Name: What Moves the Dead
Author: T. Kingfisher
Number of Pages: 159 (Kindle)
Published: July 12th 2022 by Tor Nightfire
Genre: Horror, Gothic, Fantasy
What Moves the Dead is Kingfisher’s retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic “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.
What Moves the Dead is the first book I’ve read by T. Kingfisher and it won’t be the last. I really enjoyed this retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher. So much wonderfully Gothic content that I couldn’t put the book down, even when things did start getting gruesomely strange as Alex Easton pays a visit to their old friends in the House of Usher.
The Usher siblings themselves are clearly in the grip of something or someone, for neither of them is a picture of robust health, and Easton is shocked to see the pair of them. Roderick has taken to playing haunting piano refrains late at night and is given to bouts of melancholy.
Madeleine’s decline is even more pronounced, her physical state frail and upsetting.
Despite all this the siblings seem bound to their home and wish to remain there.
Alongside Easton are a number of other characters, all of whom must figure out and face what is lurking within the walls of the House of Usher.
I loved Easton. Formerly a soldier, Easton is capable and determined and not given to flights of fancy, so their experiences at the house are definitely eye opening. I loved their wit and humour, which shone through despite the horror they were facing, and their devotion to helping their old friends and, in Roderick’s case, former comrade-in-arms.
Easton meets Eugenia Potter, a lady ‘of a certain age’, in the grounds surrounding the Usher house, where she’s busy making detailed paintings of mushrooms. Oh Eugenia, I could read a whole book devoted to her adventures and endeavours to gain access and acceptance to the Mycology society. As it is here she’s useful, informative and a great help to Alex in figuring out what is going on, however hard it is to believe at first.
Am American doctor, Denton, another friend of the Ushers, completes the trio. I loved them all.
And as a counterpoint to the malevolence of the local hares (more to come on this presently), an opinionated horse by the name of Hob lightens the mood during every scene he’s in, expressing his opinions clearly with a mere turn of his ears.
The old house in which the Ushers reside and to which their friend Easton is summoned is something of a character in itself – becoming more dilapidated, run through with mold and fungus, it looms like some ghostly spectre, and there’s a wonderful description as Easton sees it up close for the first time on their visit.
The library is full of horrifically moulding books, literally rotting as they sit there, and there have been sightings of a woman wandering the corridors at night.
The house, awful as it is, seems to hold the Ushers captive in some way beyond the normal. It’s so clear something is dreadfully wrong but despite imploring and offers of accommodation from Easton and another friend, Denton, the Ushers refuse to move.
There are whispers that the place is cursed, and the local wildlife, particularly the hares, exhibit some very strange behaviour. It‘s all very eerie, unsettling and threatening.
What Moves the Dead features some brilliantly creepy scenes, from the quietly unnerving to the outright horrific, and I just couldn’t put the book down. What begins as mildly strange becomes an all out life-endangering fight for survival as the horrors are revealed, and I flew through the story.