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Most of the time I spent reading What Moves the Dead I could only think of one thing; that it is so similar to Mexican Gothic in its use of fungus/mold as the antagonist. Due to this, I actually had trouble focusing on the actual story T. Kingfisher was telling. Thus I wish that the Authors Note was at the front of the book, instead of the back, as in it Kingfisher admits the similarities to the amazing Mexican Gothic, as well she notes the differences and how a fungus/mold can be dangerous and sentient (if you will) in different ways. I think going in knowing that Kingfisher was aware of Silvia Morena-Garcia’s amazing novel would have helped me enjoy the story more. I’m a bit defensive of fellow Canadians (such as Morena-Garcia) as it’s just a bit tougher for us to get published and gain a huge following as our counterparts to the south and even in the UK.
All that said this is a solid story. I’d say it wasn’t quite as scary as I had hoped for. I didn’t have the shivers too many times and the atmosphere in general just didn’t hold the creepiness I like in a horror story. I think that’s because our leading lady is very pragmatic about the situation (and maybe because I was too fixed on the similarities to Mexican Gothic). Although I did find myself repeating (as I went to bed one night) ‘the dead don’t walk’ as a bit of a mantra and reassurance.
The most interesting part of the entire novel for me is actually not relevant to the main plot, that is Kingfisher’s explanation, early on, of the multiple types of pronouns used in this society. I wish we could adopt something like it for our own!! Instead of just male and female, there is a gender neutral/non-binary pronoun and even a pronoun just for soldiers (regardless of gender). I do wish more was said and explored about a character that would lack gender (literally as it’s not human); but at least the acknowledgement and handling of pronouns was done. That felt like a huge step forward and I can’t wait to tell my non-binary friend about it later today when I see them!
Overall the length felt appropriate, not too short nor too long, to tell the story and get to know the characters. While it wasn’t jump scary or all that chilling for me; What Moves the Dead was certainly well written, the plot organized sufficiently, and the characters real enough. I look forward to reading some of Kingfisher’s past novels (she has two prior) to see if I can enjoy her writing better when I’m not obsessed with defending Mexican Gothic against what I’m reading. I do really appreciate Kingfisher telling everyone to go read Mexican Gothic however. I too will echo that statement; but I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from reading What Moves the Dead. Just know that it will feel very reminiscent with the use of mold/fungus as the unusual antagonist of each situation.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
This short novel (under 200 pages) is a re-imagining of The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe. It stays true to the original in tone, and adds quite a bit extra. It might even be better than the original? It’s set in an alternate reality Victorian era. The language is very eloquent and lyrical and, at times, grotesque. It has the feeling of a classic horror, and it explores themes such as feminism quite brilliantly. I highly recommend checking out this chilling novella this spooky season!
Before reading this, I hadn't ever read anything by Kingfisher. Also, although I have a collection of Poe's short tales on one of my bookshelves, I haven't gotten around to reading it yet, so haven't read The Fall of the House of Usher. Having just finished this, it has spurred me on to change that.
What Moves the Dead is a short, very creepy book. It tells the story of Alex Easton; a non-binary retired soldier, who has been asked to attend his childhood friend, Madeline Usher. When Easton arrives, it is clear that Madeline and her brother, Roderick, are both in a terrible situation. Madeline is close to death, and Roderick is half the man that he used to be. Even their house is in decline, as it is decaying and rotting around them. But the truth of what is happening will be far more horrific than Easton could have imagined.
As this is a short tale - around 170 pages - you will find that the pacing is perfect. Kingfisher has created a sense of unease from the very beginning, meaning that even as Easton approaches the Usher house, you get a feeling of wanting them to turn back, but also being pulled along as though beside them, needing to see their journey to the end. Kingfisher's descriptions of the characters, as well as the house, bring this horror to life, and for a short book, it certainly still manages to pack a punch. In a way, I do wish that I had thought to read the original Poe version before this, but at least it has encouraged me to read the original sooner rather than later.
Eerie and atmospheric, this is a tightly paced book that starts off unsettling and continues from there. There is a strong sense of place and time without lengthy description. I could clearly picture the setting while reading, which is not the case for many books. The characters are clear and well-drawn too, and their interactions drive the story. If you have read books by this author before, you know that her characters tend toward being quippy - here, that is kept to a minimum, and so does not take you out of the tension building or this specific setting. The plot is a retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher. Even though I guessed what the resolution would be, the big reveal scene still surprised me. I knew what was coming and yet it was more horrific than expected. If you had asked me whether the story would be improved by having a protagonist with gender neutral pronouns, I'm not sure I could have given you an answer, but it absolutely was. Easton is wonderful. Also wonderful is the country that Easton is from, a small European country caught up in the wars, which does not exist. I am a big fan of this type of literature (the Ruritanian romance, per Wikipedia), and to find a new one being written today was a thrill. The author said in the afterword that this story was a nod to that genre, and that she was not sure she had really accomplished it - I say she has, and excellently at that.
I'm not usually into horror novels but I like classic horror that relies less on blood and gore and more on psychological tension and atmosphere, and this book has both of those things in spades. WHAT MOVES THE DEAD is a delightful bundle of tropes: creepy animals, crawling mold, a gothic castle, a family filled with madness, and a dark, dank secret that would chill the blood of men, all told by a dryly witty nonbinary protagonist, Alex, who has come to the House of Usher to aid a childhood friend as she succumbs to a mysterious illness.
I don't know if any of you are familiar with Magic the Gathering lore, but this has very similar vibes to the plane of Innistrad when it was being influenced by Emrakul: picture a quaint 19th century European village being slowly poisoned by toxic and sinister influences. The interactions with the flora and fauna and the palpable terror of the villagers made this feel like an old skool horror movie that could have starred Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff. I also liked the comedic elements that came from Alex and the proper Ms. Potter, Beatrix's fictional aunt, and determined female mycologist.
Less is definitely more going into WHAT MOVES THE DEAD because part of the fun is figuring out what's going on. But this is definitely creepy and despite being under 200 pages, the pacing was economical and perfect. If this isn't made into a movie, somebody's not doing their job.
4.5 stars, actually. I am a HUGE T. Kingfisher fan, usually for how she manages to interweave common decency and a sense of comfort into all the stories of war-weary and traumatized folks like in the alternate world fantasy Paladin/Hanged Mother novels or fairytale retellings like Bryony and Roses
This is a retelling of Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher starring a war-weary Gallacian sworn soldier with pronouns khan and ka, a non-nonsense British amateur mycologist, and a pair of very pale, very weird siblings in the House of Usher in a small hamlet in a small European kingdom.
Alex Easton is called to a friend’s house by the news of imminent death of a friend’s sister. Ka discovers a really, really nasty dank pond, a crumbling mansion, and strange hares that don’t run away when you approach but stare at you with unblinking eyes.
And there’s mushrooms.
It’s kind of fun to read this as I am also eagerly watching each episode of Last of Us on HBO, and the afterward mentions Mexican Gothic by Moreno-Garcia which I almost wish I hadn’t read yet so I could read it close to this one. It’s definitely fun to see the different “flavors” of fungi in all three creative works, and the intersection of human horror and fungi.
But this is Kingfisher, so whilst its definitely gothic and atmospheric heavy, once the horror is truly revealed, our heroes step up to handle it.
This is very short, more like a novelette than a full novel, but then the original source material was also short:)
Trying my best to stay realistic with my rating and not go insane because it dealt with fungi and i love fungi...
The only thing that really bothered me was that the only curse word them mc seemed to be aware of was "Christ's blood" and it got annoying. Other than the it started off pretty slow for such a short book, but it wasn't bad. But also as someone who has a "slight" obsession with fungi THIS BOOK MADE ME FANGIRL WHEN IT MENTIONED THE WAY FUNGI WORKED AND DIFFERENT TYPES TO THE POINT I GIGGLED. LIKE PLEASE. WHO GIGGLES OVER FUNGI IN A HORROR BOOK.
I am going to be honest and say that most of my enjoyment really came from my obsession of fungi in horror books and the fact it was actually done really well. Were the characters extremely fleshed out? No but i mean this book is like 150 pages and that wasn't the main focus. The main focus was the fact Madeline was dying. AND I LOVED EVERY SECOND OF IT ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY MENTIONED FUNGUS THAT EFFECT AQUARIUMS HEHEHEHE.
Beautifully written. I was hooked right away and speed read through the rest of the book. It was enchanting and gripping and thrilling all at once mixed in with amazing language. The plor twists and endings are phenomenal. It may be a short book but if I had the chance to read it again for the first time, I'd do it in a heartbeat.