Alison Rumfitt
Cipher Press

“So… is it as good as the first one?” is what everyone asks me when I gush about Brainwyrms. The straightforward reply is “definitely yes,” but I always feel compelled to qualify my answer: “well, yes, though it’s very different.”  You see, while Tell Me I’m Worthless was Rumfitt’s take on the gothic haunted house trope, Brainwyrms dives into the multiple potentials of body horror.

Having survived a transphobic bomb attack to her previous workplace, Frankie now works as a content moderator while partying herself to oblivion in her free time. That’s how she meets the beguiling Vanya, whose own toxic home life begins to suck Frankie into a cultish upper-class parasite kink scene.

Unsurprisingly, Brainwyrms is a deeply physical book. This quality is central to its political core: by turning the “brainworm” metaphor for bigoted ideology into a concrete communal practice, Rumfitt removes the abstraction that often surrounds discourse about radicalization. Indeed, the text is thematically and stylistically entrenched with internet politics: from Frankie’s current occupation and the forum conversations, to the characters it satirizes and the ways it portrays identity exploration.

There’s a vivid energy to the writing, charged with erotic electricity one moment, only to twist into repulsion the next. For all the novel’s edgy flair, however, it never devolves into tired gratuitous violence. Crucially, it resists shunning kink itself as disgusting. By taking it seriously, it amplifies the complexities of desire, love, and power. It is also, I kid you not, a very funny book.

The result is narrative featuring a cast of flawed yet bewitching characters, and a story with many starts and stops that still manages to build powerful momentum, one that lasts to the final sentence and beyond. In short, Brainwyrms is one no fan of horror can pass up.

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