Do you want to escape the world, but find that books are too short and spit you back out into the real world too quickly? Follow me, friend, into the world of Parahumans.
Worm tells the tale of 16 year old Taylor, shortly after she gains the seemingly underwhelming superpower of being able to control insects. Skitter; the name she goes by behind the mask, enters the world of super heroes, but it is nothing like the paragons of good versus the masters of evil that popular culture would have had her believe. The people with powers are human, and I don’t even mean that in any sense usually touted about by comic books.
This review is going to be a little more difficult to write than I am used to, because the journey is over, but it was a very long journey. Remembering Taylor at the beginning is like remembering what your shadow looked like in August while standing in a blizzard in January. She starts out as an unsure, awkward teenager, but as the story progresses, she grows and matures into one of the most well defined multi-dimensional characters I have ever read. The story is from her point of view, but everyone in this massive story has incredible depth of character (I think Worm weighs in at about 3 Bibles in length, to use something most will at least have a reference frame for). The powers are seldom what you would come to expect from popular culture, either; some are so complicated that there is no way to translate them into words. You learn what the superpower is not because you are told what it does, you learn about it from how it is used.
One of the main characters, Tattletale–I am not sure you are ever, in the 2.5 million words that contain this story, told exactly what her power does… But you can figure it out through what she does. I think this is a masterwork of writing, as it lets the reader learn and grow and predict and figure, without having to say “The blue curtain was blue.” I like a work that makes you think, not just one that throws the answer in your face (imagine how amazing The Usual Suspects could have been if they had never revealed who Kaiser Soze was?). That is the nature of this work. (To be fair, I think the author figured out that this is the part people liked, then doubled down on the concept for his newest work. The world is so complicated he also wrote a reference manual for the world that the web serial takes place in, and even then I have to flip back pages to figure out what is going on at times.)
There are, generally speaking, six (plus or minus nine…) main characters, pictured above. I say pictured, but that is a bit of a misnomer; they are pictured in the way that any book cover can show the physical characteristics of a written character. TANGENT! Anyway, it is interesting to watch the growth of each of the primary six, to hear their back stories, to discover how and why they got their powers. Every detail in this epic story is important in a way that you may not understand until it is all over. After my first reading, I thought the the author subscribed to the Japanese method of story telling, where the ending comes out of nowhere (Akira would be the perfect example), but on reading it a second time, there were so many clues. The author knew how this story ended at the very beginning, and it is magical to watch it all unfold, and magical to watch it all unfold again once you know how the trick works. Any book that asks me to read it twice, and that I enjoy as much the second time as the first, is a book I would never hesitate to recommend to anyone who would listen; this is no exception.
While none of the general populace has a power that could be considered Superman-league powers, there is a group of three called the Endbringers that does. This is a concept I love, as this is a world that follows rules, has a point and limits, except where the Endbringers are concerned. The breaking of the limits and the massive difference in power between the characters we are used to and the Endbringers is — stunning, and incredible to behold. Another wonderful piece of writing, an Endbringer battle is written in a style that is both hectic and detailed; a master choreographer working with an incredible director and camera-person to create the perfect battle scene. If you have read the Sword of Truth series, imagine the “soccer riot” scene in Confessor but written by a person whose ability to capture life and put it onto paper is his superpower.
The grip and emotion and fear and power contained in so many of the chapters of this serial are something that I am not sure I will find in any other work (though obviously I will keep trying).
I hate to say it, but I could wax poetic about this series for ten thousand straight words, and still have more compliments on hand to pay it. It takes a great deal of inspiration from comic books, but expands on it in a way that only a deep work of art can.
The journey of one thousand miles begins here, and the entire work is available online for free for now (but I would happily pay $50 just for the privilege of reading it).
Worm exists in a universe so rich with detail it is hard to believe it is not merely through the next doorway over. The characters are incredibly deep and well crafted, balanced in their own way, damaged and vulnerable as one expects humans to be. The journey you find yourself embarking upon is the first step of a thousand miles, and with every step you will be elated that you are on the journey, but sad that every step is one step less that you have to enjoy.