That cover, am I right? A haunting creepy-crawly tale, What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher is just what a Poe retelling needs to be. I’ve never read anything by Kingfisher, but if this was any indication of their other works, sign me up. What Moves the Dead creates a new interpretation of what really happened in “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
When Alex Easton, a retired soldier, receives word that their childhood friend Madeline Usher is dying, they race to the ancestral home of the Ushers in the remote countryside of Ruritania.
What they find there is a nightmare of fungal growths and possessed wildlife, surrounding a dark, pulsing lake. Madeline sleepwalks and speaks in strange voices at night, and her brother Roderick is consumed with a mysterious malady of the nerves.
Aided by a redoubtable British mycologist and a baffled American doctor, Alex must unravel the secret of the House of Usher before it consumes them all.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
It has been a while since I’ve read “The Fall of the House of Usher” so I did not feel too drawn to make comparisons, which I think is generally for the better with retellings. Kingfisher has such a vivid writing style that just adds an eerie Poe-esque feel to this retelling. While What Moves the Dead does have a gothic feel, Kingfisher still includes a good amount of clever humor in the narration and dialogue. Beyond it being a novella, it does not take much to get sucked up in this story and experience the horror. I listened to it as an audiobook, but I do plan on reading it as well to see how that might change the experience.
Kingfisher introduces new characters to the story, which I think greatly adds to the book overall. You have the two siblings as in the original tale, but also the main character, who is a family friend, a doctor, I guess also a family friend, and a friendly neighborhood scientist. I just love Miss. Potter, the excentric mycologist (but honestly, what mycologist isn’t a little eccentric). The characters were well developed and didn’t feel like needless additions to get more words on the page.
I would certainly suggest anyone who likes gothic horror, Edgar Allen Poe, mushrooms, you name it, to read What Moves the Dead. It felt like a new take on Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” without getting too far away or leaning too heavily on it. And if you’ve not already, join me in checking out more of T. Kingfisher’s work!