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Even the Worm Will Turn by Hailey Piper3.5 stars

Buy from Barnes & NobleBuy from IndieBoundBuy from PowellsEven the Worm Will Turn is the sequel to a book that felt like it could not possibly have a sequel. But I suppose it takes a writer like Hailey Piper to end a story with the apparent destruction of all time and space, and then say “the hell with it” and write a sequel anyway. Opening in 1994, four years after the events in The Worm and His Kings, this story reintroduces us to Donna Ashton, the sole survivor of the encounter with the Worm in the cavernous realm deep beneath the streets of Manhattan.

Donna (or Dee), once a lawyer before Reagan-era prejudices got her sacked from her firm for being gay, has been picking up the pieces of her life. She’s clerking at a small firm and has an on-again, off-again girlfriend. But when Donna finds herself abducted by a shadowy organization called Engine — run by Azara McCann, a hard-tempered woman who wears red suits and claims to be the daughter of one of the cultists who abducted Donna four years ago — Donna is forced to relive the ordeal all over again. Most traumatically, she’s confronted by unresolved grief over the loss of her girlfriend Monique Lane, who ventured underground to rescue her, only to disappear into Dark Time in the final battle with the Worm.

Like most middle books in trilogies, Even the Worm Will Turn can’t fully replicate the mind-bending experience readers got from The Worm and His Kings. But its story is powerful in its own way. As I mentioned in my review of the first book, Piper is very good at defining what I call the threshold moment. This is the scene in any horror tale where the character steps over that line (either literal or metaphorical) where they leave the relative safety of everyday life and venture into realms of terror and the unknown. It may be as simple as walking down a flight of stairs or taking a wrong turn. One moment in this book that stands out to me, because it is so wonderfully mundane, is the way Piper has Dee buy a blueberry muffin as her last totally normal act before venturing into the underground. I have always loved the idea of daily life going on all around us, while just around a nearby corner, or maybe one floor down a lonely stairwell, unfathomable horrors lie in wait.

But this story has a much more striking threshold moment, and it is one that I will not spoil, though sadly I am absolutely certain every other review of this book you’re going to see will. Let’s just say that at a crucial moment in the story, something happens to Donna that brilliantly dramatizes the theme of choices and consequences, inflection points in our lives that divide everything we have experienced into “before this” and “after this.” Donna comes to realize that her only ally in her new battle is literally herself, as she begins to grasp what actually came out of the encounter between Monique and the Worm, and what it probably means for the fate of the whole human race.

On a less happy note, if there’s one element in the story that failed to fully satisfy, it was Engine. Unlike the cultists in the first book, whom we spent enough time with that we understood their deluded motives, Engine feels much too underdeveloped. Azara could easily have had much more character development, given her personal connection to past events. But she just feels like a cliché villain, as does her hulking henchman Mr. Tower. And Engine itself, which we’re told is a government entity of some kind with no elaboration, comes across as another one of those hackneyed horror enterprises where hapless amoral scientists fool around unwisely with cosmic powers beyond their ken, to their inevitable doom.

In the end, Piper does leave us with a sense of hope, and the knowledge that Donna has come to understand herself as a person in ways she never had before, ways that will help her heal and move forward. Exactly how all of this will climax in the final installment is impossible to guess — and that’s exactly what any trilogy needs to keep all us proverbial worms on the hook.

Followed by Song of the Tyrant Worm.