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Book Review

Book Cover

What Moves the Dead


Author: T. Kingfisher
Publisher: Titan Books
175 pages
RRP: £8.99
ISBN: 978 1 803 36007 2
Publication Date: 18 October 2022

Titan Books publishes What Moves the Dead, by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon), the award-winning author of Digger and Dragonbreath. She doubles as an illustrator based in North Carolina, USA. She has been nominated for the Ursa Major Award, the Eisner Awards, and has won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story and the Hugo Award for Best Novelette (for 'The Tomato Thief'). Her debut adult horror novel, The Twisted Ones, won the 2020 Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel. As with that novel and its follow-up, The Hollow Places, What Moves the Dead is also a retelling of a classic tale – in this case, the great Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher...

Alex Easton is a retired Lieutenant in the military, who receives word from his childhood friend, Madeline Usher, that she is dying. Along with his trusty horse Hob and his trusted old-soldier aide, Angus, he makes his way to the dilapidated ancestral home of the Ushers in the remote countryside of Ruritania. He finds his old campaigning soldier colleague Roderick Usher a nervous wreck and generally in tatters at the effect of a supposed curse on the family name and the terrifying changes that have taken hold of the already frail Madeline. She speaks in strange voices at night, and appears to converse with the dark tarn nearby. Fungal growths possess the local wildlife, and it seems whatever is controlling them has a hold of Madeline herself. But is Roderick’s sister alive or dead – it seems to be a fine line. Alex attempts to get to the truth and bring a halt to the malady with the help of a female British mycologist and an out-of-his league American doctor.

Having devoured both Poe’s story and Roger Corman’s film, I can’t help but picture Roderick Usher as Vincent Price in his tortured portrayal (Price was excellent in virtually everything he did in front of the camera). This book is an intriguing slant which carried me along for the ride and kicked around uselessly, in equal measure. I enjoyed the perspective of the ex-soldier, Easton, although too many reminiscences of the old days felt like wading through treacle at times. Nevertheless, on the whole, the plot – although centred in a small area – motors along. In fact, the house and tarn add to the claustrophobic atmosphere. The strongest aspect of this book is the representations of the characters. They are almost caricatures: the posh English mycologist, the presumably Scottish aged veteran, the practical but pensive American doctor… Even the horse, Hob, has referred idiosyncrasies. There are also amusing observations on the English and Americans, in particular.

The book is tightly paced, cranking-up the tension in increments, like the rack in another classic Poe tale, but refuses to outstay its welcome. Well worth checking out.


Ty Power

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