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It’s More Worm, For Better Or Worse

By Rhodeworks, author of Not All Heroes

Feb 13, 2018: (Updated 8/8/18)

As someone who came to Worm late but enjoyed it, who enjoyed Pact but found it flawed, and could respect Twig but wasn’t for him personally, I had high hopes for Ward.

Unfortunately, Ward isn’t meeting them—and I feel it isn’t going to.

To be blunt: I expected better. I expected a leap in quality like Worm -> Pact or Pact -> Twig.

I don’t think Ward is that. Or, if it is, it hasn’t demonstrated it yet.

For better or worse, Ward feel like More Worm but it also feels like More Worm that is written for pre-existing fans of Worm. But not just the fans who read Worm and liked it, but the fans who engage in rituals. The fans who hunt down Wildbow’s ‘WoG’ statements and spend time crafting intricate theories. I suspected this was the case with the Glow-Worm teaser that consisted of chatlog transcripts from new characters, where the reading came second to trying to piece together what was really being said and who was saying it. If you’re not into that, a lot of the appeal of Ward seems to lack in comparison to Wildbow’s earlier works.

See, there is a tension running throughout Ward, like a conflict between authorial desire and audience expectations. On one hand, it does feel like that Wildbow has set out to tell a story different to his previous: a smaller scale, character-driven story about living with trauma. But then Ward careens wildly back into the familiar Wildbow pattern: lengthy action setpieces, escalations, conspiracies upon conspiracies that’ll shatter the entire world and things thrown in to serve as nothing but hooks for people to speculate upon.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Ward is that there’s too much stuff crammed into it. As mentioned above, it is both an attempt at a small-scale story but also a sequel to Worm. There are approximately a dozen plots and subplots running through the story, seeming addressed and picked up and dropped and renewed at an inconsistent pace. Compared to Worm, which had a fairly simple, steady progression from street to cosmic, Ward isn’t nearly as focused. You can accurately describe Worm in a sentence or two, but Ward? Not so much.

That is the difficulty of reviewing Ward. It seems to be crafted as a good serial, using all manner of tricks to maintain the interest of a pre-existing audience. However, the strengths of Ward as a serial feel as if they overpower the actual story of it. For every moment in Ward that feels like it’s some of Wildbow’s best stuff yet, it feels like they’re adrift in a sea of stuff that is just flat, uninteresting, or has-been-seen-before.

While the technical aspects of Wildbow’s prose have improved markedly, the stylistic flaws are still there. These flaws include excessive verbosity, length for the sake of length, and a sense that the characters may be more rational engines than people. Victoria, especially, fails to properly differentiate herself from Taylor. These may not be flaws to some. But, to me, I’d always hoped to see Wildbow overcome them and do something different.

Ultimately, those flaws are what disappoint me most of all. Reading Ward, I feel like Wildbow remains safely in his comfort zone. After three long serials dealing with similar themes, topics and so on, I am used to that comfort zone. With Ward, I was hoping for something different. Something to differentiate Worm and its sequel, but ultimately, Ward feels safe and too similar to what has come before. There’s this strange feeling throughout Ward that it is actually diminished by being a sequel to Worm rather than a new world.

I would recommend it to fans of Worm—and there are many—but I have trouble recommending it in general, much less to people who didn’t particularly enjoy Worm.

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