Author T. Kingfisher is known for her award-winning entries into horror folklore, with The twisted and hollow placesas well as getting into the fantasy genre with Wizard Guide to Defensive Cooking and Minor Mage. His latest release What moves the deadis a story by Edgar Allan Poe The Fall of House Usher, but with a more scientific approach to the classic gothic tale. Horrific New Take on Poe’s Story Releases July 12e2022, from Nightfire Publishing.
What moves the dead follows Alex Easton, a retired soldier in the Galician army, as she travels to the Usher mansion after learning that her old friend, Madeline Usher, has become extremely ill. When she arrives, she meets a British mycologist, studying local fungi in the area, an American doctor, assigned to treat Madeline, and her old friend and Madeline’s brother, Roderick Usher. While exploring the land of the Ushers, Alex begins to notice the local wildlife acting strangely strange, and possibly infected with fungus, and thinks this might be the cause of Madeline’s sudden illness. Alex is tasked with trying to get the ushers out of their home before it’s too late, and her friends succumb to mushroom-induced madness.
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What a great idea this story was. I’m a sucker for most historical fiction, and while Poe’s original story itself is fictional, it’s such a staple in the zeitgeist of classic literature that the story feels like the real thing. ‘true story. With Edgar Allan Poe’s known interest in mushrooms and hints at moments in the original story pointing to certain black molds being the cause of the Ushers’ madness, T. Kingfisher brought two and two together to create an outside view of the classic tale. adding some cool characters. This includes giving the reader some desperately needed personality and position for the anonymous narrator of the original story.
With many modern period horror novels, pacing is often an issue, mostly because the story setting simply can’t keep up with a modernized world experienced by a modernized reader. A useful solution for this is to create interesting and relatable characters that could be written in a modern setting and focusing on their development. A more recent book to do this perfectly was mexican gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a book whose themes remind me a lot of Poe’s work, and which Kingfisher refers to in the afterword to that book. What moves the dead also does a good job, but unfortunately only to a certain extent, as the book’s short length doesn’t allow readers to immerse themselves in the characters as much as they’d like.
What I absolutely adored about Kingfisher’s writing was his superb imagination and attention to detail when it came to the macabre. When I read hollow places, I had very vivid visions of his horrible creations. The same can be said for What moves the dead. Although I feel like the idea of a creeping fungal takeover of the brain has been a bit over the top in recent years, with massive book releases like David Koepp’s. Cold roomMr. Carey’s The girl with all the presentsJoe Hill’s The firemanand Chuck Wendig wanderers all going down this path, few other writers are able to capture the terrifying and horrific effects a fungus can have on one’s body in their words like Kingfisher can.
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My biggest problem for What moves the dead is a good one to have. I just wanted more. While I think the ending wrapped things up nicely, there were questions that even the characters had that would never be answered. However, I understand the reluctance to lengthen the story, as it is already twice the length of Poe’s original story.
Globally, What moves the dead was a great read; smooth and fast; it felt like a much-needed update to a nearly 200-year-old tale at this point. I definitely suggest picking it up, along with any other T. Kingfisher horror books you can get your hands on.