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What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

Alex Easton finds a very gruesome situation when they visit the Usher estate upon receiving word that their dear friend, Madeline Usher, is gravely ill. The Usher's home on the hill is practically falling apart into the vile tarn surrounding it, and yet Roderick--Madeline's brother and Easton's prior comrade in arms--refuses to move their of them due to health and finances. With the help of an American doctor called Denton and Beatrix Potter's mycologist aunt, Easton investigates the situation surrounding the sickness of the property and the bizarre behavior of Madeline and many, many wild hares, just to discover how grotesque and terrifying nature can really be. Loosely based on Edgar Allen Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, What Moves the Dead goes in-depth into the sickness that truly brought on the destruction of the Usher name.

Over the course of the book, as the characters are paying more and more attention to the bizarre happenings, looking closer and closer at the setting -- specifically the tarn with its infected fish and hares, and the molding, dank manor itself -- the setting becomes more and more intriguing. The more descriptions that injected themselves into the narrative, the more the reader is led to ask "could it be the this? Or could it be this?" and to obsess over the details. It then leads to visceral, gruesome scenes including bodies disappearing and movement during autopsies alongside paranoia that comes with any contagion narrative.

I found the moments of dark whimsy and humor to be very entertaining, particularly when in reference to other excellent works such as Hamlet, Macbeth, Alice in Wonderland, and more. I particularly liked Ms. Potter-- claimed in the Author's Note to be the freelance mycologist aunt of Beatrix Potter, author of The Tales of Peter Rabbit (an equally fabulous and vile footnote given the state of the rabbits in this story.) Ms. Potter doesn't have quite as much page-time as the other characters, but I found it delightful that regardless of the weird, biological horror nonsense that was unfolding around her, she just popped up in random places painting watercolors of mushrooms. She was like the entertaining NPC that by the last third of the book, became an irreplaceable character. Her demeanor was delightful, even when in dire situations, and she was a constant refresher amongst the gloomy handful of others.

In that this is the first full book I've read in a while--and that I finished it in two to three days--I liked the pace. In my current mindset, I needed to read something quick and interesting to me. I found this book very easy to read; it was quick paced, at an easy reading level, and short. Overall, I think the summary provided by the publisher somewhat rings true; however, certain descriptors imply a deeper darkness than I think was delivered, as well as there being more emphasis on the bizarre actions of Madeline and Roderick Usher than focused on. I would have preferred more detail and steeping in the more horrific aspects. That being said, I see so many possibilities for the sequel. I think that the second installment will blow the first book out of the water, so to speak.

This book is advertised as Adult Fiction; however, I do think it could be a good New Adult title as well, especially if there is an interest in the horror genre. Of course, What Moves the Dead is based on the source text The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe, which has numerous retellings, such as the fabulous Netflix Original series of the same name, and hundreds of other Poe-inspired works. I think fans of Edgar Allen Poe, of course, would enjoy this retelling. I also think that anyone intrigued by the beginnings of mass outbreaks would find this fascinating. It is definitely more for horror readers that are more interested in gross horror than in psychological horror. T. Kingfisher adamantly suggests reading Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It's not a book, but this also reminds me of The Last of Us. Another great albeit weird fungal narrative is also The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley. If you are more interested in the scientific horror/ thriller aspects, books like Jurassic Park and Prey both by Michael Crichton or Into the Drowning Deep by Seanan McGuire would likely appeal to you.

What Feasts at Night by T. Kingfisher

Alex Easton and their friends return to us in the much anticipated sequel to What Moves the Dead. This time Easton, Angus, and Miss Potter are visiting Easton's family hunting lodge in their home country of Gallacia, expecting a calm vacation after their debacle with the Ushers and their sentient mushrooms. Instead, they find the lodge's caretaker dead and the nearby villagers whispering about a moroi -- a breath-stealing spirit -- haunting the grounds. Persistent as ever, the crew find the only two people willing to live and work there while they all enjoy their getaway, only to find themselves questioning the validity of the local superstition when odd things start to occur and people start to get sick.

The success of the first book I'm sure led to the inception of the sequel, but it really didn't feel like a sequel aside from it being the same characters. The setting was different physically compared to that of the first book, but it has a very similar aura. It was more bitter and still than the swampy dankness of the Usher's tarn, and the rundown cabin compared to the medieval manor create a different world. Both have a similar ambience with the unsettling undertones though. Both buildings are broken down and worn, and are thought ill of by the local villagers; There is isolation and macabre that parallel between the books. Though this is of novella length, the conflict really took a bit to rev up, and similarly to the first book, the true horror came much later in the book than expected.

I received this ARC in e-book format in response to reviewing the first installation What Moves the Dead. The story itself wasn't particularly difficult to read. More than anything there was just a lot of messy, seemingly unedited writing throughout that was distracting or irksome. That, however, may also be due to this being an advanced copy; Editing often happens in-between the release of ARCs and the official publication. I think that this book was written with a lot of intentions in mind, for all of these things to be successfully conveyed they either needed to be pared down or the book needed to be longer.

Overall, I took away a lot of interesting epiphanies about what I think is necessary when writing a sequel that I hadn't thought about before, even when studying it. It also spurred a few creative ideas of my own. Online, it seems like those who have already read T. Kingfisher works or What Moves the Dead very much enjoyed this book.

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