Pact is the second web serial published by John C. McCrae, aka Wildbow, the author of Worm. It began it's run on December 17th, 2013 and ended on March 3rd, 2015. Where Worm was the super hero story for the Twenty-First Century Pact is modern supernatural mystery adventure horror thriller. No really, it's hard to pin down.
Spoilers for the first few chapters follow.
The story centers around Blake Thorborn; the estranged son of a really messed up family that's reuniting to find out which granddaughter their grandmother is deeding the entirety of their sizeable estate, the Hillsglade House, to. Blake learns that he has a new younger sister, everybody acts like a-holes, and one of of Blake's cousins, Molly Walker, is selected and the whole affair begins and ends in back biting and caustic conversation. Blake laments that nothing has changed and concludes that he made the right choice leaving home at seventeen even if he had to live on the streets for some of that time.
Four months later Blake is back in his apartment in Toronto where he wakes from a dream/vision of several disparate scenes to discover that his reflection has been replaced by a girl confined to the other side of mirrors. She informs him that they killed Molly and he needs to get back to Hillsglade House if he doesn't want to be next. Between the dream and talking reflection Blake decides to roll with it and save his questions for the long car ride. We discover that the person in the mirror is Rose Thorborn Junior and she hardly understands what's going on either. Grandma Thorborn may have been in some supernatural shenanigans, there are parties of supernatural means that want her heirs dead, and Rose Junior is some sort of attempt to game the system. The exposition gets cut short when Blake passes an unnaturally tall person wearing a skull with antlers which Rose insists latched on somehow. Then the gas gauge starts dropping. The car stalls, Blake discovers that his cell is now dead, and the skull thing has been joined by two friends who are closing in fast. As bad as it seems the monsters aren't interested in killing him directly, just driving him into the cold night so he can die from exposure. A plausible death.
Blake and Rose just barely manage to extricate him and flag down a passing motorist be for he freezes to death. He warms up at a local gas station and one of the employees offers to drive him the rest of the way. Blake arrives at the Hillsglade House without incident, surprisingly enough, and gets inside. From there his handy man background clues him into the inside dimensions being off and he discovers his grandmother's secret library. Surprise, surprise she was a witch, more specifically a diabolist (with all that that entails), and he's the heir to all her power, enemies, and several generations worth of karmic debt. Oh, and a mid-tier demon sealed in the attic.
The remainder of the story (which is almost a million words long) concerns Blake's attempts to deal with the common residents of Jacobsbell who want him gone because Hillsglade House is on a plot of land that is preventing the town from developing, the Practitioners of Jacobsbell want him dead because of the threat his family has posed to their lives and souls, and the Others of Jacobsbell have various bad ends in store for him. All the while he has to try and figure out why Rose Senior created Rose Junior, the nature of the pacts that he's inherited, and his own inner (metaphorical) demons. As the plot progresses and Blake finds the hole his ancestors dug for him is deeper than anybody could imagine and he's faced again and again with the option of calling on the really nasty things that he inherited.
Spoilers end here.
Pact is a story of identity and the choices that one is willing to make in the face of adversity. Blake comes from an ugly place and everyone and everything he encounters tell him he's going somewhere even worse. The core question in the story is less about how he avoids this and more about what he's willing to risk along the way. As much as I love the successes the places where the story shines are the occasions when characters fail.
I'd do the serial a real disservice if I didn't mention the world building. The magical beings that inhabit the world are as many and varied as folklore would suggest but the rules governing their world are boil down to a few core tenets; first of which is don't lie. Surprisingly, this hardly prevents deception from being a major tool in the magical world and the narrative, it's just of the precise, semantically exact type. Other rules include the rule of threes and like attracting like. Beyond that it mostly boils down to a vague sort of Animism aimed at convincing the universe (or more precisely its constituent spirits) to do what you want. A handful of rules expressed across tremendous complexity makes for a setting that is easy to grasp but impossible to master.
Where Worm is a straight forward action/adventure with a side of psychologically drama Pact is hard to pin down with plot twists enough to give the reader whiplash. Whether this is a good or bad thing is up to you but be prepared to be confused at points in the story. If you like stories about devils and details you'll probably like Pact but be warned this is not a story for the faint of heart.
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