Review: Worm

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February 12, 2024

Tags: Parahumans, Superhero, Web serial, Wildbow, Worm

The cover of "Worm", by Wildbow. Shows a city skyline at sunset, with tall buildings and lots of light. You can tell the city is by the ocean due to reflections at the bottom. The title and the author's name are in white at the top.

Hello again! This time, I'm coming with a bit of a unusual review. Usually, I review books in, well, the book format, but this time I have a web serial to recommend to you: Worm, by Wildbow.

I can't stress enough how much I loved this story. It's ridiculously long (1.6M words, more or less), but it was such a ride. Worth every second. I'll copy-paste the "About" section for you before I dive in:

An introverted teenage girl with an unconventional superpower, Taylor goes out in costume to find escape from a deeply unhappy and frustrated civilian life. Her first attempt at taking down a supervillain sees her mistaken for one, thrusting her into the midst of the local ‘cape’ scene’s politics, unwritten rules, and ambiguous morals. As she risks life and limb, Taylor faces the dilemma of having to do the wrong things for the right reasons.

I'll leave here the link for you, but be warned: Every single piece of sensitive content I can imagine is present in this story, so read at your peril. Special attention to arachnophobes. The MC can control bugs, and there are creepy crawlies in almost every single chapter. You have been warned.

That being said, oh boy, where do I begin. I started reading Worm in early December. I had already read another work by the author (Twig), and absolutely loved it, so I decided I'd start Worm and read one chapter a day, to avoid derailing my TBR too much. That did not go so well. Each chapter is roughly the size of a short story (around 6 thousand words), and a few chapters in I was HOOKED. Worm is structured in arcs, each one with ten or so chapters and capped by an interlude from a different character's POV, and instead of reading a single chapter a day I wound up reading half an arc or so in each sitting.

As you probably guessed from the blurb, Worm is a superhero story. While there are tons and tons of superhero stories floating about, Worm quickly stood out to me for two reasons: First, the main character isn't exactly a hero, but she's not exactly a villain either. Taylor walks the razor's edge between the two, something we see a lot in regular fantasy but not so often in superhero stories, and a lot of that is present even in her inner conflict. She wants to be a hero, but the constraints placed on them (mainly the law, lol) would make it harder for her to do what she thinks needs to be done most of the time. We see the glimmers of a legitimately good person in her, but warped by circumstance, by her environment, and even by other external factors.

The second reason why it stood out to me was the way the story dealt with violence. It's a pretty violent story, I'm not gonna lie to you. But it doesn't glorify it, like other stories we're used to. In fact, throughout the entire story a lot of emphasis is placed on winning fights in smart ways, which I really liked. The MC's power plays into that, as the ability to control bugs doesn't lend itself so well to throwing hands, and along the way she comes up with very inventive ways of applying her powers.

Interestingly, that emphasis on fighting smart actually spreads through most of the cast. Worm is a bit similar to X-Men in the sense that parahumans (the superpowered people) run a risk of falling afoul of the unpowered majority, and so heroes and villains often hold back with their powers, to avoid becoming too much of a problem. Lots of unwritten rules surround the appropriate behavior for parahumans, and things hit the fan when somebody breaks them. Which, as you may guess, happens a LOT.

And, in such a troubled world, it's not surprising to learn that many of the characters have very different ways of dealing with things. Someone in the comments (yes, you can leave comments on each chapter) has described Worm as being about perspectives, and they didn't lie. Each parahuman (and most regular humans, too) brings their own perspective and baggage to the table, making Worm a melting pot of diverging perspectives and conflict. I loved the characterization, from the lovable villains to the despicable heroes, which played extremely well with the occasional interludes Wildbow left in the story.

Another thing I can't help bug bringing up is all the mystery present in Worm. Starting out, Taylor knows very little about the inner workings of her world, and that ignorance also applies to the vast majority of the cast. Nobody knows where, exactly, the powers come from. Or the Endbringers, for that matter. The powers themselves are unfair, with some individuals turning out to be vastly more powerful than others, and people who find themselves with underwhelming powers (or even the powers that make you monstrous) have nothing to do but dealing with it. It was a delightful experience to learn more about that world with each passing chapter. The author did an EXCELLENT work with all the worldbuilding, as none of it (and trust me, there is a LOT of it) felt like an infodump, and each little pearl of information we get only makes the whole more enjoyable.

All those things, coupled with the fast pace (yes, this behemoth of a story is ridiculously fast), resulted in my reading the entirety of Worm in about two months. I cannot possibly recommend it enough. It slapped. To top it off, there's also a sequel, but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I will, though. Perhaps later this year.

I will, however, leave some more warnings here for you: The author doesn't go out of his way to describe everything. If you're the type of reader who wants things described in detail, you'll probably fall off the wagon pretty quickly. Worm leaves many tiny details to the reader's imagination, which is a huge plus for me and contributes to the frantic pacing. Also, since it's a serialized work (and Wildbow was churning about 12K words a week, sometimes more), it's not as well-edited as you're used to. There will be typos, weird wording, repetitions, and so on. But not nearly enough to detract from the story, and trust me when I tell you it doesn't bring the final rating down at all.

Final rating: Ten out of five stars.

That's it, folks. You can read Worm here if you're interested, and if you wish to support Wildbow, you can go here. The Patreon page also includes links to Wildbow's other serials, and I strongly recommend Twig as well!


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