What if it started raining, and then it never stopped?
Teddy has to figure out how to survive because that is exactly what happens in The Conqueror Worms. While Teddy is trying to figure out the current state of the world, Kevin is doing the same hundreds of miles away. When both stories collide, we watch elderly widower Teddy and brave young Kevin, around Teddy’s mountain home as they try to figure out what to do in a post-apocalyptic world being swallowed by floods and other forces.
I don’t want to give more of a synopsis than that because it would just lead me into giving you spoilers. And I am not a spoilers kind of gal. That being said, there is no way to review this book without telling you that there are sirens, cthulus, Satanists on surfboards, and (obviously) giant earthworms all crammed cohesively into this one book.
Let’s start with our main character, Teddy Garnett. Brian Keene is one of the best authors when it comes to character building. So it comes as no surprise to me that Teddy is one of my favorite protagonists probably ever. He is an elderly West Virginian good old boy. He is smart and caring and an excellent storyteller. He is brave and quick-witted. He never seemed like the cliched old-timer written in just to give advice. He just seems like one of those magnetic people you hear about. The one that everyone is inherently drawn to for some reason, even if he just wants to be left alone. He is accompanied in the story by his long-time friend, Carl Seaton. Carl is cool enough. Not nearly as calm and collected as Teddy, but Carl is needed in the story to be the yin to Teddy’s yang.
Initially, I was a little thrown off by how quickly Keen basically destroyed the whole world and just left an 80-year-old guy on a mountain, and a few random survivors in a high rise in the city. But after reflecting on it a bit, isn't that how it would really go if the world were rained out? We would tell ourselves that it was just rain, some people would board up their windows, but none of us would realize we needed to get to higher ground until it was too late. For that, Keene is a genius. We come into the story after most of the world is gone. We learn about how bad it is just as Teddy learns how bad it is. And we only learn about other survivors as Teddy learns about other survivors.
I also love the multiple and varying monsters in this book. And when we are talking about our “big bads” of the book, I have to split it into 3 categories. Category number one would be our creatures: the giant earthworms, the cthulus and the sirens. I loved the insinuation that these creatures might be real things in our real world, but the conditions aren’t right for them to wreak havoc on humanity. It’s kind of terrifying to think that way down under my feet, right now as I'm typing, there may be a giant killer worm moving about. And the only reason that this worm doesn’t break through the earth’s crust to devour my innards, is because it’s too dry right now.
The second category of “big bads” would be the regular everyday people we often overlook. The people that would flourish in the right conditions, just as the category one monsters would. The neighbor from up the road who’s missing a few screws and always thinks the government is after him? Under the right conditions, he would be able to let his crazy flag fly high. Or maybe it’s those kids you see around that are always wearing black, listening to that screaming music and talking about the occult (that was kind of my aesthetic in high school) ? When most of the population is gone, those youths can hail Satan and pillage your hideout for whatever they want because the conditions are right.
The third and last “big bad” category we have to talk about when we talk about this book is overlooked really easily. It’s rain. I know a lot of what I’ve been talking about is scary, but now picture all of that happening during a never-ending rainstorm. One that makes the water level slowly inch its way up the tallest buildings and the highest mountains until every city and every tree is drowned. Not only does that bring a sense of urgency to the book, it also brings a sense of anger at something that’s out of our control. Those category one monsters would have stayed concealed if the rain would have stopped. The category two lowlifes would still be going about minding their own if the rain would have been a normal drizzle. So not only are we terrified of the precipitation, but we also can’t fight back against it.
Keene’s writing style is amazing. He knows how to tug at your heartstrings and make your stomach swirl. He is inventive and beautifully descriptive. He sets up a sense of tension throughout this book that makes you hold your breath and clench your teeth, especially in the last 40 pages or so. Every terror he writes slowly creeps closer to us and there isn’t anything we can do to stop it and it makes your heart race. Reading this book is a mental and physical experience since you connect too closely with the characters and you care about what happens to them. When they get scared, you do too. When they mourn loss, you do as well.
I don’t have a target audience to recommend this book to because I think that everyone who has an interest in almost any type of horror should read it, sulk in it and then suggest it to a friend so they can read it too. And oh, did I mention it’s the first in The Earthworm Gods series? Because it is. And no, I’m not sorry that I’ve just grown your TBR for you.
This book is getting 5 stars from me. I know there have been some mixed reviews out there, but you really have to read this book and digest it fully before you give it a rating. When I first finished it, I wanted to give it 4 stars. I love a good creature feature and Keene’s writing is top-notch, but it seemed a little too pulp horror for me. You guys have read my reviews enough to know that I love serious, grim and gory horror and The Conqueror Worms seemed a little too over the top with all of its monsters running around unleashing chaos. If you like serious stuff as I do, you may feel the same way after you read it. But sit back and think about it for a little while before you jump to any rating conclusions. This book has it’s silly over the top moments, sure. But when you scratch the surface and look just a little deeper, you start to realize that this post-apocalyptic creature feature horror has a stronger message than a lot of the gory horrors that have come out recently. And it’s this: For every horror, fear, and nightmare, there exists a certain set of circumstances that will result in all of our downfalls.