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This limited edition of 4 novellas from Hailey Piper is a one-off from Thunderstorm books. I got number 42 of 52, signed by Hailey and with hand written titles adorning the book – which, might I add, is beautiful itself. It has a striking cover from Zach McCain, an internal typeface that screams Grand Theft Auto, novella notes on each story but the worm and his kings and um… it smells like a new book…

I ran out of things to mention here.

Nevertheless, I was rubbing my hands when it arrived in the post. I had only read The worm… before this collection, so I wanted to catch up on the other three novellas, and, as I expected, the book flew by in the space of a couple of sittings. I tried to savor just one story a day to give myself a little thinking time, and honestly, it’s a really strong anthology. 

To be fair to the individual novella’s, I’ve separated them into books in their own right.

Not only for content but also for presentation. Great stuff! Thank you, Hailey, this was a half-week well spent!

Overall
An Invitation to Darkness

This Hailey Piper short-short (In my collected edition, it is 28 pages long) AITD, Hailey swaps modern day settings for the late 1800’s. Central to the main theme of the story is a same-sex love story, loving rendered and set against a paranormal background. 

The story here is pretty straightforward, told almost as a mystery, the exact nature of the paranormal threat is revealed around three quarters of the way through this short, and the remaining third deals with the main characters goal of ridding herself and her new wife of the paranormal menace.

So – I have to say that the voice here was well done, I think I was swayed enough by the language here to say that Hailey showed the historic time placement well enough, and I was pre-disposed to liking the love story between the two women. I do have to say that the “monster” when revealed, failed to threaten me – it felt very much that the ending was always going to be in a location revealed earlier on in the book, so I wasn’t overly surprised by the way things ended. That said, the novel time-set change here impressed, Hailey is showing her diversity in both characters, historical voice and novella length here, making this piece so restrictively short is actually quite impressive. 

It’s a nice enough read, and whilst it is the shortest and, in my opinion, less developed of the four pieces.

The Possession of Natalie Glasgow

Hailey Piper’s TPONG has at its core, the love of a mother for her daughter. Starting on that note, Piper establishes a solid connection to the reader (well, to me, and I assume, to any parent). The story then charts a medium’s commitment to helping remove a malevolent spirit from a possessed child. The stakes are set right at the outset, evidence of paranormal abilities and threats are given right off the bat, and the tension is rocketed up to 10 from the first chapter on. This is a great opener, and that furious pace is maintained throughout the novella.

Piper’s vision is sprung from opinion about hunters, I think it’s fair to assume. Now I’m a European. I’ve never held a gun in my life, have no interest in “hunting”, have no desire to kill animals or humans or any other living being (hey, I’m a vegetarian, what did you expect?). So, the stand, for me, is one to agree with and I can understand the thought process here that went behind the construction of the novel. That opinion aside, TPONG brings a lot more to the table. The characters are lifelike and believable. Even the spirit that possess’ Natalie is given a POV moment to express their perspective. Simply put, Hailey has delivered on character motivation again, and that is the solid base for everything that happens.

I believe this was Hailey’s debut, and I can understand why other writers lathered praise on the novella, it’s easy to read, a voice to follow, characters and motivation are nailed down, action is short and sharp, and brutal, tension is out of the roof. It’s promising everything to come from an emerging talent, and that promise is still going strong several novellas and novels down the road. 

Hailey’s not going anywhere. She’s here to stay, and we can be thankful we get to go along for the ride.

Benny Rose, The Cannibal King

This is a very cleverly constructed novella. Piper has used mythology, Halloween, and word of mouth to create the singularly focused Benny Rose legend, and the effect is mesmerizing. I’m not a fan of slasher/hunted/hunter horror books, but the background work here made this un-put-downable. Piper has an intrinsic understanding of how tales can be twisted over generations, how rumor and time can distort a true story into something legendary. And that, when combined with the paranormal, makes the whole experience decidedly more real. It adds respectability and believability to the tale. If you can explain the how and why of a ghost tale, it suddenly transports it, and that is what has happened here. 

Without going into too much detail, it’s the motivations on display here, that really seal the deal. The main character, Desiree, begins as something of a mean girl. Her motivation is not kind – and the reader therefore begins the tale biased against her, yet by the end of the novel, Piper has you happily urging her on in her fight against the demonic cannibal king. It’s a total turn around in character arc, and motivation is key – we see her motivations and loyalties shift as the novel progresses, and we are similarly moved. 

Benny Rose himself is transformed from slasher horror killer, mindless indestructible ghost, into something which we begin to understand – his very being a product of his untimely demise. That Piper has woven a mythology into that and showcased that process – Halloween themed parties where tales of Benny are told to scare young children – well – that’s masterful writing. It is a lightbulb moment in the novel when you understand that the slasher novel you are reading has more meat to its bones, and that you have always been on the road Hailey has been leading you down. 

There are some great secondary characters thrown in here to make the entire thing complete. The wonderful Arthur, the grumpy old man with fantastically dated opinions, get’s his own chapter, a POV Hailey must have had a blast writing, the reader gets a great tension break seeing how the old dinosaur thinks, and though he fares badly against the MC, that action scene showcases some of Hailey’s unflinching attention to detail. I won’t go into it, but it’s graphic enough to satisfy gore fans – and even though I am not of that camp, it was distant enough that the details worked for me. But, yeah – Jesus, Hailey. Pan the camera away at some point!

The ending is satisfying, holds its own, it’s bitter sweet, but realistic, and again ties the complete package together. 

Benny King is surprisingly (to me), my favorite Piper tale to date, remarkable given that I dislike slasher horror, am scared of horror movies, and am not a gore fan. Yet there I was, cheering our group of girls on to killing the king, hacking and biting, refusing to be a singular final girl. I say our, because Hailey has created her own world here, but invited us generously into it. This was almost Holywood popcorn entertainment, and get the full 5 ⭐treatment! 

Fantastic work, Hailey!

The Worm and His Kings

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.

In TWAHK, Piper addresses Trans-gender acceptance as a changing force in society. This book then is basically a social commentary but presented inside a great cosmic horror novella. Piper has emerged as a leading voice for transgender rights and representation, it is not without pride that she uses the slogan Make Horror Queer as hell – and it’s a slogan that has resonated throughout the indie horror scene, not least of which here, in the horror oasis. 

So, what is the worm and his kings about – transgender rights aside? It’s a love story, a story of past trauma. It’s a story about losing something or someone, and searching for them, for an ideal, to find that ideal changed, perhaps something that was never really as real as you imagined. It’s about body horror. Cosmic horror. Psychological horror. It’s about the monsters we find in our lovers, it’s about embracing the monster in ourselves. It’s about not being scared of either your own or another’s scars and seeing past them. And it’s about a massive, kick-ass worm. 

This is a book to devour in one sitting. The prose is wonderful, Hailey is at the top of her game here. This was the first novella I read of Hailey’s, and the praise for it is well deserved. This flew past. For the craft nerds, there is plenty to spot, but honestly, appreciate this for the love story this is. 

Lovely voice, Hailey. An astonishingly brave and honest book.

Austrian Spencer

Austrian Spencer

Author

Austrian Spencer does not watch horror films, though enjoys horror books.  His influences include Alan Moore, Dave Sim, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, The family King, Iain M.Banks, from whom he wishes to learn. Be inspired. He owes them everything, despite their beards. The Sadeiest is Austrian’s debut novel. 

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