Worm is the best free superhero story that you have probably never read. If you could have any superpower what would it be? This question has probably been asked in every college and new workplace get-to-know-you game for the past 20 years. I don’t think that I would ever say I had dreamed of the power to control bugs, but this story may have changed my opinion. Enter Worm  a breath of fresh air to the industry (even though it was written quite a while ago). It also is a perfect series for serious book-worms (pun intended) who love long stories. 

A depiction of the main character Taylor from Worm. It shows Taylor in her costume she made herself from spider-silk and her hair flowing from the back. She is surrounded by a massive swarm she is controlling.
Credit: NeoWorm on DeviantArt

What is Worm?

Worm is a web-novel that was self published by John Charles McCrae (also known online as Wildbow). The series follows a teenage girl (named Taylor) who decides to be a superhero, but after a botched first outing she is mistaken as a villain instead. She is confused for a villain because of no other reason than her costume looks a little more menacing to fit her bug themed powers. This goofy kickstart sets a good tone for the rest of the series. Taylor uses this invitation to join a group of villains known as The Undersiders. She plans to start her superhero career with an undercover operation figuring out who is leading The Undersiders. Taylor (who has gone on to be dubbed as Skitter by the heroes) finds comfort in her new less-than-moral friends. After a few successful jobs as an Undersider, she finds herself questioning almost everything she knew.

Taylor’s life quickly becomes more complicated and mixed-up. She finds herself on the precipice of doing bad things for reasons that seem — reasonable. It truly is a story that encapsulates the adage, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” 

Without delving further into spoilers, here are a few details that might help you decide if the series is for you. 

Quality of Writing in Worm

  • Due to the self-published nature of this story there are more consistent typo’s than other books. It is not overwhelming, or unreadable by any means. The average for general typos would be around 1 for every chapter. If you are anything like me you will be so entranced in the story that you’ll hardly notice them and gloss right over them. 
  • The writing is definitely geared towards young adults (16-25). It has some of the classic dramatic plotlines that makes the genre so loved by those age groups. It also has some drastically mature themes, this is great as it allows for more interesting and realistic story-telling points. However, I would advise readers under 16 should check with their guardians if the series is for them. 
  • The biggest complaint is sometimes Wildbow explains slightly too much about a subject, that can make you feel a little cheated from putting together some puzzles as a reader. Without spoilers an example is about one-fourth through the story there are a few chapters where our main character explains exactly what is happening in the subtext to a less intelligent teammate. It doesn’t ruin the reading experience, but is definitely the weakest part of the writing quality (in my opinion of course). 
  • One of the best parts of Wildbow’s writing is his action scenes. He genuinely has a strong sense of placement and tension, which leads to scenes that are equal parts tense and incredible. 

Story Telling in Worm

  • There are romantic themes in the series.
  • There is a constantly evolving plot with some well written/dynamic characters. 
  • The plot is full of surprises that you genuinely couldn’t guess. However, they are surprising in a way that doesn’t make readers feel cheated — but instead, in a way that makes readers feel like the story has come full circle
  • The plot is good at making a cohesive story where events have their own “life”. Events acting and affecting the plot in a consistent way that makes for good storytelling. 
  • Larger themes of the story definitely lean on “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” As well as the philosophy that one only grows through trials. 
  • Some of the characters come off as shallow and archetypal to act as foils for the main character. Not inherently a bad thing, but it definitely does break immersion sometimes.

Superhero World Building

  • There is a low-power limit in this series. The series attributes much of this power limit to the “Manton-Effect”. Basically it limits powers to only affect inanimate objects or only animate objects in a limited way. A quick way it is explained is that telekinetics can only move inanimate objects (so not immediately crushing someone’s heart). Similarly, telepaths can only read so much or control someone to do a limited amount of actions. This leaves most normal super powered characters in the series at a max power-level of building-buster, with a few standouts being city-buster level. 
  • The world is incredibly modern, with a few goofy interactions when it comes to “cape law” (the legal system’s response to villains and heroes). 
  • The world definitely seems to be skewed by whichever character we are following at the moment — as in, it changes with their perception. This actually makes for a more dynamic world and shows different perspectives towards what’s happening in the story. 
  • At the end of every grouping of chapters there is a chapter devoted to a side character and how things are from their perspective. These chapters act as primer to major story beats involving those characters and are fun to read. 

Other Key Details to Know

  • The series is really long, being a plus for some, and a minus for others. The base series is over 7,000 pages or 1.6 million words!
  • Every character in his writing is deeply flawed in their own way. 
  • If you end up liking this story, the author has self published quite a few more stories.