Exclusive, Limited, Signed Edition- SOLD OUT
Now, on to the book itself. I received the Night Worms/Thunderstorm Books exclusive edition in November of last year, but I didn't get around to reading it until a couple weeks ago. I'm late in writing my review, but this is actually the very first book I read in 2021 and I was so happy to start the year with such a good one!
There's so much to love here, from the fleshed out characters, to the immaculate pacing and suspense, to the thrilling, jaw-dropping final act. I already had a soft spot for this type of story because I'm a big fan of (dark) coming-of-age tales, and I'm pleased to report that the Lutzke-Meyer duo knocked it out of the park. Baker Gray is an authentic and fully realized protagonist, whose burgeoning hormones are fully smitten by the older Cass and yet who still questions his own actions even as he sinks down the well of moral dilemma. I may not have been caught up in the same dark web as Baker when I was young, but many of his thoughts and feelings are strikingly relatable. I think this speaks to the success of the writers in capturing the fears and yearnings of an adolescent male whose loss of innocence begins early in the book and continues on to the shocking finale.
In addition to the characters of the book, I also really enjoyed the pacing. You know, just based on the tone and mood early on, that something is going to go horribly wrong as Baker falls head-over-heels for Cass, but the book is patient enough to wait until the end to reveal its full horror. Plus the increasing infatuation/sexual tension, growing rivalry with Baker's best friend Seb, and escalation of Cass's demands are plenty engaging and help carry the story along at a brisk, worrisome step. Oh and the countdown in the chapters is a nice touch, clearly spelling out that we're heading towards something bad. I loved every single chapter in this book, but that ending is just amazing. I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say I'm a sucker for home-invasions-gone-wrong. Also there is a twist that, honestly, I should have seen coming but I was so enraptured by the story that it still caught me by surprise.
There are a couple of references to William Golding's Lord of the Flies, and this seems an appropriate connection. In addition to the cruel realities of human nature and the inevitable loss of innocence, there's also a story here about three teens at odds with the world wanting to create new rules in a home they can call their own. And there's something beautiful and inspiring about that, even if it ends up being a home built on mistrust and duplicity.
This is a horror book where the monsters are all too real. There is deviance, violence, and brokenness, but there's also moments of joy and truth (even if that truth is written in blood). To say more would be to spoil the experience. Go, and read it for yourself. You won't be disappointed.
Coming of age stories are one of my favorite sub genres so when I saw that two excellent indie authors wrote one together I couldn’t wait to read it. Chad Lutzke has a gift for writing horror with heart and Tim Meyer writes with an intensity and edginess that I’ve always enjoyed. They both have these very different writing styles but somehow this book flows seamlessly.
Wormwood is about two 14 year old best friends, Baker and Seb, and how their life and friendship changes after meeting badgirl Cass. I really connected with Baker, the new kid at school and only child, as I’ve been in that same situation when I was young. Cass is Baker’s first crush and the way it’s described reminded me of the awkwardness I felt when I experienced my first case of puppy love. After gaining the boys trust, Cass slowly starts to show the sadistic part of her personality. By this point both boys are mesmerized by her charms and able to tolerate and even embrace this side of her.
One of the things I loved was how each chapter had a countdown under the title leading up to the horrible event that goes down at the end of the book. It kept me turning the pages faster and faster to see what was going to happen.
My only reasons for not giving this book five stars are I would have liked to learn more about Seb’s character and the book felt a tiny bit too YA for me.
Overall I really enjoyed this one. It had everything I look for in a good coming of age tale. I’d love to see these two wonderful writers collaborate again in the future!
I will admit going into Wormwood with very high expectations. I was really hyped for it, having seen all the photos and 5 star reviews pouring in after the initial Night Worms release, and then chatting to Tim and Chad about it on YouTube. I am also a HUGE fan of Tim’s work. Chad is still a newer voice for me, although the little I have read has been great.
The only thing that could have made me more excited, was the fact I was buddy reading it with Ben. We just build each other’s anticipation so we are dying to start it.
Finally, it was time …
If I tell you that I read this in under 24 hours across one late afternoon/evening and following morning, I think you might know where this is heading.
I absolutely bloody loved it.
Having spoken in length to Tim and Chad, I knew roughly about the storyline and that it was going to have less of Tim’s cosmic imprint and more of Chad’s melancholic highly emotive characters.
The key thing for me as a writer, are characters you believe in. You feel for them and feel with them. You even grow to love them, no matter how short your time is together.
Coming of age stories need this attribute. Without a character you are invested in, it is just words – a series of experiences and hollow emotions you don’t give a damn about.
I already knew from previous outings into the minds of these two, that I was going to love Baker. And I did. He was right up there with Rocky and James from Glenn Rolfe stories as two of my favourite protagonists. He isn’t a model teen. He makes some shocking decisions. But so does everyone at that age. The mistakes we make and learn from in our formative years help share who we are today.
I knew from talking to the guys, that some of the idea for the story came from Chad’s own past, and he was very candid about how easy it is to fall in with the wrong crowd, to be easily led by hormones and booze. This is amplified times a thousand when you are the new kid, again, in your final year before High School.
Seb and Cass were magnificent secondary characters, both an integral part of Baker’s ultimate *situation*. I won’t say any more than that as I would hate to give away any of the ending. Despite their terrible flaws, because they are kids and I always try to see the best in people, I still felt for them. Terrible judgments were made, but at the very end of it all, I was left with that distinct taste in my mouth, that if one of the adults had not acted in a certain abhorrent way, things might have been very different.
It’s a long time since I was a teen, but the problems never really change, they are always there – hormones, fledgling feelings for others, stress of school and that sense of no longer being a child, yet not quite and adult. No matter what time or city you live in, teens experience these raw emotions. Tim and Chad were able to transport me back to that awkward and conflicting time. When the highs and lows are extreme. When you would do almost anything at all for the one you think you are in love with, even if you don’t have a clue what that actually means or feels like. Through the language, setting and natural dialogue, I found myself in Baker’s shoes and I didn’t like it anymore now than I did back in the 90’s.
I didn’t find Wormwood as bleak as say Odd Man Out by James Newman, but it certainly isn’t a happy-go-lucky tale. The story proves that you don’t need a shock in every chapter, hell, you don’t need a story to be splatterpunk for it to be horrific.
What made my blood run cold was the fact that this kind of thing could and does happen. And sometimes THAT is the scariest thing of all.
5 stars all the way, baby.
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