For fans of Edgar Allen Poe and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, What Moves the Dead is a modern expanded retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher.
What Moves the Dead is a fast-paced read that starts with Easton receiving a letter from his long-lost friend Madeline, who asks him to come see her since her brother Roderick is worried about her severe illness. As Easton arrives on their trusty horse, it becomes eerily clear that the Usher’s house is… creepy to say the least. The hares that surround the property are unlike anything they’ve ever seen. The hares don’t run or hide. Instead, they stare at anyone who gets near them as if they are unafraid of anything–an unusual characteristic for a hare. Not to mention, there are ghastly mushrooms that when touched, release a putrid, rotten smell no one would want to be within ten miles from.
Once inside the Usher home, it becomes clear how dreadful it really is. The help is minimal, the house hasn’t been cleaned in who knows how long. Not to mention, Madeline looks as if she’s seconds away from death. She’s frail, her skin nearly translucent, and no one is sure what could be contributing to her demise. Denton, Roderick’s friend, is a “doctor” (who really is only familiar with amputating limbs) and is at the Usher home in an attempt to comfort his friend and see if he can diagnose Madeline’s condition. As Easton stays longer in the home, it’s starting to become very clear that whatever is killing Madeline might not just be an illness, but something that may put everyone at risk…
While there are similarities between this story and Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, it’s fair to say that the two are vastly different. Kingfisher brings Poe’s version further to life, by bringing the characters to the page and going in more detail. Easton, who in Poe’s version was an unnamed main character, is now a humorous, fun character to read on the page.
What I enjoyed most about this story was Easton’s voice. Despite this being a dark, serious plot, Easton livened the pages through his humor and perception about the world and those around them. Easton was also a nonbinary character in the sense that they didn’t identify as man or woman, and instead, considered themselves to be “ka” and “kan,” which are Gallecian terms used to identify soldiers. Many Gallecia people who became soldiers often retired “him” and “his” and “she” and “her” pronouns and instead adopted the uses of “ka” and “kan.” Because of this, it was a joy to see this form of gender representation in a modern Gothic novel.
As mentioned earlier, this novel is quite similar (and different) to Mexican Gothic. While I reading, I kept thinking back to Moreno-Garcia’s book. They are similar in the sense that there is a weird fungus that is a part of the residence. However, how that fungus interacts with the world is quite different between the two texts. Not to mention, Kingfisher’s story is a retelling of Poe’s short story. Kingfisher, is however, very aware of these influences as he mentions in his acknowledgements that Mexican Gothic bared similarities and inspiration. While there is a lot of influence in this story, Kingfisher makes it his own throughout his character development and superior retelling abilities.
Easton’s horse is now a sophisticated steed who only wants the best foods and can be quite set on what he likes. Roderick can play the piano like no other. Madeline is sweet and tender, until Easton hears her sleepwalking and tries to awaken her, only to discover an unsettling truth. Easton’s friend Angus who takes care of him is a lovable, boisterous man who is quickly disturbed by the house and busies himself elsewhere in his attempts to avoid it. And, Ms Potter, the local British mycologist, is an intelligent woman whose scientific background is a necessary asset to the case. The characters make this story enjoyable and make you wish you could befriend them in real life!
I didn’t have any issues with this story. I appreciated the quick read (160 pages) and was able to finish it in less than two days. The characters are witty, humorous, and use their senses to fully understand what’s affecting the Usher residence.
Again, I would read this story over again just to immerse myself in Easton’s voice. They were very relatable and humorous! I’ve never read a character in this way before, and it’s clear that Kingfisher is making a name for himself in the literary world because of his unique, but relatable character creation. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick, entertaining read in a Gothic setting.
Rating: 4 out 5 stars
What Moves the Dead releases July 12, 2022. Want to pre-order your copy? Pre-order through Barnes and Nobles here or through any participating retailer!