The Worm and his Kings: New Cosmic Horror

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I am unabashedly a huge fan of the weird and wonderful genre of cosmic horror. The ambiguity and dread of unimaginable terror is something that strangely fascinates me, regardless of how much I understand when I read it. Plus cosmic horror stories typically involve cults, so that’s another win in my book. And while I appreciate the godfathers of the genre, such as HP Lovecraft cosmic horror movie The Color Out of Space and Robert Chambers, what has been really exciting is seeing all the new blood coming on the scene in the past decade or so. Whether it’s Victor LaValle updating a classic with The Ballad of Black Tom (2016), or Lonnie Nadler writing an original tale with Black Stars Above (2020), or season 1 of True Detective (2014) bringing the weirdness to the masses – it’s clear that cosmic horror is in good hands. And now The Worm and His Kings has entered the genre.

What I also love about more recent cosmic horror stories is that they are bringing much needed humanity and depth to their characters, in an often esoteric genre with flat characters and dense writing. Gone are the interchangeable and one-sided professors or explorers who narrate their descent into madness. Instead we now have a wide range of dynamic and diverse characters; still finding themselves trapped in the supernatural but with emotional arcs and personalities that are much more relatable and realistic for modern audiences.

And that brings me to Hailey Piper’s latest novella The Worm and His Kings (2020). Set in 1990s New York City, it’s about a young woman named Monique who is down on her luck and living in an abandoned freight train tunnel. Her partner Donna has recently been taken by a taloned monster that stalks the city’s underground tunnel system. One night Monique works up the nerve to follow the monster in a half-planned rescue mission that quickly turns sideways. As she descends deeper into the earth’s depths, Monique will encounter a variety of creatures and mind-boggling horrors in her desperate bid to save the woman she loves.

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The Worm and His Kings horror book cover
The Worm and His Kings by Hailey Piper

Oh man, where to start on this one? Spoiler alert: I absolutely loved it! Monique is a great protagonist and one whose struggles I immediately sympathized with. While she is somewhat at the mercy of the cosmic forces seeking to ensnare her, she’s not going to give up without a fight. I desperately wanted her to win, but I was constantly afraid that she would not. She’s up against some formidable foes, including the deranged cultists who sing (and kill) in preparation for the Third Coming of the Worm as well as other shadowy, scaly creatures. The Gray Maiden, the giant lizard-like monster who stole Donna, is like something out of a Dark Souls game and particularly terrifying. 

The lore that underpins the story is fascinating and manages to feel hauntingly familiar yet also stand on its own. The history of the Worm and the Kings, the emphasis on alternate dimensions and timelines, the enigmatic practices of the cult – all of it is very compelling. And not only does Hailey Piper write an engaging story, but the way she writes it is beautifully evocative. I loved the vivid details, descriptive imagery, and the constant atmosphere of unease. I really felt Monique’s fear and like I was right there with her in the story, whether in the glaring halls of the cult base or the wet, cold, creeping horror of the Sunless Palace far below ground. Piper also does a good job of balancing clear language with frightening ambiguity, giving me a story that felt grounded but that also threw me off-kilter in an apprehensive way. 

The Worm and His Kings is the best cosmic horror story I’ve read all year, and easily takes a place amongst my all-time favorites. It has a protagonist you really root for, creepy monsters, a fantastic backstory, lots of twists and turns, and plenty of unsettling and mind-bending scenes. It also has an ending that surprised me, but also makes perfect sense with the story. This is my first book from Hailey Piper, and I can’t wait to read what else she has written!


The Worm and His Kings by Hailey Piper is distributed by Off Limits Press.

Wyrd and Other Derelictions by Adam Nevill

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Reviews

Wyrd and Other Derelictions by Adam Nevill is available now from Ritual Limited.

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What’s it like to be the first on the “scene of the crime”? What’s it like to visit the living vacuum of traumatic events; places empty of humanity yet brimming with the electrified air of horrifying aftershock. Or maybe they’re not so empty. Was that a thump upstairs? Did that shadow just move? Why is there a foot laying here, and where is the rest of the body? Is something out there?

This collection of derelictions (i.e. stories of abandonment) is experimental writing in its truest form. With each tale author Adam Nevill places us in a story post-climax, or a sort of unresolved or unfinished epilogue. Something truly devastating has happened in this setting, but all we’re given are grim clues. There are no characters and no dialogue. Only descriptions of scenes and a narrative style that feels like someone is leading you through the chaos. You are intrigued, you are disturbed, and you’re not quite sure what is going on.

Wyrd and Other Derelictions horror book cover

The thing about such an approach to “storytelling” that Wyrd and Other Derelictions (2020) takes is that it’s incredibly risky. It’s automatically going to put most readers into a love-it-or-hate-it camp from the very first couple of stories. But the author is discerning enough to know that, and in fact he is intentionally playing with form and expression. There is an author’s note at the back of the book where he explains the germ for the collection, and what other avenues of thought and experimentation came out of that. It’s all very compelling, but does it work?

For me, at least, the answer is a strong yes! Both the wordsmith and the horror lover in me absolutely enjoyed what Nevill is trying to accomplish here, and I think he manages to knock it out of the park. The collection is a mashup of cult/alien/creature stories, all very strange and eerie in their telling. Though they follow a similar narrative style, they are all different enough to stand on their own. Each has at least one scene (usually the ending) that will haunt me for a long time. The writing is wonderfully descriptive and engaging; a vivid prose style that carries the brunt of the ploy and does it well, even without characters and even without dialogue.

All the stories were gems in my opinion, and I loved them all for different reasons. To rank them would be to degrade them, but there are some that stand out particularly to me are. “Hippocampus” is the story of cargo freight adrift in the stormy sea; the crew are in various states of dismemberment and something squirmy is lurking below deck. In “Monument” an ancient burial chamber is unearthed and something is building pyres in the backyards of a suburban neighborhood. And finally, “Enlivened” depicts a ghastly scene of ritual mutilation followed by the exploration of a house, where something skitters and thumps amongst the dead.

My only complaint, though not a complaint really, is that the nature of the stories and the description-heavy writing style are such that each takes time to get through. They require slower reading and more processing. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make reading them all back to back less of a satisfying endeavor. My recommendation would be to space them out over a period of weeks, or even one a month. They all deserve to ruminate in your mind, so give them the space to breath

Again, this is very much a love it or leave it collection. Many readers I trust absolutely hated it, while others were enamored by it. Clearly I’m in the second camp, but I’m curious to hear what others think. Either way I think it’s safe to say that Adam Nevill has created something fairly unique and enticing in a genre that unfortunately abounds with cliché. And for that, at the very least, I’m grateful.

Wyrd and Other Derelictions by Adam Nevill is available now from Ritual Limited. Adam Nevill is an English writer of supernatural horror, most known for his book The Ritual.

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