A friend of mine gave me this book knowing what a fan I am of all things Gothic, Horror and Fantasy. And from the get-go, let me just say that I wasn’t disappointed. Hailey Piper’s novella transcends the LGBTQ niche in which it is usually placed. It is truly a magnificent story.
There comes a time for every reader when they suddenly realize that they are not just reading a good story but that they are also reading something that has transcended simple good storytelling and has entered the realm of the special. Call it what you will. I choose to call it literature. Think Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, or H.P. Lovecraft.
There are layers within layers to this story. The story is set in the 1990s and begins with a monster kidnapping homeless women from an enclave of the lost in an abandoned subway line under the streets of New York City. Donna is one of the missing. Monique, Donna’s lover and one of the abandoned (by society and her family), believes that the creature has taken Donna to its lair. She goes in search of her lover and that search takes her deep into the underworld of a cult that is waiting for its god, the Worm, to return.
Hailey Piper draws us into this dark underworld by not only capturing the dispair of those whom the world has abandoned but also by drawing us into the subterranean world of her characters souls. As dark and as dangerous as the underworld becomes, the life that her protagonist has had to endure on the surface is equally as dark and foreboding.
Monique is a transgender woman whose love for Donna has ruined Donna’s career. Donna has comforted Monique through her blotched operation and the subsequent rejection by her family. Society rejects the love that Donna and Monique feel for each other, driving them into the abandoned subway tunnels and eventually into the arms of a monster.
The Worm and His Kings is a classic “quest” story. Think along the lines of Orpheus Descending, Dante’s Inferno, Blade Runner, and The Old Man and the Sea. Under the skillful pen of Hailey Piper that quest takes on multiple layers with multiple twists. Monique is on a quest to save Donna, much like Orpheus in the Classic Greek legend was on a quest to save Eurydice from the underworld, or later in the Medieval poem The Devine Comedy, when Dante was willing to brave the inferno of Hell to find his Beatrice.
In the underworld of Piper’s story, the followers of the Worm are also on a quest to fulfill the Worm’s wishes. Even the monster and the Worm, itself, are also on a quest: one to find a resolution for its pain and suffering; and the other to find the faith that it’s followers lacked eons before.
Then Piper gives the story a twist and asks her readers to contemplate who the real monster is and which quest is the most important. The author forces the reader to reassess the meanings of specific words, actions, and thoughts as the story turns on who is doing what to whom. Eventually, Monique must confront a juxtaposition of both her humanity and sexuality.
In The Worm and His Kings, Hailey Piper constructs a world of darkness, horror, and desperation as all the characters struggle to achieve their ultimate goals. Monique must confront the horror of what HAS happened to her and the horror of what IS happening to her. This is the kind of novella that demands to be read and reread to have all its nuances explored. This is the kind of novella that makes us look at ourselves as much as we look at the leading characters.
We all have demons to identify and confront and hopefully in the cosmic realm of things, reduce them to their proper places. This is a great read.