The Worm and His Kings by Hailey Piper [link] is not only one of the queerest horror novels I’ve ever read, it might be one of the best horror novels of the year. I stayed up way too late reading it the night I started it, then way too late again last night to finish it. There were moments where I’d stop and re-read a sentence, just to take in the sheer beauty of the language in this book.
“Subway buskers, used to fighting train horns and railway clatter for listening ears, would’ve drowned out the choir, no trouble. They understood music. It’s purpose was to fill the soul, with no purity in the Worm’s name, and instead littered with the taint of mortal desires. The choir’s pure reverence left Monique’s soul empty.”
That’s just one example of the subtle beauty in the writing in this book. That moment I quoted above comes at about mid-way through the book. Monique’s musing on music are fascinating considering her circumstances. The scenes involving the Worm’s choir are chilling, yet strangely beautiful.
(There are spoilers after this point. Proceed with caution.)
One thing I really enjoyed was the mythology of the Worm, especially the story of the Broken King. It actually does read like a myth that would come from Earth mythology. It’s not just a story made up to sound scary. The elements of the story, the art that portrayed it—that was all something I could easily see coming across in an actual mythology book.
Along that line, major props to the author for not making the people unusual beliefs the scary thing, but the Scary Worm Monster who wanted to unmake the universe was the scary thing.
“Sure, they talk strange,” Monique said, “but they seem harmless enough.”
Reading that was an incredibly pleasant surprise. Often in horror literature, any beliefs that are “odd” (read: not Christian) are used as a vehicle of horror without any sort of examination of why the characters think that. It’s often brushed off as a “something’s wrong here,” shorthand—when, as a polytheist myself, I’m rolling my eyes and telling the characters to please make some offerings and apologize for their stupidity.
“Perhaps you [the Gray Maiden] were also given a name you did not want.”
The scenes near the end of the book with Mimic and her sister-monsters gave me chills in the best way. That Monique had empathy for the Kings’ daughters who’d been ripped away from their proper time was an amazing thing. As a queer and disabled person, I often find myself empathizing with the “monsters,” in the story, rather than the humans who are destroying their lives.
The ending of this book was unlike anything else I’d read in horror, let alone cosmic horror. Cosmic horror is often bleak and hopeless (thanks, Lovecraft) with horror being the only emotion felt at our insignificance in the universe. The ending of this book made me cry from happiness. The scene where Monique goes back and changes time so that the Worm has no need for a Bride or a child was maybe one of the best endings I’ve ever read in horror.
This book was amazing. The writing, the descriptions, the characters; all of it. It also makes the list of “books so queer I hugged my Kindle when I was done.” There are things I don’t want to spoil, but several reveals in this book were handled beautifully. I’m going to be thinking about this book for a long time. The themes of healing, of letting go, of hope and rebuilding the world…all of that was just amazing.
5 stars out of 5. This was just the book I needed.