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Book Review: WHAT MOVES THE DEAD by T. Kingfisher

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

You ever sit down and think to yourself, you know, hares sure are creepy little critters, aren’t they? No, me neither. But then I read WHAT MOVES THE DEAD by T. Kingfisher and I’ve been swayed into thinking that yes, those unblinking beady eyed creatures can be quite unsettling after all.

WHAT MOVES THE DEAD is a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic story THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER wherein the author is able to simultaneously show reverence for the original tale while also expanding upon that foundation (and dare I say the horror as well) all the while making it her own. Insert hair-raisingly (sorry I couldn’t resist) eerie hares, weird fungal infestations, and stinking mushrooms here. Oh, and did I mention there is also a character inspired by beloved children's author Beatrix Potter. This novella pretty much has it all.

My introduction to Poe coincidentally just happened to be THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER which I read at the beginning of last year. I still remember that brooding sense of gloom Poe’s words evoked within me the first time my eyes fell upon Usher's house.

“During the whole dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within the view of the melancholy House of Usher.”

Kingfisher captures that same palpable feeling of despair, an ever-growing sensation of things being off kilter with Roderick, Madeline, and the entire Usher estate. Through the perspective of ex-soldier Alex Easton, whose arrival at House Usher was prompted by an urgent request from their childhood friend, we are confronted with the shocking and ghastly visage of Madeline who looks to be a stone's throw away from death’s door. As Alex spends sleepless night after sleepless night within the confines of the ruined estate, they slowly begin to unravel the truly horrific and sinister nature behind the mysterious malady afflicting Madeline and in turn Roderick.

You may be asking yourself if you need to read THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER before diving into this novella and the answer to that is no, no you don’t. This story stands completely on its own whether you have any knowledge of the original or not. But should you read it though? Yes, I suggest that you do so. Having read both myself I believe that I had a greater appreciation for the added nuance, depth, and embellishment that Fisher is able to inject into this retelling.

WHAT MOVES THE DEAD by T. Kingfisher is an insidious gothic delight crawling with delectable grotesqueries. A classic retelling for a modern audience. Elaborating upon the seemingly purposeful vagueness of Poe’s original tale while finally unearthing the truth of what moves the dead. This was my first experience reading T. Kingfisher and I am looking forward to seeking out more of her work.

I received an eARC of this book from the publisher through Netgalley for review consideration.

Title: What Moves the Dead

Author: T. Kingfisher

Publisher: Tor Nightfire

Publication Date: July 12, 2022

Pages: 176

Language: English

Format Reviewed: eBook

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