“What Moves the Dead” by T. Kingfisher: Book Review

The dead don’t walk.

Mushroom Zombie Nightmare | What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher [Book Review]

★★★★☆ • 4 / 5 stars

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.

The Book Description Was Serviceable

This book was what modern retellings of classic literature should be: something that embellishes and expands upon the original, whilst staying true to the original material.

What Moves the Dead is a short novel (of 165 pages) written by T. Kingfisher, and published rather recently on July 12, 2022 by Tor Books. As I just noted, it’s a retelling, specifically of The Fall of the House of Usher written by Edgar Allen Poe, originally published in the 19th century.

The summary provided with the book really covers just about everything, without really spoiling the novella too much. I honestly can’t tell you really anything else without doing the same.

The Characters Were Likeable

Like the last book that I recently reviewed, the characters here were extremely compelling, and relatively likable.

Our main character, Alex Easton, is a former soldier from the (fictional) Gallacian army. They’re curious and kind, but also a bit cheeky. I really liked them as a protagonist.

Dr. Denton and Miss Potter are the aforementioned doctor and mycologist in the synopsis. Both are quite interesting characters, each with their own motivations. I think I liked Miss Potter more, and her little romance with Angus was very sweet.

“Well, I am a superstitious sort,” said Angus, and I know there is [something wicked]. It ain’t canny. The sort of place you find devils dancing on the moors.”

Angus, Alex’s batman, was probably my second favorite character (we’ll get to the favorite momentarily). He was so intolerant, but you could tell how much he cared about Alex, and see how close they were.

My favorite character in the book, though, was Hob, Alex’s horse. He was just so cute, and Kingfisher gave him so much personality, even though he was just an animal. I loved his and Alex’s little interactions.

Hob gave me the look he gives me when I am asking him to do something that he considers excessive, but he followed.

Madeline and Roderick Usher were pretty interesting characters in their own right. You never quite knew what either of them were thinking until the climax.

The Plot Was an Awesome Expansion on the Original

As I mentioned at the beginning of my review, this little novel is a retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe. And it’s a pretty darn good one.

T. Kingfisher goes into her motivations for choosing to do this retelling in particular, in her Acknowledgments at the end of the book, but I’ll try to sum it up for you. She was unsatisfied with some of the decisions of the characters in the original story and the way the mysteries were resolved – or in the case of the book, weren’t.

So she decided to embellish on the original plot, and she did a damn good job with it. The inclusion of fungus zombies was unexpected but very interesting. I really liked it.

Final Thoughts

This place breeds nightmares.

This book was short, but as they say, it was also sweet. In an absolutely horrifying way, of course. Before now, I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of reading any of T. Kingfisher’s works, and I’m finally happy that I’ve done so. It was a quick little read, and anyone who’s read my reviews knows that I love retellings.

I recommend this to people that enjoy horror and can handle some body horror, and some disturbing descriptions. If you’re the complete opposite, you might want to keep away.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day/night! Tune in next time for more bookish stuff.

See ya ~Mar

LINKS: Goodreads | Instagram