This work is a sequel, the events following that of the web serial Worm. It is not meant to be read in isolation, and would-be readers should check out the prior work first.
The unwritten rules that govern the fights and outright wars between ‘capes’ have been amended: everyone gets their second chance. It’s an uneasy thing to come to terms with when notorious supervillains and even monsters are playing at being hero. The world ended two years ago, and as humanity straddles the old world and the new, there aren’t records, witnesses, or facilities to answer the villains’ past actions in the present. One of many compromises, uneasy truces and deceptions that are starting to splinter as humanity rebuilds.
None feel the injustice of this new status quo or the lack of established footing more than the past residents of the parahuman asylums. The facilities hosted parahumans and their victims, but the facilities are ruined or gone; one of many fragile ex-patients is left to find a place in a fractured world. She’s perhaps the person least suited to have anything to do with this tenuous peace or to stand alongside these false heroes. She’s put in a position to make the decision: will she compromise to help forge what they call, with dark sentiment, a second golden age? Or will she stand tall as a gilded dark age dawns?
Ward is fascinating. Really, there hasn't been anything like it.
But first, context.
Ward is the sequel to the online sensation Worm. Worm is, essentially, unprecedented in the world of web fiction. A superhero story by a man named Wildbow that became a success story on the back of nothing but worldbuilding, characters, and steady escalation. I believe that, with care and editing, Worm could become a YA phenomenon. I've recommended it, even in its present state, to many people.
Worm is Wildbow's success story, his golden goose, his magnum opus. Pact and Twig, his next works, never acquired that same quality. Pact's world is more intriguing and Twig is much better written, but neither of them captured the imagination as Worm did. For years, Worm 2 is what the fans have been asking for.
The question is, of course, whether Worm could sustain a sequel? Could any story of such length withstand a sequel of equivalent size? I liked Worm well enough, but by the end of the serial, the setting itself had been thoroughly mined out. At over one million words, the scale of Worm cannot be understated: it goes from street supers to cosmic, existential conflict across the multiverse and does it fairly well. The world it left at the end of it all seemed to be the perfect playground for fans to speculate upon - where does the world go from here?
With all that in mind, where is there go for a series? That's the question Ward grapples with, and doesn't seem to have an answer for. The obvious case would be to be Worm's antithesis, to take the sophomoric assumptions Worm made about power, authority, people, and so on, and confront them, turn them on their head. But Ward doesn't do that.
Ward gives me a feeling of conflict between the desires of an author and the desires of his fandom. Clearly, Wildbow wants to write a story with a point, a smaller-scale, character-driven story about people, trauma and how you move past it. Unfortunately, the story then will veer into the 'Wildbow Model' of escalation, global conspiracies, too-long action setpieces, and moments that serve as nothing but speculative hooks.
Because of this, as a story, Ward drags. It veers between being agonizingly slow and bizarrely fast. When it flows, it flows like molasses. When Ward was announced, I expected something that could demonstrate how far Wildbow had come from Worm. Ward isn't it. While technical aspects of Wildbow's craft have improved along his body of work, his methods of storytelling remain strange. No matter what you think about Worm, you can provide an accurate summary in a few sentences. But Ward?
The world delivered to us at the end of Worm is not delivered upon. Worm ended on a notion of isolated communities watched over by the surviving parahumans like benevolent gods, while nefarious sorts plotted away in the background. The world had changed irrevocably but there was a sense that people had grown and changed and things would get better. In Ward, the world is far too much like our own and, despite an actual apocalypse, the world feels like it has reverted to pre-apocalypse without much issue. To paraphrase Jameson: it is easier to imagine the end of the world than an end to capitalism.
Another problem is that by attempting to do a smaller-scale, character-driven story, it reveals a weakness of Wildbow's skillset: that is, characters and dialogue. The two have never been a strong part of his work, with his characters feeling like rational camera-engines (which is why Defiant and Dragon are two of his best) and dialogue that feels mechanical and observations and internal narration that feel like they're coming from aliens. What is strange, is that this is something of a regression from Pact.
Some of the strengths of Worm are missing, too. Powers, often simple with a neat twist during the first saga in this world, are often now convoluted and strange. Taylor, while not a perfect protagonist, was a great window into the imaginative world. Victoria, on the other hand, is uninteresting and, much like Taylor, it feels like her mindset is never particularly challenged.
Ward feels like it should've been a series of interconnected novellas - glimpses of a larger tale as told by the various people within it. As it is, it just doesn't work and the story needs to keep finding ways to wrench Victoria and her team, Breakthrough, into the main narrative. As a sprawling, meandering serial, it is like the story is held captive by the power of immediate audience reception. It feels like Ward exists to feed the Worm fandom, and those are the only people I could safely recommend this to. No matter what Wildbow may want to write, he is beholden to keeping the engine running. As such, so much of it feels like Wildbow writing to fit the image of what he writes: the updates are long, there are complex powers, there are big fight scenes, and heapings of body horror.
It just doesn't work for me. Wildbow has an imaginative mind and a fine work ethic. He could produce some great work, I think, but not while he has to keep that fan-powered engine running. In some ways, Wildbow has improved markedly - and yet, Ward also appears to be proof that he's not really going anywhere new.
This is a story for the Worm fanatic, not the Worm fan. If you adore poring over updates, trying to figure out what's going on and crafting elaborate theories in the process, then you'll find Ward enjoyable. But if you're looking for an interesting story, something that demonstrates improvement on Wildbow's part, and so on - well, you won't find it here.
I've talked about this book for literally 200+ hours (most of them absolute nonsense) so my ability to judge it under the pretense of criticism is...dubious at best. I didn't just read Ward, I lived it for 2 1/2 years.
I think this book is a masterpiece. It's not perfect, but I am utterly uninterested at poking at its imperfections right now. A web serial is more like a TV show than a novel. Some episodes are worse than others (for every "The Body", you have a "Beer Bad,") but like a TV show it's value extends beyond it's worst moments. Even beyond it's best. The value of a web serial is not it's individual beats, but how those sprawling beats interconnect and elevate a story beyond what it "is."
Ward was and is all of them: the bad episodes, the transcendent ones, and everything in between. I love this story. I love its warts. I love the moments that made me cry and the moments that left me confused. I love what it was trying to do and all the ways in which it succeeded and all the ways in which it failed. I love what it taught me about myself and about storytelling.
We all read because we want to *feel* something. By that measure, Ward is one of the finest stories I've had the privilege of reading. I will always cherish my time with it.
Tl;dr Ward is an exceptionally well-written, bad story by an extremely talented author, following a very unlikable protagonist. It has a lot of great moments, but many of its flaws are structural, permeating the entire work.
After fourteen arcs, I'm going to rate this. I decided to take a break from Ward to wait until it finished, and I'm not sure I'll ever get around to it. It was a solid three stars then, but now I'm writing this review I'm thinking only two stars. Probably because I decided to read his previous work, Twig, in the meantime and realised that it had so much of what I was missing in Ward.
It's especially frustrating for me to rate this, because Worm is one of my absolute favourite works of literature, and I wanted so much to like Ward. Pact and Twig are exceptionally well-written as well, so seeing Wildbow take such a big step backward in his writing hurts.
Ward is not Worm 2, and I enjoyed it a lot more once I realised this and stopped directly comparing/contrasting them, but it is still vastly inferior, and to explain why I think this, I will have to compare the two stories.
The Writing: On a technical level, Wildbow's writing has significantly improved since Worm, and the true strength of Ward is the characterisation and characters. Each one of them is fantastically written with very unique voices, especially the protagonist. There isn't much to say about this, except some criticism that the dialogue flowed more naturally in Worm, but that makes sense when most of the main cast in Ward are part of a therapy group. So despite all of my other criticisms, Ward is very well written.
The Protagonist Let's get the biggest part out of the way first. Victoria is, I believe, a serious mistake in the choice of protagonist. It's not that she isn't a great *character*, because she is. It's that she is, in my opinion, a terrible protagonist. Holier-than-thou, irritating and not particularly relatable, Victoria has no goals and just sort of meanders through the story while the plot happens to her. She also has a very grating character voice and is just fundamentally unlikable. Taylor was just as hypocritical and unreliable a narrator as Victoria, but she was far more compelling and charismatic about it, and displayed far more growth as a character over the first seven arcs than Victoria did in twice as many arcs and four or five times as many words. Taylor's story was a compelling journey into darkness and villainy through tough choices, stubbornness, pride and good intentions. As great as she was at rationalising her bad decisions made for good reasons, the story never forgot that she was a villain and in the wrong about a great many things. In Ward, the narrative practically bends over backwards to prove Victoria right and that's extremely annoying, especially when she does a lot of morally 'questionable' things (to put it charitably). The rare appearances Taylor made in interludes over Worm showed her becoming colder and more chilling, in contrast to her good intentions and self-view, while Victoria comes across as just as unlikable and pigheaded every time. Where Taylor was proactive and sought out goals, Victoria is reactive and just kind of has stuff happen to her. Ward is built around the connections to and between characters, and without a strong emotional connection to Victoria, it's main strength just disappears completely. I think that Rain would be a better choice in protagonist, because he is much more closely tied to the themes and elements of the story, as well as just being a lot more likable in general.
The Main Cast The Undersiders were great in Worm, and they were great foils to and reflections of Taylor. Each character was well-developed and suited their purpose in the story. Breakthrough/Team Therapy are really well-written in Ward, and better developed as characters than the Undersiders were, but not particularly compelling in their relationship to Victoria. Instead, they are compelling and interesting characters by themselves, which really hurts the story when Victoria seems so much more bland and unlikable in comparison. Aside from Sveta, who is the protagonist's best friend, Victoria is the least interesting person of the main cast, who all kind of over-shadow her and make me wish I was reading their story instead.
The Interludes This ties in to a few other points, but it lead to an important realisation from me. In Worm, the interludes served not only to develop secondary characters, but also to expand the world around them and set up future plot points, all at once. In Ward, the interludes are mostly just expanding on characters and their backstories, with practically no world-building being done and only rarely tying in to future events. More than that, while I loved reading Worm interludes, I was always excited to get back into Taylor's story and her journey, while in Ward I finished every interlude wishing I was reading about that character instead. The interludes should enhance the story, not over-shadow it.
The World Building This is the second biggest issue for me, after the choice in protagonist. Namely, the almost complete lack of world building. This story is mostly set in a multi-dimensional mega-city two years after the super-powered apocalypse. So why the hell does this city have so little character or description about what it's like? Brockton Bay was a city with its own distinct feel, and each location in it, the Market, the Boardwalk, the boat graveyard, the trainyards all felt like real, believable places. The City in Ward is just a nebulous, vaguely described group of settings with no connection between them, like a bunch of set pieces that are just there for stuff to happen at. And this super massive city was built in two years, yet also relies on huge food imports from a world that hates them? The stuff that Wildbow went into detail about doesn't really make any sense. Earth Shin, during the very awkwardly shoehorned in prison plotline is the first place in Ward that has actually felt like a unique, well-developed piece of world building, and that doesn't turn up until arc fourteen, well over a million words into Ward. This is especially disappointing after the frankly phenomenal world building of Pact and Twig.
The Plot The plot of Worm was a breakneck story of actions and consequences, with each part flowing naturally into the next, constantly escalating from street-level villainy to multi-dimensional cosmic horror, and every part of that made sense. There weren't just a series of immediate threats and crises, but also over-arching threats and crises, and they over-lapped with each other, leading to a very intricate plot line. Ward is just a series of events happening, one after another, with each resolved before the next one happens, and that is making a less compelling narrative. Add in the fact that Ward is far wordier than Worm, and you get the monster-of-the-week format of early Twig, only spread out over three times the words. The plot of Worm raced along, while the plot of Ward plods.
The Action One of the things everybody loved about Worm was the action scenes, dominated by clever and intricate power usage. Taylor was constantly learning from her opponents and pulling out new tricks, and when people with powers fought, that flavoured the entire battle and how they fought. Ward is somewhat lacking in that, at least from the protagonists side, and it falls upon the antagonists to make things exciting. That said, the fighting is very well written and I did enjoy it, it just isn't as interestingly flavoured as the combat from Taylor's perspective.
The Antagonists The antagonists in Worm run the gamut from deranged psychos to intelligent tacticians, from brute thugs to Machiavellian schemers, and from purely selfish egotists to ruthlessly pragmatic utilitarians to idealistic heroes opposing Taylor for moral reasons. Ward just has a bunch of psychos and power-hungry wannabee rulers, and the closest thing to a well-intentioned extremist turns out to just be a delusional idiot narcissist. Gone are the compelling struggles between hero and villain, protagonist and antagonist that made Worm so good.
The most frustrating one of these is Amy, who had an entire character arc get retconned away so she could serve as a villain, and considering that the readers didn't learn about this retcon until ~80% of the way through the story (and didn't know about the worst thing she did in Worm until they author literally had to do a line-by-line breakdown of the scene in question to reveal what was hidden), she had many defenders. Unfortunately, the author's frustration with this resulted in her being written as progressively more stupid and delusional until she resembled nothing more than a caricature of who she was in Worm.
The Themes Thematically, Ward is a mess. It is inconsistent with itself to the point of incoherence. It lauds the main cast for accepting responsibility for the bad things they have done in the past and work to become a better person going forwards, while the villains are almost uniformly presented as people who were given this choice and kept choosing to avoid responsibility and do more bad things. This is fine, except for the fact that the central 'thematic antagonist' of the work is Amy,who, as previously mentioned, had an entire character arc where she did this get suddenly retconned away. She is vilified for not doing something that she had already done in the previous work. It makes all character growth come across as completely arbitrary and the question of whether or not someone can improve as a person seem to depend entirely on whether they support Victoria or have hurt her.
The story constantly talks about being a better person than you used to be, then has the protagonists do a whole bunch of shady stuff and face absolutely no consequences for it. It frequently reinforces the importance of therapy and talking about problems with people, then gets rid of the therapy a third of the way through the story.
The anti-parahuman faction opposing the heroes make many legitimate points, and are in fact completely correct about everything they criticise the heroes for, such as the detrimental effects that parahumans have on society and the immensely privileged status they enjoy, Victoria included. Unfortunately, the story treats them like idiots and marginalises them and their concerns, brushing them under the rug until at the end they are straw-manned by a 12 year old to make the heroes look good in comparison.
The Ending The ending of Ward is bad. There is no other way of saying it. It rushes to the final fight, which then drags on for far too long, and in the processing of rushing there a lot of important things are dropped. This was due to the author's unhappiness and lack of enjoyment in writing the story, exacerbated by the toxicity in certain parts of the fanbase. Unfortunately, in just wanting to be done with the story, it suffers for it. The whole heroic sacrifice/suicide comparison was dragged on for too long and required characters to lie to the readers multiple times to keep it going.
The extremely valid points by the anti-parahuman faction, the cruelty and inhumane nature of the exile system and Victoria's role in it and the way parahumans frequently marginalise the unpowered are all brought up to be examined earlier in the story, and by just dropping them without ever actually addressing them almost every theme in Ward becomes self-defeating and contradictory. The story would be much better not bringing them up at all rather than drawing attention to them and then just forgetting them.
The Holdovers From Worm Now this is a bit subjective, and can only be judged in its connection to Worm, but the way that many things from the end of Worm that were implied to be getting better are now revealed to be getting much worse, just so Ward can have some tension. The Undersiders are now the clearly dominant force and are working to keep things stable? Nope, now they're being forced out of their territory and losing almost everything. They were gearing up to take down Teacher? Nope, he's been acting almost entirely unopposed to build up his forces. The Dragon's Teeth mean that the PRT can go toe-to-toe with villains and no longer need to constantly play with kids gloves and on the defensive? Nope, they don't even appear in the story, and Dragon and Defiant are utterly useless in pretty much every scene they are in. Amy was ashamed of what she had done and was taking responsibility for it to become a better person, being left to heal Victoria at the end? Well now she's lost all of that character development and insists she did nothing wrong, and also she and Carol have also become significantly worse and more toxic people just to provide unnecessary amounts of extra drama and angst for the protagonist. And this is a problem, not just because it feels unrealistic for Ward, but also because it poisons several elements from the end of Worm, which is one of my absolute favourite stories.
Something else that I don't really know how to put by itself, but Worm was filled with clever subversions, deconstructions and reconstruction of common superhero tropes and cliches, from arbitrary power limitations to high-tech heroes to kaiju battles. From the idea of secret identities to the concept of plot armour to secret conspiracies. Everything is constructed as a loving tribute to the superhero genre, and yet Ward has none of that connection to the classic stories.
Such a disappointment. A bland, depressing and thoroughly uninteresting narrative which somehow manages to retroactively make the first installment worse.
I'll preface this by saying that I consider Worm to be one of the best pieces of fiction that I've ever read. It's got it's hiccups and flaws and issues (looking at you, timeskip), but you can tell from the beginning that it's a story with a very clear plan - even while the core narrative starts small (minor criminal heists and conflicts with not even the fate of a city at play), there are rumblings in the background that make it clear that there is more going on behind the scenes, and most of that setup is paid off in a satisfying way. This works, even over a serialized story spanning years, because Taylor is so goddamn fun to read, and because Wildbow's signature doom spiral of maximum escalation always feels like it's building to something, at least once the story really hits it's stride in Arc 8.
This ain't that.
Ward is not poorly written, but it lacks the clarity of focus and voice that made worm so compelling to read,and on top of that, it is saddled with a THOROUGHLY unlikable and uninteresting protagonist. To break it down:
1. The Protagonist
Victoria isn't interesting, either in terms of her powers (she's a mediocre flying brick with some fairly mediocre utility powers) or her character. With Taylor, you had a protagonist whose powers lent themselves to continual growth, creative reinterpretation, and a different approach to combat than you typically see in superhero stories. This made conflicts interesting, particularly because of how she managed to leverage those powers to be frighteningly effective in conflicts which, at a first glance, she ought to just lose. Victoria, on the other hand...her options in a fight boil down to 'hit it harder' and 'throw a thing'. This does not make for interesting and dynamic cape fights, not helped by the fact that she spends MOST conflicts agonizing over exactly how hard to hit people and the moral ramifications of hurting the bad guys (show, WB, don't tell.) Now, these action set pieces aren't the be all and end all of Worm/Ward, but they were a major strength of the first book, and their absence here is notable.
As a character, Victoria is similarly uninteresting. She spends a lot of time being introspective (allegedly), but nothing actually comes of it, and her behavior never changes in a meaningful way. Her main claim to fame in Worm was being a shitty teenage 'hero' who suffers one of the more horrific fates worse than death in the series, and y'know what? I never felt like she needed to be more than that. In many ways, she does not develop far past where she was in Worm, except that now, the narrative has been written in such as way as to make her continually. right. all. the. time. As a consequence, she does not significantly develop over the story, because (unlike Taylor) her perspective on the world is never meaningfully challenged, she's never forced to reassess her priorities or her (obnoxious, holier-than-though) mindset, and she remains much the same character at the end of the story as she was at the start.
In a great many cases, the story feels like it's shaping itself around her, in order to ensure that she can be included, useful, and vindicated, when none of these things really feel natural or earned. She's not particularly powerful. She's not really smart (aside from I guess being a 'cape geek', which in no way makes her qualified to outperform actual parahuman researchers.) She's got no real reason or motivation to be involved on invested in any of the central conflicts (particularly as a central figure). As a consequence, her involvement in the story ends up feeling forced and unnatural.
Worst of all, though, Victoria is passive and reactive as a character. She does not have long-term or large-scale goals or plans, she doesn't seem to WANT anything (aside from Amy dead and generic hero motives), so she ends up reacting to the desires and plans of other characters. This makes her feel uninvested in the conflicts, because in a very real sense, it's not her fight. She's just a supporting character. And the only real stake she has is her desire to win/stay alive so she can return to the status quo. There's very little emotional investment in conflicts as a result, and very little direction to the story (because plot only occurs when another character does something to force Victoria to react.) This feels especially jarring due to the frequent interludes and POV-swaps to other characters for a chapter or two, where we get a glimpse at a MUCH more interesting story, only to be dragged back to another series of chapters were Victoria angsts, gets dragged into someone else's fight, gets involved in uninteresting and confusing cape fights, angsts, and then returns to her life without materially changing or progressing as a character.
2. The Antagonists
Worm had a great rogues gallery, and most of them felt compelling, unique, and had obvious chemistry with Taylor, in the sense that there was usually some sort of personal relationship with her being forced to grow, evolve, and change from her interactions with them. Her fights with Lung informed a lot of her worldview towards fighting (hit them first, hit them hard, make them fear you), and it shows throughout the series. The fight with Bakuda had lasting consequences, and established that even her well-intentioned actions have consequences. Coil transitioned from patron to overlord to enemy over the course of several arcs, and the impact he had on the story (including being the first person Taylor personally killed) was felt (and meaningfully referenced) for arcs afterward. On top of that, the enemies Taylor dealt with had their own sets of motivations, desires, and goals, and conflict came from those goals conflicting with Taylor's own, so conflict felt organic and natural when it emerged (it also meant that the stakes weren't CONSTANTLY life and death/world ending apocalypse, though it gets there eventually).
Ward, on the other hand, has a monster-of-the-week format. Villains show up, have their arcs/involvement with the plot, and then disappear from the story and are never heard from again. The Fallen, Goddess, March (%#@%! March), Teacher...they all get their arcs, they attempt to implement their master plan, and then they are foiled and either dead or never heard from again. Additionally, there is very little overlap between the groups, and most of them come with a posse allies, which makes it EXTREMELY hard to keep track of everyone (not helped by the serial's problem with complexity creep, something I'll deal with later. On top of that, their plans are almost all of the apocalyptic or at least LETHAL variety, where loss means death for the protagonists (and possibly everyone else) so there's a reduced degree of tension. We KNOW the author isn't going to blow up the setting and kill/enslave everyone before the climax of the story, so constantly threatening to do so over and over becomes dull and tedious. Whereas with Worm, there were fail states for our protagonists other than death (in part because they ALSO had proactive goals they wanted to accomplish), so there was room for failure, partial victories, Pyrrhic victories, in addition to out and out success, in Ward there is no room for that. Which not only means that the scenarios leading to Breakthrough's involvement feel artificial (where are the real heavy hitters who should ACTUALLY be dealing with the planetary/interdimensional class threat?) It also means that the only possible reasonable outcome for most confrontations IS success, because failure means the story just ends (and consciously or subconsciously, the reader knows that won't happen).
Also, I have to mention March. AKA the worst piece of writing I have ever, EVER seen out of a writer as otherwise talented as Wildbow, and 100% emblematic of the villain problems that this series has. Shows up largely out of nowhere (aside from some background mentions), has an apocalyptic/world-destroying plan (I say plan, but in reality there is no actual motivation there), proceeds to body literally every major top-tier hero from Worm because plot armor (I mean, 'implausible power hacks'), apparently kill several much better written characters, then die in what is the ward-equivalent of a cutscene. No emotion, no tension, no real buildup, no clever applications of powers, she just swoops in, does her thing, then dies unceremoniously once her purpose has been fulfilled. Terrible arc, left a bad taste in my mouth, only mildly alleviated by the fact that said much better character does not actually die, and thus the damage to the series wasn't as bad as it could have been.
3. Complexity Creep
Holy hell does this series have a problem with power complexity creep, which in turn shifts one of the greatest strengths of the series (the innovative power system) into a confusing and jumbled mess.
In Worm, almost every single cape's power was (relatively) easily comprehensible. Skitter controls bugs. Grue makes darkness. Armsmaster makes super science weapons. Tattletale has superpowered intuition. Sundancer creates a miniature sun. Battery stores up energy and releases it for bursts of extreme speed and power. Legend has laserkinesis. Lung slowly morphs into a dragon over the course of a fight. The capes that DON'T have easily comprehensible powersets are the exception, not the rule, and they stand out because they ARE so weird and unusual (like Coil). Of course, there's more to each cape's powerset than the brief description tells you, but the snappy, sound-bite description makes it easy to visualize and understand what each cape can DO at any given time (critical when you have action scenes involving easily a dozen capes). Some of the extra details are critical, others end up not mattering (though they assist in worldbuilding, because they add to the sense that the setting is fully realized and fleshed out), but rarely do they feel completely out there or nigh-impossible to comprehend (and when they do, again, it's the exception which stands out and becomes memorable). This makes (particularly) action scenes (a highlight of worm, and a lowlight of ward) snappy, easy to follow, and reasonably comprehensible, because the AUDIENCE understands the situation, they understand (roughly) the options available to all those involved, and if some of the things that Taylor pulls off feel a tad implausible (lots of the things she does with silk feel...off), they're at least reasonably thematically consistent with her character, her mindset, and her powers.
In Ward, things ain't like that. EVERY new power that is introduced needs to have at least one WEIRD and OUT-THERE aspect to it. I'd be hard pressed to tell you what most of the new characters powers actually DO in ward (except for the core cast, and that's only because they're exhaustively and repeatedly explained to the audience.) What the hell is up with Nursery? Why can Lab Rat do half of the things he does (and more importantly, WHY, except to squick out the audience?)This is not helped by 2 secondary issues:
1. The number of cluster capes: Look, I get that this is a running theme through many of the arcs/antagonists, what with Rain's cluster, Goddess, March, etc, but it does not assist in making your characters well-defined and memorable when each of them has 4-5 distinct powers, in some cases without any apparent synergy between them (looking at you, Rain). Like...in Worm, cluster capes tended to either follow a theme (Circus) in terms of powers, or they tended to have synergistic and cohesive powersets (Foil). In Ward, many of them just seem to get a bunch of random powers that add needless complexity to scenes without actually adding to the story itself.
2. The aforementioned monster of the week problem. So many characters show up for a fight, do their thing, then die or are removed from consideration, potentially coming back for one more brief appearance later. This means that in the space of a scene, the reader needs to understand who the combatants are, why they're fighting, what the respective goals are, and what each new cape's powerset is, without the aid of the aforementioned heuristics. Again, contrast to worm, where you got ADDITIONS to the cast of characters from arc to arc, but you also had many characters that were around for an extended period of time, such that we were able to get familiar with their character, their powers, and to some extent their role and mindset, often BEFORE we had to parse them into an action scene.
On top of the above, Wildbow seems to have developed a serious fetish for finding ways to make minor powers highly impactful, which I'm GUESSING is an attempt to recreate something that worked for a very small number of characters in Worm (Alternatively, it's a desperate attempt to make Victoria seem interesting in action scenes). Either way, it becomes seriously grating to have an otherwise decently written action scene GRIND to a halt because WB wants to make damn sure we know that Rain's 'mild aura of guilt' is a useful and impactful power. Or that Victoria's emotion aura is way more valuable than her strength, durability, and force field. This (again) feels extremely contrived, particularly with how often it happens.
4. It degrades the original
If you read any of my other reviews, you probably know that I rate a work much, much more harshly when it degrades previous, otherwise good works in a series. Thankfully, Ward does not ACTUALLY ruin Worm, because Worm had a complete and satisfying ending (excluding Teneral 5, ignore that chapter's existence). However, it DOES degrade it's ending (Which left a lot of questions unanswered, but in an interesting way which encouraged speculation about what came next) by showing us that what comes next is...boring and uninspired. The survivors just rebuild a new city, much like the old cities (but without any of Brockton Bay's character), then they get (nearly) obliterated by the shards a few years down the line, because it turns out that the main resolution to the climax of Worm DIDN'T actually save the world,/resolve the main threat it just pushed things down the road a bit. Which, in turn, degrades the entire plot of worm, Taylor's journey, and her ultimate sacrifice. Feels a bit like Rise of Skywalker, in that respect - pulling the rug out from under previous entries in the name of cashing in on the setting by refighting the same battles that we thought were resolved in the original.
Also, the revelations about Amy and Victoria were gross, unnecessary, and (in my view, whatever WB may say), an outright retcon of Worm. Sexual assault should not be forced in just to be edgy, and the change makes several characters look like idiots or monsters.
Anyways, out of characters. /endrant.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Don't bother with thee claims that it's a "slow burn" more like dull slog. The only complaint I find with this work is its too damn boring. Boring characters, boring over the top cheap body horror and boring holier than thou spiel.
Summery: As a standalone, this story is a boring slog with some interesting characters, as a sequel, It's a waste of time.
Ward is 2 years of story events compressed to a timeline of 3 months and than the telling of it is stretched out to 2 million words. Which wouldn't be so bad if the payoffs and conclusions were good, but they fizzle out and make you think, 'that's it?'
If you asked anyone who has read ward what the best parts were, they would likely say the interludes, probably because their a small break from the bore of a protagonist and her uninteresting family drama (one family dilemma from worm that would have made this interesting, has all nuance removed, so that the authors wiafu can 100% be in the right, again.)
The main protagonist is always right about her snap judgments, the one time I could remember when she was wrong, she was never challenged.
The villains are a bunch of uninteresting OP villain-sues, who sometimes reads like the authors self-insert.
The more interesting characters only get their time to shine in the interludes.
He also can't get over his hate of fanon, and does his best to tear it down, to the detriment of the story and characters(everyone you liked in worm is secretly an assh*le or they're useless and incompetent, sometimes both!) It's also kinda funny that he clearly hates woobie-Amy from fanon, but Victoria is clearly woobiefied in ward.
It also seems to downplay the importance of previous protagonists contribution to continuity and has a phobia of even mentioning her, even thought the city they're in was build around the remains or her final encounter.
I read the retrospective, and while it's a good retrospective, I still get the feeling that he would replace his fandom for a 'better' one if he could, He mentions how people kept asking about Taylor even though her story was done, but ignores how the story goes out of its way to not mention her even though she saved their world. Wildbow said the final arc would probably come across better if it was binged, but it doesn't, I stopped reading over 6 months ago and only caught up recently. The characters omit information from the audience, even in their own heads, that's why it doesn't work.
Ward is good if you hated the world building and characters in Worm, and wanted more characters talking at each other instead.
If anyone recommends Ward, they're probably bigger fan of Wildbow himself rather than Worm.
If you just finished Worm and you want more Worm content, just read fanfiction, Ward will just disenfranchise you from Worm and Wildbow.
It has been five years since the first book in this series, "Worm", was completed, and in the interim its author has honed his skills. He's improved his pacing and maintained the knack of presenting believable characters quickly, of providing enough resolution to be satisfying while still rolling out cliffhangers, and of writing excellent fight scenes.
The reintroduction of the world these characters inhabit is subtler, with fewer infodumps and more contextual information appearing as the in medias res story unfolds.
Review in Progress, last updated January 1, 2019 "Ward" is an ongoing serial novel. I will update this review as the work progresses. I initially wrote this review at the end of Arc 7, when it was 562,442 words long, which is slightly longer than the Lord of the Rings books (including The Hobbit) (549,147 words).
As of Arc 11.4, the total word count is 925,026, around the same length as all 6 Dune books written by Frank Herbert.
If you are interested in reading weaverdice rules, give a shit about collating who would win feats, and have infinite patience for a text that serves no purpose than to technically make JKR-tier words of god "text", boy have I got the book for you.
If you're interested in "characters" or "plot" or "setting," gtfo.
Now that this story is over, I feel like I can review it honestly. Horrible. Terrible. Insulting. Makes me wonder why I ever got into Wildbow's writing. Makes me realize I don't want to read anything else he might write.
The worst part about Ward, is that it came after Worm.
Wildbow has certainly become a better author, and Worm had a ton of threads left hanging so you would think he could grab any of them, run with it and we would have a great sequel, yet that's not the case.
Somehow, in the process, things that were done exceptionally well are left by the side, I loved the worldbuilding in Worm, treasured every hint that Interludes brought, but there is none in Ward. Like, none at all.
Worm ends with the apocalypse, and people rebuilding across multiple different dimensions. Ward is mostly located to one city, the city, which lacks any personality at all.
Plot relevant characters are in the city, or in another two or three locations, and that's it. What about the rest of the US you think, what about the rest of Earth bet, what happened there, what is going on? We don't know. The Heroes that could resolve the situation our Heroes are involved in? Busy. What about all those world threats? Not here. Hey, do we finally get to know what happened to Taylor? No.
Worm was great at avoiding that kind of issues, there was always a reason the Triumvirate didn't sweep in and save the day, most of the situations Taylor had to deal with were of her own doing, and if not, she had to step in because Villains otherwise don't care. In Ward? There had to be a city-wide McGuffin to get rid of the important heroes, otherwise, the plot doesn't work.
Powers? In Worm they had a distinct feel, intuitive, but with a twist that made them interesting. Tattletale can't get any information she wants, she has to speculate and can get things wrong. Kenzie? She can bullshit anything as needed. Genesis had a few different forms that she could summon but she had to operate remotely, Chris? I can't even picture what the hell is going on in here
"A face, six feet tall, three feet wide, with no cheeks or anything but a spine connecting the top half from the lower half, as if the chin and bottom row of teeth were the ‘head’ of an insect, the rest of the head the thorax. The setup was surrounded by a ring of spider-like legs in varying shapes and sizes. They looked like flesh and not chitin, though, muscular meat with a pronounced ‘elbow’, coming to a pointed tip where it touched the ground or face. He jerked and twitched, large eyes wide, and some of the legs seemed to be more focused on clawing at his own face than on keeping him mobile. "
I understand the need to one-up oneself, but this is a recurring thing.
The pacing has issues, the story structure has issues, the protagonist choice was questionable, and it's really fucking long when it didn't need to be.
There is brilliance in here and plenty of flavor, but it's stuck in a rather monotone story that is the sequel to an exhilarating roller coaster.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Today's chapter is called 20.end in an arc called Last, so I would assume that this is over. And what a fantastic journey this has been. Not perfect by any means, but this story still means a lot to me, despite its many imperfections.
Let's start with the inevitable comparison to Worm. No, this isn't like Worm at all, despite the fact that it features a lot of the same characters. The main difference to me is the focus. Some people will say that Ward is slower and more boring, which is a fair statement, I've felt that at some points, as Wildbow's tendency to meander during interludes are still there, even if the interludes in general are better this time, more unique, more focused. But in my perspective, while Worm focused on large-scale escalations/engaging battle scenes, Ward is more of a character(s)-study compared to Worm. That is not to say that Worm had weak characterizations, or Ward had no fantastically written fight scenes, because neither of those things are true.
The character work in Ward is just masterful, the pacing slows down because the narrative focuses more on the characters, rather than what's happening in the world (which causes some parts of the worldbuilding to suffer, it's not quite as immersive or realistic as Worm's). Twig was even more character focused than Ward, and I feel like Ward tried to strike a balance between Twig's character-focus-ness, and Worm's never-ending escalations, but it got lost somewhere in between.
The characters in Ward are all damaged, fucked up people. Ward really showed how much Wilbow has improved as a writer, especially in terms of characterizations. This time, they're all more diverse and dynamic. They struggle with many things, some of which I could relate with. And I just love the way Wildbow handles this part of the story. None of the characters are even close to perfect/mary sue/whatever you want to call them. There's depth to them that there weren't in many characters in Worm, again the slower pacing at the beginning probably have something to do with that. Characters' redemptions were handled really well too. While Worm had one great redemption arc, Ward had many, all of them are different from each other too so it didn't seem repetitive. In short, their struggles and the way they overcome (or try to) them is my favorite part of Ward.
Seeing some of the characters that survived to the end of Ward, and comparing them to the beginning of Worm, or even the beginning of Ward, it's insane how much all of them have changed. In Worm I didn't think that character development was one of Wildbow's strengths, but after Ward, I definitely think it is.
I'm also one of the few who thinks that Ward's protagonist is better than Worm's. Ward's MC is just more engaging to me. The way their powers work at the beginning might not be as fun or interesting as Taylor's, but the evolution and change to what we got at the end of the story? really well done.
Re: worldbuilding. I just feel like there's a lot of missed potentials, things that seemed interesting and were introduced but never brought up again. Looking at it from that point of view, Ward needs editing even more than Worm. Admittedly, the worldbuilding isn't all bad. The way the mythology of the Entity evolved in Ward is super fascinating, there are also even more cool powers.
I think the main issue with Ward for me is the erratic pacing. What I said above about this being slow/more boring relative to Worm mostly only applies to the first half and near the end. At first it was jarring, expecting something like worm and getting this, I almost stopped reading. But by the time I accepted the fact that this was a different type of story (and I loved the pacing then), I think Wildbow might have listened too much to the criticisms and sped things up too much in the middle, before backpedaling at the end with long-winded fights. In the final few arcs, so many things happened in the span of a week that it became unrealistic and just strange if you just think about it. (most of what happened in the last 4 arcs took place in 2 days for example).
There's also one more issue, which is hard to convey without spoilers because it's something that happens in the middle of the climax of the story. But basically, Wildbow tried to do something different with a very common trope in superhero stories, however, he failed to properly communicate what he was doing, causing the community to perceive it as something that went against one of the core themes of the story. And since this is something that has to do with one of the themes tackled by the story, for a while I saw it as a huge misstep, until it was resolved really well. I think the fact that there are a 3 day gaps between chapter make it a lot worse than it would've been otherwise. I think in a reread, or to anyone who's binge reading the story, it probably wouldn't be such a big deal.
Overall, I have my complaints, but I don't regret at all reading this 1.7 million+ words behemoth. The Parahumans universe have been a constant in my life since almost three years ago at this point. It has been very comforting knowing I would have something to look forward to every Wednesday and Sunday. Thank you for these characters, Wildbow, and on to the next stories... (plus i'm still reading Twig and haven't read Pact)
To quote the final line, and one of my favorite lines, of the story, “A reminder that we press on, no matter what. That there’s always a way forward.”. At the end, that is exactly what Ward is for me.
Unfortunately, I didn't love this story. It's a shame because Worm (the prequel) is one of my all time favorite books. It's also a shame because I read nearly 2 million words in this book alone, and I only did it because of the investment I still had in the prequel. Wildbow is amazing with words, symbolism, and themes, but the story itself didn't keep me interested.
When I read Worm, I couldn't get enough. I stayed up at night to read one more chapter constantly. Wildbow had me so invested in Taylor and her journey that I had to know what happened next. With Ward, I forgot about it several times and didn't pick it up again until months later. And even when I did pick it back up, it was because I wanted to know what became of the world of Worm, not because I actually cared about any of Ward's characters. Some of the plots were interesting enough to keep me reading for short spurts, but that was it.
I think the story started out at a disadvantage with Victoria as the protagonist. She is depicted as someone who had her life handed to her in Worm, and she even shows up as a minor antagonist to Worm's protagonist. I, and I assume others, went into this book already conditioned to not like her. Victoria was also a bully that would expect her sister to get her out of any punishment for being a bully. I understand that her being the protagonist fits nicely into the themes of acceptance in Ward, but if you don't want to read about the protagonist, who cares?
That's not the only problem with Ward though. There seems to be no over-arching goal. There is nothing to root for long term. Victoria starts the story trying to get into the university and gets denied. Then she kind of wanders into a therapy group and decides to help them for a bit. It is really hard to feel invested in a character when you don't know what they want. Even after she finds the study group, there is just a series of events that Victoria and the group have to react to. Sure, some are caused by the group, but mostly, you're just watching problems arise and get solved one by one. Yes, conflict is important to the story, but the conflict on it's own was not enough to keep my attention. And the character's didn't make up the difference.
Another thing that got to be extremely annoying this time around were the interludes. It felt like almost every interlude started off without telling you who the point of view character was. Occasionally, this can be a fun gimmick for a misdirect, but when it is done constantly it's just disorienting. You spend half the chapter trying to figure out who is talking, when they are talking, and where they are. Then, when you finally figure it out, you have to either reread everything prior or just continue on and be content with the fact that you almost definitely missed things while you were lost in the beginning of the chapter. Just tell the reader up front so they can actually understand what they are reading.
Honestly, if this was a standalone story, I probably wouldn't have read past the first arc. There are some really cool concepts in here, and Wildow remains a master of creative super powers with interesting drawbacks, but aside from those things it wasn't really worth the time I spent on it.
[reposted from Web Fiction Guide because it's closing down soon, RIP]
Wildbow is in a unique spot in the web fiction world. Three very long, very popular serials in his oeuvre, now over a million words into the sequel of the work that first put him on. All Eyez on Him.
But the fact remains, we are now over a million words into Ward. Is the length justified, or does it crumble under its own word count? The short answer is we are reading literary rubble.
The foundation is simply not there. Take the first sentence of Daybreak 1.1, how it clunks and tumbles, syllables crashing. Read it out loud, it falls apart and the gears drool out of your mouth, breaking teeth along the way.
This is what the rest of the serial builds upon. Try to find anything within that reads more smooth, you will be bereft. Prosework was never a strongpoint or consideration for Wildbow’s serials, understandably amateurish in early-Worm, effortless by Pact, and now we have looped back to the grind, longer and longer paragraphs that read in fits and starts, yet somehow written with an experienced hand. Ward is a mess, but only a mess a good writer can write.
There is something to be said about brevity. GZA put it aptly, ‘half short and twice strong.’ There’s a reason why Pact remains Wildbow’s most engaging read. Compare Pact’s first sentence, how it captures the theming and tone of the work in less words than Ward’s ever could.
Ward drags. It drags hard and when anything drags hard it burns and hurts. Events and arcs ooze into one another, flowing like molasses. We spend a better part of an arc playing capture the flag. We spend the length of several novellas of therapy sessions. Paint dries as the cast gathers and waits for story to take them away and have them do something. And that story does come, though in fits and starts, in lateral movements rather than anything directly straightforward and driven.
Hear them now. ‘Ward is a character piece, a character study.’ Perhaps this holds water, but it’s more akin to filling a bowl that is cracked and with holes. You have to keep pouring water – constant updates leading to wordbloat – in order to maintain anything of substance. What happens when the stream stops? What will you be left with?
What are the characters we have to study? Victoria is not interesting. Interesting things have happened to her in Worm and interesting things will happen to her in Ward, but this does not justify over a million words in a beige headspace. Her black and white view in a grey world can be interesting if it is ever at all challenged or recognized or commented toward any real or meaningful development but it is not. The Third Man, Ward is not. Compare Victoria now to the beginning of Daybreak. Certainly her character has been through and made some changes, but it certainly does not read as such. She also has shit taste in fashion.
The characters that surround her, Breakthrough, tend to be more interesting, this rule mostly applying Ashley and Kenzie, both having the best interludes the serial has to offer. Others outside of these padded walls that make up the team that aren’t from Worm have a tendency to blur and fade into the black that is the webpage Ward’s text exists on.
Dialogue was never a strength of Wildbow’s either, but the theme of therapy and healing, while a noble thing to write about, seems to go out of its way to pull out any fangs and smooth out any other edges for when Ward’s characters speak. The members of Breakthrough are the biggest sinners. They talk around issues, they coddle, they are actively aware that they avoid any and all conflict. This does not make for interesting dialogue or interesting dynamics, outside of the few bits of comedy that land or the very many bits of shipper fuel for the Worm-fanatic. The words have no bounce or rhythm, they do not have to sound like Elmore Leonard characters but at least Elmore Leonard was a person, these characters should sound like people. If robotic dialogue was a problem in Worm that solved itself by Pact, Ward brings that issue back, painfully yet purposefully.
This is what it means for Ward to be a mess, a mess only a good writer can write. Ward is the sum of enough bad ideas realized with a skilled hand. Of course the dialogue is stilted, of course the pacing is the way it is, any reader can see the design, the conviction in which Wildbow set these things up. But then it should come as no surprise that the result is the least engaging read Wildbow has put to webpage.
The only way, then, to catch the hook that Ward is hanging out carelessly in the wind is to jump at it deliberately, to want to be hooked. To be the Worm-fanatic, the Worm-obsessed, who reads not the craft of the text itself, but promise that’s written between the lines. The promise of more powers, the promise of flashy but nearly impossible to parse action, the promise of shopping trips. Ward is, more than anything else, an engine, an engine that fuels ships and pumps content into holes in wiki pages. Ward is Drake’s More Life, a playlist, where the quantity of content is greater than the quality of the overall project. Pick and choose your favorite parts and discard the rest.
Truly, the main supervillain is not Teacher, or the Fallen, or the machine army that literally waits at the horizons, threat in name only affecting nothing of the current or larger plot, the main villain is the very nature of serialization and writing to immediate audience reception. They reward wordbloat, more sprawl, because the more words, the more to craft theories with. This helped build Worm and Wildbow, but now it proves to be Ward’s undoing, authorship now locked in an endless feedback loop that prioritizes certain things and not others.
Take a shot every time Sveta moves to Victoria’s arm and ‘gives it a squeeze,’ every time Kenzie ‘smiles’ post-Interlude 7.x. The true Worm-fanatic will indulge in drunken excess. The remaining readers will grow quickly nauseous.
Full disclosure: I got over the halfway point for this one before deciding to drop it (around half into the "Heavens" arc, for those in the know). While I don't usually tag as "read" something I don't actually read from start to finish, I'm guessing this mammoth of 7,000+ pages can be an exception, having read at least 4,000 of them before exhaustion kicked in and I proceeded to spoil myself on the resolution of each characters' arcs with the always-handy Parahumans wikia.
Why did exhaustion kick in? Well, it was around the point where a whole 2 chapters (that's 50 pages total) were devoted to our gang plain stalking a roof (something that could've been encompassed by a mere paragraph of pointed description, but I digress) that I finally realized I wasn't enjoying the journey anymore.
Mind you, I'm no stranger to looong works of fiction, having thoroughly enjoyed mammoth reads like Worm (this authors' previous work, a prequel to this one) or Mother of Learning (another superb entry into mammoth reads, by a different author and of a wholly different genre). So the quantity of pages was not the issue: the more, when you're enjoying something, the better I say!
I just wasn't enjoying being in the snobby, high-horsey, black-and-white-when-it-suits-her, entitled, suffering head of Victoria, our main character and the one 95+% of the pages focus on. Sure, we do have a plethora of interesting characters surrounding her, both old faces from the prequel and new ones, but the interludes are few when compared to the time I'm forced to spend in her goody-two-shoes, villains-are-bad-unless-they're-my-friends, delusional Warrior Monk vs Wretch vs Glory Girl vs whatever else comes into her mind.
I'm not saying she's badly written, because she actually is a good example of a character that went though some awful, truly horrific trauma and is constantly trying to both get better and do better by her peers. But... I don't know, maybe it's because I keep unfairingly comparing her to Taylor (the main character of the prequel, a villain with moral quandaries who nevertheless kept upping the ante with horrific yet utterly engrossing consequences), but I just find Victoria so freaking boring: her whole schtick, her world-view, even her powers just shout "priviledged white girl" to me; and when a character commits the cardinal sin of being boring in the eyes of a reader, then the whole burden of reading goes to the world-building and secondary characters, of which there's plenty yet simply not enough to keep me engaged for thousands more pages of Victoria-related inner thoughts.
So I'll lay this one to rest, maybe peruse some of the latter Interludes, say goodbye (and good riddance, in some cases) to Victoria, Byron, Tristan, Kenzie, Sveta and Ashley; and look for the next thousand-pages read to keep me up at night.
I quit this in the middle of the third arc. I find the writing a lot less clear than in Worm. Maybe Wildbow is experimenting with leaving more unsaid so the reader has to fill in the blanks, but it really isn’t working for me. One manifestation of this is less “he said” and “she said”, where instead you have to infer who is talking based on context. And I’m pretty sure in at least a couple cases, a third person joined the conversation without being announced! That’s probably just a need for editing rather than something intentional. But there’s also been less exposition on what people’s powers are, which is making all the fight scenes hard for me to follow.
Separately, or maybe as a result, I haven’t been impressed with any cool power interactions yet. It’s missing the part of Worm I enjoyed.
Ward is a sequel that I'm conflicted on. I finished the story several months ago but my view on it has changed considerably. While most criticisms of Ward boil down to years of fan interpretations from Worm turning out to be wrong or a lack of power wanking (at least early on) compared to Worm, I do agree with the criticism that Ward essentially has an identity crisis. There's aspects and ideas from it that I like a lot, but the story itself is heavily conflicted on what it wants to do,where it wants to go, and how it goes about what it wants.
Ward wants to be a story of characters healing from the past. Early chapters have less to do with an looming physical threat as conflict like in Worm and more to do with characters interacting with each other. The conflict comes from the main casts' trauma and how they learn to deal or move beyond it. Of course, being a story in Worm's setting inevitably comes the expectation of spectacle that goes on for entire, sometime several, arcs with little relent in between them. In of all this Victoria will tell others about the importance of going to therapy in the midst of a destroyed city with camps of homeless people surrounding it, wondering how regular humans could despise capes so much.
It sets itself up to go against what Worm was (or is perceived as) and while in the roundabout takes the exit and route Worm was on. I'll say that the best parts of Ward is when it's not trying to be like Worm. The only instance where I found there was a good melding between what Ward wants to do and Worm was during Rain's character arc. To be brief, I enjoyed how the conflict of his character was interwoven in with the conflict of the arc until it reached its climax with Wildbow's typical major story shift. Of course, anyone who knows what arc I'm referring to will find this ironic considering how divided the community was on it at the time it was being written. For the rest of the cast they either take a back seat and when it finally comes up for them it's haphazardly rushed through knee deep in the current arc's seemingly impossible to overcome obstacle with grave consequences.
Overall, I feel the story was hardset on being one thing and appealing to fan backlash ontop of the setting not being conducive to what it wants to be resulted it in something far beyond Wildbow's scope that he couldn't deliver on. If anything I'd say that Twig does what Ward wants to do far better despite Ward setting out to do what Twig did minus that story's own issues. I'm not sure how Pale is currently, but I won't bother reading it unless it's completed or close to it. It's a sequel to Pact so I'd be severely disappointed if Wildbow manages to make the sequel on par or worse than its already lackluster predecessor.
I read Worm, the first Parahumans serial, years after it was finished in a huge binge over the course of a couple of weeks, and fell in love with Wildbow's writing. It was my first real exposure to the web serial format, but I never got to really experience it as a web serial.
With Ward it was different. This was my first experience with a serial where I was actually consuming it *as a serial*, waiting for those twice a week drip-feeds of sweet sweet chapter updates. Over the two years I spent reading Ward, I've dealt with lots of emotional ups and downs, but the chapter updates on Tuesdays and Saturdays served as anchor points for me, something I always knew I could look forward to (not to mention the additional content of the We've Got Ward podcast, serving me another couple hours of Ward content every week).
Few stories have hit me with the emotional punches that Ward brought. Few stories have let me sit with characters for as long as Ward did, to the point where I really felt like I understood who they were, where I really felt like they were actually existing people.
Ward isn't perfect, and I don't know how anyone could expect it to be. Every chapter is a first draft, every arc subject to the whims of the time and circumstance that it was written, in a way that is incredibly uncommon for most stories that are told these days. I don't know of many writers who publish a story that's gone through fewer than three drafts. Wildbow didn't have that option, and there are places where it shows, whether on the sentence-by-sentence level or on a larger plot arc level.
But it's a damn fine first draft, the best I've ever read.
The protagonist is one of my favorite characters in all of fiction. Her struggles, her growth, her transformation, is absolutely inspiring. The themes of this story are relevant and powerful, masterfully woven throughout this epic tale and reinforced from every direction.
There are scenes in this story that will stick with me forever.
It's hard to contextualize where Ward fits in the list of my favorite stories of all time. So many of the top spots are occupied by formative books that grabbed me as a child and helped to shape who I am today. But Ward is one of those rare stories that has managed to get into my adult brain in a similar way. Gun to my head, it's Top 3 All-Time.
Ward cemented three things for me: 1. It gave me both an incredible comfort and a tool for dealing with my own struggles 2. It solidified my love for (and obsession with) web serials as a format 3. Wildbow is my favorite living author
TL;DR: Don't believe the anti-hype, this is really good.
I was shocked to see so many negative reviews here. This is Wildbow writing about superpowers! At worst, Ward is the best Worm fanfiction anyone has ever written. At best, it's a sequel that actually improves on the original in many ways (though both books have their own unique strengths).
There are dozens of well-developed characters, many of whom have really satisfying arcs. The overall quality of the prose is an upgrade from Worm. Altogether, it makes for an amazing novel, with a few stumbles here and there — as you'll find in any Wildbow work, or any web serial ever written.
Admittedly, I'd have given four stars after my first, live read. There are slower-paced arcs that left me feeling a bit impatient and disconnected when I could only read two chapters per week. But when I went back and reread Ward at the pace of a novel (while listening to the We've Got Ward podcast), most of the pacing issues just dropped away. And certain plot developments that annoyed me at the time were much more satisfying when I saw them with all the previous chapters stored in memory.
Yes, even March.
If you really dislike stories where people struggle with their emotions, I'd recommend avoiding this novel, because therapy is a major theme. But that element of the story just helped the characters feel real to me, as did the excellent mini-arcs for our main group (I wish we'd had a chance to see that kind of thing for Brian, Alec, or Rachel back in Worm).
I'm rather disappointed I can't score this higher, because Wildbow is a good author and Ward had some great parts in it. The interludes from the perspective of the non-MC main characters were basically all top-notch, and most of the fights were written way more clearly than you would think they could be, partly because of the viewpoint character's elucidating internal dialogue. Powers are cool, and the central struggle between the MC and her sister is also well-written even though I don't like what it conveys.
1. What seem to be the author's intended themes are somewhere on a line between "contradicted by the text" and "hamfistedly and jarringly didacted to the reader by the text." More the latter than the former. 2. The characterization is realistic to a fault, but static and without payoff within the main timeline of the story. 3. The climax is boring. It's scale going up against scale, as if describing one bad guy as 200 feet tall and the next bad guy as 2000 feet tall is going to feel at all meaningful. Related to this: in general, most wins are unearned (exceptions: )
I really like the main characters. They're all so complicated and interesting and I love them. Except Chris. There are lots of neat minor characters too. One of 'em has a bingo sheet for explosive organs. Just as an example. I do like the worldbuilding, and there are interesting powers and resolutions to crises. Also they make jokes, and fashion judgements, and political catastrophes. It's really rather varied.
It all started three years ago when I changed jobs an d was searching for an audio book to listen during the commute. I liked Worm so much that I jumped into Ward right away. Same universe , same superheroes, but not the same dynamics... I guess I lost it at the shardspace arc, that’s when I started visiting r/Parahumans weekly for the analysis. I honestly don’t think anybody can even explain the plot in 50 words or less
4.2: “What are the hearts, stars, and apples you’re writing down?” “It’s algebra, duh. You don’t have to use X and Y or A and B. You can use anything to represent the variable. I like hearts and stars and apples.”
Ward is probably the best of Wildbow's works so far. The stuff that made Worm great is all there - creative and realistic uses of powers, terrifying and fleshed out villains, interesting interlude perspectives, and a plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Deeper character building gets you emotionally invested in pretty a large cast of characters - which pays off throughout the story in myriad ways.
I read it serially, so I don't know how it comes off in a binge-read - for that reason, I won't comment on pacing.
But the characters are great, the emotion is realistic, the stakes are significant, and the high points are earned by how hard the heroes work to achieve them. Read Worm first, then if you like it, give this a try.
Yes, you NEED to read the first one to get what's going on here.