Podcast interview scheduled...so keep your eyes peeled.
114 pages...When I closed this book for the last time it was almost impossible to believe that I had read only so few pages. Hailey Piper is a new author for me but she has packed so much of the grand scale of cosmic horror into so few pages is a magic trick. I know that cosmic horror was born in the short form in weird tales but it still impressed me. Even more impressive is to balance building a mythology and balance a very humane story.
Hailey is an author I discovered when this book was announced, and it was on my radar ever since. The excellent artwork and the concept sold me. Then I followed Hailey on Twitter and found that I enjoyed her takes on many topics. It is a reminder that the more she talked about this book the more reminders I eventually picked it up. Keep talking about your books!
So glad I picked it up. The Worm and His Kings is an excellent book. As my first introduction to Piper's work, I am sold and will now follow her to whatever books she writes. There is a reason not everyone can write good cosmic horror. There is a certain elegant style of prose that really makes the best of the genre work. Piper's style is rich, vivid, and powerful. The tone reminds me of early Clive Barker in execution, Lovecraft in scale, and wholly unique in point of view.
Every page is written with skill, but the pages drip with an emotional intensity that is lost in some cosmic horror. The personal and the galactic collide and that is one wonderful thing about this novelette. Novelette, novella, or short novel I always point out Of Mice and Men was only 100 pages. I got more feels out of these 114 pages than some doorstop eight hundred pagers.
I went in cold and if you trust me, stop reading here and do the same. Light spoilers ahead.
The story itself is about Monique who is homeless on the streets of NYC, one of the few places of shelter she and her partner Donna had found a home in a tunnel they call the freedom tunnel. I took that to mean that there is a certain amount of freedom in choosing to live a life off the grid, I also liked that about this book the characters are relatable even if they have a certain diversity, you don't find as typical protagonists, LBGTQ, homeless main characters are very well written and refreshingly real. Monique is really our point of view character. The narrative benefits from staying close to her at all times. Not first-person but the book never switches perspective.
The cross of the personal and mythology shines in the darkness. Moments like this one…
“She’s part of the nothing now.” Hot tears flooded Monique’s cheeks. She tried to swallow the burning lump in her throat. “We fed her to the empty place.”
“No, No Lady smiled wide and shook her head. “Most of the universe is empty. We feel stretches of the worm, and she’s with him now, and full and infinatellsetsfree-”
Her words smashed together and thinned like Phoebe across time, becoming nothing.”
Monique is a transgender character. I thought about not mentioning this in the review. It shouldn’t matter but ultimately, I don’t think this will spoil the experience and I want to highlight the strength that this inclusion brings to the story. In the late 90s, I had a close friend and roommate transition and watched him deal with gender. I know still, I can not understand so Monique’s experience in the book as someone with gender dysmorphia and no means as a homeless person leads to some heartbreaking moments. So valuable, and that is something, that is not a word that many horror novels can claim. It is that realistic terror mixing with the massive scale of the Worm that made the horror FEEL like something.
Outsiders of all kinds desire that the world change and the Worm is a monster that feeds on that desire. Long-time readers of my reviews know the key to a story in my opinion…parallels and reversals.
“…The wounds of this world will be unmade so says the King.”
“Scars never go away,” Monique said.
“They will when the worm remakes the world. The worm changes you.”
Later on the same page, Lady ponders. “The Worm changes everyone. I wonder what you will become.”
Is there anything more cosmic in horror when a monster knows you down to the deepest fabric of your heart? A monster that knows what you desire in your core and want more than anything. The greatest scariest moments in the genre of horror can only be achieved if the storyteller creates characters we care about and monsters who threatened them. The Worm is Monique’s fear made real.
“And here, in the darkest place, Monique found monsters.
Maybe if her parents knew how far she’d fallen, they would at last regret having bashed their only child.
Unlikely. That was her imagination preying on her thoughts with something more painful than monsters in the dark-The illusion that her parents could accept her.”
Goddamn. Amazing stuff, the best thing I have read so far this year. Some of the best modern to come out of the small press in a long damn time.