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Shaky Second Step

By Rhodeworks, author of Not All Heroes

Aug 3, 2018: Pact’s an interesting serial. It’s generally viewed as the disappointing stepchild of Wildbow’s works. This is not without reason as Pact does suffer from a number of flaws. However, it is, perhaps, an unfair summary. Taking everything into account, I generally think Pact is Wildbow’s most interesting work. I would rate Pact as my overall favorite of Wildbow’s body of work.

Even by the halfway point of reading Pact for the first time, it became clear that there’s a certain ‘Wildbow Model’ that runs through his work. Two of the big pillars of this model are lengthy action and constant escalation. While Twig and Ward have, to a certain extent, gone on to try and break away from the model that Worm established, Pact is the story that properly defined it and reinforced it.

Many of the issues people have with Pact were also present, but excused, in Worm. The reasoning for this is obvious: Worm was Wildbow’s first work and Worm generally maintained a consistent standard of quality. Therefore, the audience extended the benefit of the doubt to any issues and awaited what would come next.

And what came next is both too different and too similar to what came before. It isn’t clear how much of that is intentional and how much of it is a result of the author falling back on what worked in Worm.

It’s important to note that Pact suffered from the realities of writing a serial. Wildbow has spoken about some of the issues he faced during the writing of Pact and the stress they placed on him comes through loud and clear. As mentioned, Worm is consistent in a way Pact is not. Pact’s narrative, while beginning pretty strongly and interestingly, devolves into a mess of frantic action scenes and unceasing escalation with plot threads abruptly tied off or left dangling in the wind.

In some ways, Pact is an improvement on some of the issues Worm had—for example, Blake is a much better protagonist than Taylor ever was, and Wildbow’s usage of literary devices (foreshadowing etc) feels more intentional and deliberate. On the other hand, it embraces the questionable issues that existed at some of the shakier parts of Worm—constant escalation and pyrrhic victories, an inability to let the story breathe—and sets them through the entire story. Some other issues, like Wildbow’s difficulty with having more than one voice (and dialogue in general), remain consistent, and this is exacerbated by the fact that Pact’s general cast of characters aren’t as gripping or well-defined as Worm’s cast is.

What I credit Wildbow for with Pact is that it’s probably his one story that tries to maintain a smaller set of stakes. The problem of Pact, however, is that the constant, unending escalation means that the story feels more frantic and pressured than Worm’s cavalcade of apocalypses ever did even when it really isn’t. There are certain parts of Pact that are just grueling.

I’d also credit him with writing a far more intriguing world. Worm’s world was a pastiche of every superhero genre trope pushed into a shape where all the parts fit together fairly seamlessly. Pact felt like more of a unique twist on a genre that has always felt underutilized (unless you’re in the market for vampire and/or werewolf romance). It is an incredibly interesting universe, and a big part of the reason Pact is my favorite, and yet this world is never explored as thoroughly as it should’ve been.

I actually wrote this intending to say more, given how much I enjoyed the overall world and the earlier parts of Pact’s plot, but the above paragraphs say it all. Pact is Wildbow’s shakiest work, the one with the most potential but, at the same time, a general failure to realize it in adhering to the familiar path trailblazed by Worm. While it starts well, the constant escalation driving Blake through the plot feels like it gets ridiculous to an extent Worm never suffered from. Overall, if you liked Worm, you’ll like Pact, but this sorcerous serial won’t do much to sway readers who didn’t enjoy Worm.

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Enchanting world

By ConanLe, member

Mar 14, 2018: It’s hard to write a review of Pact without mentioning Worm, but that’s okay. Its author, who goes by the pen name Wildbow, is more famous for Worm, and there’s a good reason for that. However, don’t count that against Pact, because the reason is that Worm is quite possibly the greatest web serial ever written.

Instead, count it in Pact’s favor, because if you’re familiar with Worm, you’ll know at least a bit of what you’re getting into with Pact.

The world is very rich even if it’s a little more empty this time around. The focus of this story is less on a big cast of people and more on a more intimate setting with a few key actors and a world that manages to run on magic without straining your suspension of disbelief to the point of breaking. That’s hard to do when writing a story about magic, but Pact manages to balance the power and wonder of magic with keeping things just grounded enough to keep the conflict interesting.

Too many stories about magic end up being resolved when someone either has a larger inner reserve of power or someone wields the right MacGuffin or channels a deus ex machina. In Pact, magic is powerful, but it’s not all-powerful, and while there are some magic effects that you won’t anticipate before they happen, they’ll never feel quite so much like cheating.

Blake, our new protagonist, manages to find success in the magical world through figuring out enough about the way magic works to make some reasonably good guesses about what to do to achieve the effect he wants. This keeps the story from devolving into a puzzle for the reader to solve while also preventing the reading from complaining, "How could he possibly have known to do that?"

And oh, boy, does he ever have a lot of problems to solve!

The basic thread of the plot is that Blake’s grandmother was a bit of an occultist, and she made some enemies. Now those enemies are all after Blake, and he has previous few allies to help him survive in a world he’s only now getting to know. Things start out grim, and they don’t get much better throughout.

Some of the imagery in the story is absolutely horrifying. The bad guys are scary, the good guys are always on the defensive, and the story takes a few daring narrative risks.

In the end, it’s a very satisfying book, and that’s something I often have trouble saying about fantasy stories. Magic is a very hard topic to write about, but Wildbow manages just fine here, much as he managed to keep superheroes from being boring and stupid in Worm. It seems as though his shtick is to write interesting stories in settings that are usually done very badly.

Read Pact if you like urban fantasy at all. Read it if you like scary monsters, creepy old mansions, even creepier old families, wondrous powers, scheming fae, and demons pulled straight from your nightmares.

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Devilishly good

By aspectofmind, member

Sep 7, 2017: Keep in mind that I’m writing this review while on the beginning of the 10th arc, but I couldn’t help but want to review it now.

Pact has garnered something of a ‘middle child’ status among the juggernaut web serialist Wildbow’s works. Squished between the huge hit Worm and his currently-running Twig, Pact has somehow been considered the lesser of the three. Even the author himself has admitted that the serial is not as strong as it should be, and has even advised those who just finished Worm to skip Pact altogether and move on to Twig.

With all that in mind . . . I took a dive anyways, and what I got was absolutely stellar.

The writing here starts great and gets better. In Worm, Wildbow was a beginner and got way better over time. In Pact, Wildbow continues that upward momentum, and continues to improve. It’s almost liberating to read a serial that isn’t bogged down by the inexperience of an amateur writer, the initial beats not hitting as hard as originally intended, since the writer is still working out kinks in their own style and form. Practice makes perfect, and with Pact, Wildbow has already gotten a few hits in with Worm. The story starts off quickly and strong, and never lets up.

The biggest draw for me here is the setting itself, which is an impressive feat in and of itself. I’m not actually the biggest fan of wizards and magic, and I almost detest western fantasy, but Wildbow manages to create a world that I was interested in, and wanted to learn more about. The abstract and loose nature of the elements in play made the scope of the story feel bigger, even if in actuality, it wasn’t. Where I am in the story, the driving conflict is the lordship of a small but growing Canadian town, yet Wildbow has taken Blake, the MC, to Hell and back in order to tell that story, quite literally. Maybe it’s because I’m not as familiar with these fantasy and magical tropes as others, but the world building and how ‘powers’ work in Pact is infinitely more intriguing than in Worm, where it was a bit more obvious in how common superhero tropes were being handled.

The characters were more interesting to follow, too. Blake is a much more emotional and impulsive person than Taylor – Worm’s MC – was, making following his journey as a fish out of water much more engaging. I wanted to see him succeed, and I liked how he had to fight himself and his own flaws in order to defeat his enemies. Taylor seemed much colder and calculated in comparison, leaving her too emotionally distant as an MC to truly emphasize with. Granted, that was part of the point, but now I’m off topic.

Other characters are either similarly fleshed out, given snappy enough dialogue to keep them interesting, or so alien that the novelty of their existence made me more pressed to learn more about them. I never really thought about what it was like to be a goblin queen, of all things.

For only being 10 arcs in, the pacing has been pretty good so far. I might be in the minority, but I do like the constant action and pressure Blake faces as the story goes on. It adds to the fish out of water feeling for Blake, always getting surprised or blindsided at every turn he takes. Pact’s world is an entirely new one, narratively and in a meta sense, so the constant ‘running just so you can stay standing’ pacing piles on the panic and frustration he feels. Also, it’s not as if the story doesn’t take the time to let consequences settle in and be talked about.

All in all, Pact is absolutely fantastic, a roller coaster of a story, if that roller coaster was a constant spiraling down, but the rush gets better the lower I get. I suppose I can understand why Pact gets the reputation it has, but there’s merit here that’s worth checking out. Sure, I’ve noticed more typos per chapter than Worm, but they’re excusable, hardly detracts from the reading experience. 5 stars, taking enjoyment and my personal ‘hype’ into consideration.

Pact is kind of like Blake, in a way. Constantly put down, constantly fighting an uphill battle with its reputation ahead of it. But, in mirroring Blake’s desire to leave the world a better place than he entered it, Pact has elevated the web serial medium by existing rather than not at all.

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