REVIEW: The Worm And His Kings by Hailey Piper
*WARNING: CONTAINS MANY, MANY SPOILERS*
Clive Barker’s Cabal. Stephen King’s Revival. The Buffy episode The Gift.
Fuck Lovecraft; these are the things I was most reminded of, when reading Hailey Piper’s cosmic horror novella The Worm & His Kings.
I’d quickly run out of adjectives, were I to try to describe everything I loved about this book. So let me tell you instead, in a handful of words, why I think you ought to read it.
The Worm is beautiful. It’s mind-bending. It’s sinister. It’s heart-wrenching. And it’s important - especially now.
I want to dwell a little on why I think it’s so important; what it does that makes it not only unique but culturally significant, in this particular moment of history.
But before I do, I want to say this: even if The Worm weren’t important - even if didn’t centre the things it centres and tell the story it tells, a story that desperately needs telling - it would still be a remarkable story. The premise, the atmosphere, the execution, the ending (... God, the ending...): all of these, any one of these, are enough to make The Worm a must-read. Hailey Piper is a wonderful storyteller, does creeping dread magnificently, and the world she creates (a sort of cosmic Midian under the NYC subway system) continues to blow my mind.
I repeat: these things, on their own, are enough reason to go out and buy The Worm right this instant. Buy it for yourself, for your wife, for your Labrador; buy it for your Aunt Ida for Christmas, the one who reads nothing but Mills & Boon and recipe collections.
The cultural significance of the story, though, is what I really want to emphasise.
(Fair warning: the next few paragraphs contain spoilers. Massive, red-light, klaxon-blaring spoilers. So please stop reading now, if you’d rather not see them).
The Worm is culturally significant, to my mind, for two reasons.
The first is that it’s a horror story that explicitly foregrounds romantic (and, before anyone gets carried away with any thoughts of intense friendships or excitable 18th century letter-exchanges, unequivocally sexual) love between two women. This is unusual, in our genre; unusual still, I’m sad to say, in fiction more generally. The relationship between The Worm’s hero Monique and her missing girlfriend Donna is the propulsive narrative engine of the story, and, though told primarily in elliptical flashbacks, is beautifully done. I believed it, and I believed in it. As a queer woman, I need more stories like this to be told.
The second is that it centres not just queer but trans queer experience. Monique is a queer trans woman, and The Worm is a trans narrative. The scarred, contested space of Monique’s body is - in a very literal sense - absolutely pivotal to the unfolding of the story. But this isn’t a story about being trans, per se, or about the minutiae of social and medical transition - though the rendering of some of the details of living as a trans woman, in a trans body, are perfectly (and again, elliptically) done. In fact, it's about love, and the horrors of the cosmic unknown, and the possibilities of hope.
And a story that lets its queer, trans protagonist love, and experience cosmic (not just everyday human) horror... a story that shows her hoping for a better - or, at least, an entirely different - tomorrow... that’s pretty fucking radical, here and now.