The Worm That Wasn’t (Dreams of Inan)
Paperback: 320 pagesPublished: 15 Dec 2007ISBN: 1905437536RRP: £6.99
Abaddon Books is an imprint of the famous 2000AD behemoth – the creators of Judge Dredd, among others – with the publisher aiming to, in their own words, ‘deliver a whole new generation of fantasy fiction’. Their lofty mission statement goes on to detail how they aim to break new taboos, introduce new writers and introduce ‘wild new heights of invention’ to the genre. Given that impressive mission statement, then, it’s a shame that The Worm That Wasn’t can’t ascend to those ambitious heights.
The first novel by Maddox, it demonstrates an author very much in his infancy; he usually restricts himself to short stories or comics and, perhaps, finds himself overstretched here.
The plot is typical fantasy but provides just enough twists and new ideas to make things vaguely interesting. Set in the land of Alleshia in the aftermath of a Great War, the chief protagonist is a humble gardener called Leah who, after a mysterious ailment strikes down her colleagues – and all of her superiors – finds herself in charge of the gardens that control the fortunes of the entire country.
A supporting cast of characters fill in most of the stereotypes: an evil figurehead in the shape of General Niaal, a wily old commander – or three – and a comedy double-act in the shape of Leah’s best friends, who, by virtue of arriving late to work, are the only other people who escape the plague afflicting the gardeners.
What follows is part detective story and part adventure but, unfortunately, wholly underwhelming. The plot and concept isn’t that bad, and neither is the continent of Inan – this if the first book in a series based on this particular world – with its intriguing mix of botanical discovery, medieval atmosphere and technological prowess. The descriptions are sufficient for providing a glimpse into this world, but your imagination is left to do plenty of the work: more exposition on the precise nature of the land, its buildings and its inhabitants would have been useful. I get the feeling that my vision of this would could be vastly different from another person’s, simply because there’s not enough shown to us in the text.
The characters are just as pale and ambiguous. Leah begins as a generally well-meaning and doting daughter but, in the space of a few pages, turns into an efficient manager and, eventually, a decisive and somewhat autocratic leader. Again, there’s little to illustrate why this has happened other than the plot itself. There’s no doubt the various problems that befall Leah are traumatic enough to alter her personality but, again, we’re not demonstrated how or why – just forced to believe that she’s changed with little question.
The rest of the characters are generally pretty static, with none of them – except Niaal, the eventual villain of the piece – exhibiting any desire to change or develop during the tumultuous events of The Worm That Wasn’t. And even with Niaal’s big plot twist comes around, it’s handled clumsily and is far too obvious to be surprising or shocking in any way. This is a common theme throughout, with any decisive plot device being handled with all the grace of an Uwe Boll film – subtlety is not Maddox’s strong point.
It’s a shame that a potentially interesting world has been so hampered but, unfortunately, the numerous problems present here detract from the book and distract too much to leave much entertainment left. The plotting is handled clumsily, and there’s no consistency to the characters or their actions. It may be Maddox’s first novel, but he’d be better off sticking to the short stories and comics he’s used to – The Worm That Wasn’t is a deeply disappointing affair.