Review of Hailey Piper's The Worm And His Kings
Let me start by apologizing for the lecture here, however, if I find a book that has layers of social commentary, my nerd-self rejoices and wants to take it apart piece by piece to see the wonderful craft invested in its making.
Reviewing another horror writer’s work always makes me feel uncomfortable, given the genre and its many diverse branches. What one person considers horror is not another person’s same ideal – yet I tend to look for shared understanding of subject material, and distinct voice therein. The story is the goal here- and by story, I mean message.
Hailey Piper’s “The worm and his kings” is a great example of this – Cosmic horror is horrific, is as brutal in its delivery as slasher horror. It is the horror of the intellectual. Of possibility. Not something as widespread or prevalent as the many books about stalkers for example.
But Cosmic horror, slasher horror, body horror – it all amounts to nothing without a story at its core, and Hailey has a great one, and it is not about horror, at least, my interpretation of that subject material doesn’t understand it to be.
The core of this book is a study of a minority defending their right to exist, and a portrayal of the necessary breakdown of any society as inevitable to incorporate that new minority. A break of thought process, a change of direction and understanding. A better society for it.
Piper addresses Trans-gender acceptance as a changing force in society. The very acknowledgement of transgender people has taken way too long in our history, for opinions and acceptance to adapt. That’s just fact. It is incumbent of any humane society to acknowledge change, accept something new yet embrace it for the change it ushers in self-perspective. We are still fighting for female equality and POC rights. The Transgender community has been somewhat ignored in societies view because of, I believe, a misperception. I believe the thought goes that Trans people choose to become another gender, which – from my understanding of things, is the total opposite of the problem -
Transgender people are as incapable of choosing their actual real sex as the rest of humanity.
It is, therefore, not a choice, to be a different sex to the body you are born in. And trying to attain anything other than that real sex would be to lie to one’s own humanity.
For me, the worm and his kings is a book containing two stories. The main story is the story I have detailed above, and the other story is a way to make that palatable for the dinosaurs that are racing to catch up. Yes, that’s us, folks. And the sooner we realize it, the better for us all.
I don’t summarize stories in reviews because I think it is essential to read a book as the author intended, without warnings or trailers. But what I can say is the social commentary here Is spot on. The nuts and bolts here are very interesting to take apart, and being the nerd I am, it’s my kind of structure. On one level you can enjoy the story as a cosmic horror straight story of destiny. Another level peels away and you have the fight for acceptance of basic transgender rights.
Then we get to the bones of the work. How did Hailey (excuse the familiarity) put this together?
There are great repeats, then echoing repeats. For example, Monique banging her shoulder on the way to the discovery of the missing king. On her way out, hounded by the Grey Lady, she again slams her shoulder. The repeat serves two purposes, it highlights a mirrored image, having reached the goal, the return journey is a mirror of events – the smaller grey ladies make their return, the shoulder is hurt again. The same journey but in reverse.
This in turn sets us up for the mirrored image of Monique stretching her arm down the pit to Donna. We return to the scene and the roles are reversed, it is Monique reaching desperately up toward Donna – which is, of course, a tie to the social aspect of the story, a metaphor for the reversal of need, first of a minority culture trying to help a society get out of a trap (its fixed perceptions), and then the reverse thereof, the minority pleading for help from society to simply exist. And getting ignored, of course.
Which is the core of the story I believe.
It is reflected in one of the closing sentences of the book, the one to which Hailey has been driving us toward, to slam it into our lizard brains:
“Donna's dream came true - there was a world without hate.”
Given the amount of social commentary, it is easy to look further – for example, is the throne room and its invisible wall a commentary on addiction? A denial of the affected and the only possible help coming from an outsider in love with the addicted, who eventually becomes the victim herself? It’s a rabbit hole I will need to contemplate. That wormhole will never end.
It's also interesting - the desire from Monique to run, escape from the city with her lover, as if that is all that she needs, which is pretty much the definition of a young person's wish for love and escape from society, the focus of the minute to somehow balance the unfairness of their society’s discrimination of them.
But there is hope inserted into the story too.
Corene as a metaphor for old fashioned thought, accepting the new though never being able to adapt to embrace it? Prisoner in physicality as a contrast to the transgender person in the wrong body, both imprisoned, the society however observing but unable to empathize, perhaps, compared to the victimized transgender person, adapting, flourishing, fighting to exist and be accepted? We empathize with the trapped static person yet have trouble accepting the idea of a person trapped in their own body? What hypocrites!
There is the line:
“I wish I had time to know you better.” Coming from a character that almost represents the good side of society, one that is unable to change, locked and static in a prison of thought and beliefs, capable of change, yet anchored in their own world of unsurmountable circumstance. Still – she sacrifices herself to give Monique a fighting chance at life.
There are lovely uses of craft, the twist with “the bride” well hidden.
“But then a minute would pass, or an evening, and..." shines like a gem.
I wondered if the ending to chapter 1 –
“A nothing life with a nothing end.
Her gaze drifted again to the empty place, nothing was all she would leave behind.”
Was a tip of the hat to Alan Moore’s Halo Jones?
No? Probably just me overthinking it all.
The worm and his kings is a story, and a social commentary first and foremost. It is horror, but it is horror because it needs to be. It needs to be read by an audience capable of change, of altering their thinking, of adapting before the rest of society can do likewise.
And that’s the truly horrifying thought.
Lovely voice, Hailey. An astonishingly brave and honest book.