Review: What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

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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.


After I read this novella, I did a Google search of T. Kingfisher and learned many things about her. The first is that T. Kingfisher is a pen name. The second is that she has released over 40 books. The third is that I should have been reading her works much earlier. As it is, What Moves the Dead is the first of her books that I have read.

A riff on the The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, What Moves the Dead is the story of Alex Easton going to visit their childhood friend at the house of Usher after they receive a letter requesting help. Their friend, Madeline Usher, says that she is sick and dying and needs help, so Alex rushes there as soon as they can. What Alex finds there is a perfect gothic story, brother and sister holed up in a damned house, along with a doctor they do not trust. Everyone and everything falling apart. The horror and mystery that Alex finds there makes What Moves the Dead a fast paced, thin novella that is really satisfying.

Much of the success of this novella can be attributed to T. Kingfisher’s writing. In a short period of time, she develops the setting and the characters with such detail that it feels as if I read a 400 page novel. The writing in this novella is masterful, and I found myself rereading sentences because of how gorgeous they are. This is one of those novellas that I will probably reread simply because of the writing. There is so much depth to some of the scenes and writing that I can really feel the dampness and sickness that is seeping from the walls and the pages. I cannot recommend What Moves the Dead enough. I know now that I have to read some of T. Kingfisher’s other works. 

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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