“What Moves the Dead” by T. Kingfisher: Creepy and Unusual

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.

I love Edgar Allen Poe. His stories and poems have always tapped into an atavistic side of fear and are intensely riveting at least to me. Those stories have always remained with me, even when I haven’t read them in years, so I was excited to see what T.Kingfisher would do in retelling his masterpiece, The Fall of the House of Usher. What she has created honors his work and is fittingly creepy and unusual, blending the best elements of his work with a unique zombie spin and take on Alex Easton’s background. 

Part of what makes this retelling so riveting is the development of Alex Easton. In the original, the narrator remains unnamed, a childhood friend of Roderick. In this story, we are given Alex, a sworn soldier from Gallacia who uses non gendered pronouns. And that little change in both the diversity of the character and the background, makes the story even more compelling. While much of the elements are the same as the original, the focus being on a character like Alex pulls the reader more completely into the story and makes the narrative more engaging. 

Beyond the change in the character, the focus on what causes Madeline’s ailment is also deeply unique and creative. With the possession of wildlife in the area, the fungal growth and the strange miasma of the House of Usher, T. Kingfisher blends these elements together to create a unique spin on zombies and a creepy gothic horror that will keep you up all night, contemplating the strangeness of the world around us. The novella creeps in under your skin and makes you look at things in a new perspective but also creates the same atavistic fear that Poe excelled at. 

If you love Poe, you will love this retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher. It is easily one of the most creepy and unusual novella’s I’ve read in a long time, blending scientific ideas with wonderfully compelling characters and a riveting classic horror vibe. It compares well with the original and has elements of diversity that you will never find in Poe’s works. I loved every moment of this story.

Rating: 5 out of 5 fungi.

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