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All I’ll Take From You

Small Gods of Calamity

By Sam Kyung Yoo 

22 Mar, 2024

Doing the WFC's Homework


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Sam Kyung Yoo’s 2024 Small Gods of Calamity is a supernatural thriller novel.

Han-gil is the marvel of the Jong-ro Police Station’s violent crimes unit. His colleagues marvel at Han-gil’s eccentricities. They marvel at the increasing brevity of Han-gil’s partnerships with other police officers. They marvel that Han-gil has not yet been fired.

In other circumstances Han-gil might be an exemplary policeman. In his current circumstances, he is all too distracted by the supernatural.

Like his late mother, Han-gil is aware of supernatural entities. Unlike his mother, he lacks the ability to significantly affect supernatural entities. He is dependent on practitioners like his adopted sister Azuna to handle the heavy lifting of expunging dark beings. Too bad for Han-gil that his reputation amongst adepts is (for good reason) nearly as dismal as his reputation on the police force.

Among the issues the true adepts have with Han-gil: his obsession with the worms,” supposed spiritual parasites that infest hosts, steering them towards violence before consuming their souls. Han-gil believes his mother was a worm victim. However, if worms were real, wouldn’t some shaman, mudang, or monk have noticed them, rather than some nearly powerless cop?

Worms are very much real. They have a distinctive MO: they infest someone with anger issues. Imbued with the worm’s gifts, the victims can force those who have angered them to commit suicide. The worm feeds on the suicides’ souls, then ends by consuming the souls of their hosts as well.

To Korean police, the deaths are hardly mysterious. Korea has one of the world’s highest suicide rates. The worm’s victims are indistinguishable from regular suicides. Han-gil’s insistence on treating certain suicides as portentious, worthy of detailed investigation, is inexplicable and bizarre.

The corpse of a jumper launches Han-gil into a desperate race. He needs to identify the host before she kills again or at least before she is eaten by the parasite. A cure does exist. Too bad it kills most of the hosts and leaves the remainder comatose.

A better option presents itself… but to take advantage of it, Han-gil will have to partner with the man he blames for his mother’s death.


I greatly appreciated the author’s notion that in this day and age, occult practitioners will actively network across national and cultural borders. In this day of inexpensive travel, it’s simple prudence for Korean mudangs to know their kappas from their kelpies.

There’s a sub-genre of novels (thrillers, mysteries, SFF) which feature a menace that only the protagonist sees. This forces them to handle the problem single-handed. This set-up works only if the authorities are idiots or just blind to the problem. In this book Han-gil is on his own because the people who should help Han-gil (the police, the mudangs) simply don’t see any reason to bother.

In the cops’ defense, I should note that Han-gil is prone to vanishing on errands he won’t explain and focusing on minutiae whose significance is obscure. Also one of his partners was seriously injured by a worm-crazed host. Han-gil is bad luck for his partners’ careers and well-being.

In the mudangs’ defense, not every superstition is true. The evidence that worms exist is not convincing; Han-gil’s efforts to catch them are disruptive. My reading of the book is that there is one single worm, that its home environment isn’t one that most practitioners frequent, and that it only recently attached itself to a human. This suggests that there are supernatural ecosystems of which humans are ignorant. Well, why wouldn’t there be?

This could easily have been a supernatural thriller along the lines of TV series like The Fugitive or The Invaders, series in which the protagonist has many thrilling adventures. None of these adventures will get the protagonist any closer to the goal if ratings are good. This book isn’t that sort of supernatural thriller. At the start of the novel, Han-gil and his sister Azuna have made considerable progress researching the worm, even if they have not managed to save anyone (coma patients aside). This novel recounts the final confrontation, one where their hard work will either pay off or fail abjectly.

Small Gods of Calamity is an effectively told thriller, about whose small but memorable cast the reader will care.

Small Gods of Calamity is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK),here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Words Worth Books).