories and claiming these
places were protected. People drew comfort from their
presence. The idea was simple: together we are strong.
Graffiti began to appear on walls and doors and
mailboxes, old symbols that hadn’t been used for
centuries: the Eye of Horus, the Blood of Isis, the
jackal head of Anubis. Other symbols joined them on the
weeping bricks of the beaten city, strange unions of
letters and images as though the alphabet had mated with
a bestiary. The shapes couldn’t easily be deciphered, but
clearly carried meaning and significance, eerily
beautiful and terrifying, and yet still somehow elegant.
These weren’t gang tags; they were devotions.
Yes, there was still beauty in the crumbling city.
It was just a different kind of beauty.
It didn’t take long for the street-corner evangelists to
drop their Bibles. The holy book didn’t make a good
shield. Morning, noon, and night, they clutched fetishes
of feathers, scales, and tiny pots of blood, more like
shamans and snake oil salesmen than Bible thumpers. They
spoke of trials and warrior blood and hell on earth. The
cops steered clear of them, not wanting to be tarred by
the craziness. What did it matter if people bought a few
protective talismans or had wardings inked into their
flesh to fend off the evil spirits?
It didn’t take long for people to start claiming they saw
the dead walking the streets, pacing through the Bronx
and Brooklyn, standing uncertainly on the sidewalks in
Weehawken and Hoboken, lost, silently shaping words in
Long Island City and Astoria. It was collective hysteria.
Revenants couldn’t return for justice denied them in
life. That kind of talk was infectious though. Long-
buried superstitions bubbled to the surface. The Day of
the Dead wasn’t just a holiday from south of the border
And yet not everything came to a standstill.
The subway trains still ran, even if cars clogged the
streets, the highways, the tunnels. The good people of
New York still went to work. Businesses still operated,
even if reduced to a skeleton staff. Life went on. The
city was bent but not broken. Bowed but not beaten. It
was bleaker than before, but this was the city that never
slept, this was the city where dreams were made. It had
survived so much. It would survive so much more.
And then the birds began to fall from the sky.
Tiny feathered bodies plummeted to earth, their eyes wide
and stunned, their wings flapping uselessly against
gravity as they squawked and cried, sounding far too
human in their fear as they fell. Even the pigeons,
already street-dwelling scavengers, were completely
But worse was the silence that followed.
There wasn’t a bird left in the sky above New York.
That was yesterday.
This is today.
The swimmer launched himself off the side of the boat,
jumping high into the air, kicking and shrieking with
laughter as he cannonballed through the surface. He
disappeared beneath the spray, and then surged back to
the surface, the ripples lapping around his shoulders,
neck, and head. He slapped at the water, dived and
resurfaced, shaking the surf out of his hair. There were
good days, there were great days, and there were days
like this. This was what life was all about.
The sun, high in the clear blue sky, was picture-postcard
bright. He’d lit out and headed straight for the marina,
knowing he’d find Pauline waiting. They’d set out the
minute he was on board, and with the engine humming, he’d
stripped out of the button-down shirt and vest and slacks
while Pauline played the letch, enjoying the strip as he
turned and bared his ass to her wolf whistles. He had the
ocean to mask just how much he enjoyed his wife looking
She joined him in the water. There wasn’t anyone else for
miles in any direction. He checked his mask, adjusted the
mouthpiece of his tank, and then dove down, letting the
water come together again over his head, the ocean
swallowing him whole.
The quality of light changed down here; the sunlight
filtered through in shafts of emerald and gold. Around
those slanting paths were shadows, dim but clear. A
school of vibrantly colored fish swam through the gold
into the green before disappearing into darker water.
They were captivating to watch. He ducked away from the
light, his languid strokes carrying him slowly deeper as
his eyes adjusted to the dark. Air bubbles rafted up
beside his face. The steady inhale-exhale of the
breathing apparatus was Darth Vader–loud in his ears. He
glanced upward, seeing Pauline splashing about near the
surface. He smiled around the ventilator. He was in the
mood to go deep.
Kicking downward, he sent himself on a steady glide
toward the ocean floor, kicking again every dozen or so
feet deeper he went. It was only a couple of hundred feet
to the seabed, and now that his eyes had become
accustomed to the gloom he could see just fine. This
aquatic world was in constant motion, schools of small
fish darted past, surging around him, above him and
below. As beautiful as it was, there was something in
their rapid dart-twist-dive motion that kept him alert as
he swam deeper. The fish were agitated. That wasn’t a
good thing. They weren’t reacting to him as if he was a
predator, but something had them skittish. It was dumb to
ignore the fish. He wasn’t dumb. Scanning the dark
waters, he didn’t see the telltale shadow of a shark or
any of the ocean’s more deadly swimmers.
He pushed on another fifty feet down, keeping his strokes
smooth and strong, enjoying the silence beyond the dub-
dub of his pulse in his temples and the white noise of
the bubbles he breathed out.
He loved it down here.
Part of him wished he could stay down here forever,
swimming lazily above the beds of coral and watching the
stands of seaweed and clusters of underwater flowers
undulate beneath his shadow.
He watched as a tiny crab hustled along through the sand.
Then something caught his eye.
In the long sliding silence between breaths, he was sure
it was the shadow of some huge marine hunter. His pulse
quickened. To one side the ocean floor sloped away, the
shallows dropping off a shelf and deepening into a wide
trench. The light thickened long before he could make out
just how deep it was.
That only piqued his curiosity.
He swam closer, turning on the small flashlight fitted
into his goggles, and peered down into the dark shadows,
each stroke taking him deeper.
He didn’t trust his eyes, but he wasn’t deep enough for
the pressure to bring on any hallucinations. He wasn’t
drunk or high or just plain crazy, but what he saw didn’t
make any sense.
After staring for a minute, the swimmer kicked down hard,
moving as close to the impossible landscape as he dared.
It was like nothing he’d ever seen.
A hidden world.
His first crazy thought was that he’d stumbled across
Atlantis. He struggled to take in the sheer scope of the
underwater city. In the distance he could barely make out
the distinctive shape of pyramids towering above other
drowned buildings. At the foot of them, a big, crouching
sphinx guarded the place.
He checked his air. He was down to less than quarter of a
tank. Nowhere near enough to explore the drowned city. So
he made a judgment call and kicked for the surface. A
minute later, his head broke through to open air.
He pulled the mask off and spat the mouthpiece out. The
sunlight was blindingly bright; he squinted into it. He
was no more than a hundred yards from the boat. He waved
for his wife, shouting to get her attention. Pauline
waved back. He didn’t stop waving until she got the
message. A few seconds later, the roar of the boat’s
engine echoed across the water as it glided toward him.
He trod water.
He didn’t dare leave the spot until he could mark it. It
wasn’t like underwater cities turned up every day.
In the distance, he saw blue lights as thousands of
ethereal, glasslike sea creatures were swept ashore by
It was hard not to think that there was something very
wrong with the ocean.
Sitting in a darkened office that wasn’t hers, staring
blankly at a computer screen she shouldn’t have had
access to, Sophie Keane came to a decision.
What they were doing was wrong.
She’d known it for a while, suspected it for even longer,
but confronted with the cold hard truth she knew she had
to stop them or die trying. She owed the world that much,
in expiation for the part she’d already played in this
whole nightmarish mess.
But if she was really going to walk down this road she
couldn’t walk it alone.
She reached into her backpack for a still-boxed burner
phone, and tore away the shrink wrap. She fitted the
battery, slipped the back into place, and thumbed it on.
A second later the small screen lit up.
She dialed the number. In this day and age of contact
lists, this was one of the few numbers she still knew by
heart even though she hadn’t dialed it in years.
The call connected, the other end rang. And rang. And
rang. Finally there was murmur, the voice warm and
familiar. She’d missed hearing it. Getting his voicemail
was good. She had a better chance of making it all the
way through to the end of her apology without him
interrupting her train of guilt.
“Jake,” she said. She paused, licked her lips, and took a
deep breath. “It’s me.” She closed her eyes, but that
didn’t help. She could see him, arms folded, giving her
that Are you really going to do this? stare she
remembered all too well. She opened her eyes,
concentrating on the computer screen instead. The truth
was there. She used it to gather the courage to continue.
“Don’t hang up. Please. I know it’s been a long time, and
I know you don’t want to hear this, not now. It’s too
little, too late, but I need you to know I’m sorry. There
are a lot of things I want to say to you, so many I don’t
even know where to start, and there’s a clock ticking . .
. I’m in trouble. I need help. I can’t do this alone.
You’re the only person I can think of to call. Something
is about to happen. Something bad. I’m not even sure how
bad. No. I’m lying to you again. I know precisely how bad
it’s going to be.”
Something clattered somewhere nearby, a small sound, but
Sophie started, half-rose from her chair, eyes scanning
the room. Nothing. The door was still shut, the lights in
the hall still off. The only dim illumination came from
the emergency strip-lighting out in the hall. Okay, deep
breath. “Look, I’ll call again, I promise. I’m sorry. I’m
sorry for everything. You didn’t deserve what happened.
What I did to you . . . You’re going to hear stuff about
me. Bad stuff. I’m not who you think I am.” She hung up
before she said anything else. She was starting to
unravel. She needed to focus. Stay strong.
She had lied to him again. He wasn’t the only person she
could turn to. She made a second call, reaching out to
The Watchers. She knew they’d take her call. They’d been
waiting for it ever since they approached her all those
weeks ago and tried to turn her against her paymasters.
It was a short call. She only said two words: “I’m in.”
“Good,” the voice on the other end of the line said, as
if her participation had never been in doubt. “You know
what you need to do. They won’t remain hidden for long.”
The line went dead.
Pocketing the phone, Sophie rose and moved soundlessly
over to the door. She peered through its frosted glass,
but didn’t see any movement out there. She turned the
knob carefully, willing it to stay silent as she opened
the door a crack.
A little more.
She waited, listening, then finally slipped out through
the narrow gap into the hall. She pulled the door shut
behind her rather than let the hydraulic arm close it
automatically, making sure the catch didn’t click as it
dropped into place. When she was sure it was safe, Sophie
turned away from the office and moved quickly for the
fire escape and the stairs. It was all about speed. Now
that she’d made that call, she felt better about her
No looking back.
Sophie exited the building fast, disappearing into the
city like ghost.
She wasn’t the only ghost.
Once the Hidden’s man was sure she was gone, he stepped
out of the darkness.
“We were right,” he said, seemingly speaking to the empty
room. “She’s turned. I’ll take care of her.” He raised a
finger to his ear and terminated the call by pressing
down on the earbud he wore, and followed Sophie out into
She wouldn’t get far.
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