Cosmic horror plays with the horror of the incomprehensible, where knowledge comes with a steep price and powerful entities view humans as ants. Hailey Piper takes cosmic horror’s preoccupation with alienation and insignificance and instead places it firmly within the familiar—homeless populations. This human touch is usually the antithesis of cosmic horror, but Piper blends the two feelings together seamlessly, creating a narrative about smallness that will stick with you long after you finish reading it.
BEHIND THE PEN
Hailey Piper writes horror and dark fantasy and is a member of the Horror Writers Association. She is the author of The Worm and His Kings, The Possession of Natalie Glasgow, Benny Rose, the Cannibal King, and others. Her short fiction appears in publications such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, The Arcanist, Flash Fiction Online, Daily Science Fiction, Tales to Terrify, Blood Bath Literary Zine, and many more. She lives with her wife in Maryland, where she haunts their apartment making spooky noises.
A NO-SPOILER SUMMARY
The Worm and His Kings follows Monique, a homeless woman in search of her girlfriend Donna, who vanished without a trace. When Monique happens upon a birdlike monster snatching women off the street, she follows it, hoping to find Donna, but instead slips into an underground world populated by a shadowy cult.
VOICES FROM WITHIN
Generally, HOWL Society members enjoyed The Worm and His Kings. The narrative pacing, plot, and relationship between Monique and Donna were server favorites. One member said, “She does a really good job of revealing just enough information that you want more. From the beginning I wanted more information on Donna, and now I need to know more about [the rest].” Another said, “I thought the subtleties of Donna and Monique’s relationship were well done. We speculated about the power dynamic at play between them, and I think that was well realized,” and a third agreed, “The human aspects of the novel were written in an exemplary manner.” Others loved her use of simile and metaphor, especially the way Piper described smells.
The writing style is opaque in places, which can enhance the feelings of alienation and disorientation that Piper plays with, but some HOWLers were left in the cold. One noted that they were “struggling with what things look like throughout. She’s very descriptive, and yet somehow I’m utterly confused as how to compile it in my imagination,” and another said, “I think towards the end it falls into the same problem that any cosmic horror can do which is how do you describe something that is beyond human understanding so that people can understand it.”
At the end of the reading, Piper joined the Discord server for a Q&A session, where she discussed her inspirations for the novel; her writing process; her experiences (all positive!) with the book’s publisher, Off Limits Press; and also provided some life advice: “I think it’s important to peel back the layers of monsters and understand why. Sometimes it turns out they’re not monsters at all. Good to consider with our fellow humans, too.”
WELCOME TO THE BLURBS: HOWL SOCIETY MEMBERS’ REVIEWS IN THEIR OWN WORDS
- When you peel back the layers of confusing descriptions of place and some questionable cosmic horrors, you’re left with a well-represented story of love. Long live the Worm!
- A good attempt at cosmic horror with some nice character touches. Shame it’s not longer to develop on those characters more.
- The Worm and His Kings walks the reader down a staircase into the unknown. The steps fall away. A slide emerges. It’s fun, until the angle becomes steeper, the curves more reckless, until—without warning—the slide retracts and you fall into a space that isn’t only unknown, but that feels dangerous.
- Wishy-washy front-half of the narrative and way too much exposition/explaining. But a very compelling central character and strong finale. Overall, I enjoyed it but felt like the plot needed more development. If nothing else, I am very interested in reading more from Hailey Piper.
- Very strong in the real world elements (experiencing homelessness, brutal experiences of a trans woman, relationship tension) but I had a lot of confusion in navigating and understanding the supernatural/cosmic horror elements.
- Monique, and her relationship to Donna, is what really drives this story. Some of the cosmic descriptions may feel disorienting, but it is worth a read.
- The Worm and His Kings is a disorienting journey down the rabbit… erm… wormhole that is both creepy and mystical.
- This was such a cool story. I adored the queer and trans representation. And I found the storyline itself to be a disorienting but awesome mindfuck. I enjoyed it so much, and I can’t wait to read more from Hailey Piper!
- I was impressed by how well Piper developed the relationship between Monique and Donna in such a short page count. I also thought the juxtaposition of that personal relationship with the larger cosmic themes was interesting. I felt like the pacing was off at the beginning of the book, though, and some of the spatial descriptions (of normal places on Earth, not cosmic stuff) were confusing.
- A lot of people said they were confused by the descriptions in this book. I can’t visualize shit, so I had a fabulous time. Just roll with it and you’ll enjoy it.
The Worm and His Kings takes an old genre and uses it to tread new ground. The book can be a touch disorienting, but cosmic horror is disorienting. Piper uses the feelings of dislocation and vacancy, of being an interloper everywhere and belonging nowhere, and teases them into a solid narrative.