“The dead don’t walk,” (Kingfisher 113).
Retired soldier Alex Easton has received a letter from their childhood friend Madeline Usher saying that she is dying. Alex heads to the imposing old house of Usher and finds horrid smelling mushrooms on the grounds, strange hares that disturb the people around the land, and an oddly glowing lake. Once reuniting with their childhood friends, Alex finds the Usher siblings are worse off than they expected: Madeline sleepwalks and speaks in an odd voice at night and Roderick startles at the smallest of sounds. Things are not right in the house of Usher, but with the help of a British mycologist, an American doctor, and an army friend Alex may be able to figure out what is happening.
Out of all of Poe’s works I somehow missed The Fall of the House of Usher. I became more aware of it after learning that Mike Flanagan will be making a new adaption of the story for Netflix (HOORAY!) and planned on reading it at some point but ended up reading What Moves the Dead, another adaption, first. I’m not really sure what’s up with these two adaptions happening fairly close to one another, it’s not an anniversary that I’m aware of. Just one of those weird coincident, like how many books I’ve read this year that reference Mercy Brown.
Oh well, more falling ancestral homes for me I guess!
What Moves the Dead is a quick read but very enjoyable. Kingfisher gives excellent descriptions to the Ruritanian countryside, making it bleak and vivid with a subtle edge to it, a something not quite right. Alex notices this right away when they notice the strange, fleshy mushrooms popping up over the land (check out that gorgeously grotesque cover to get an idea of what I’m talking about), as well as the many-eyed house of Usher as Alex makes their way towards it. It’s a subtle unease that burrows it’s wrongness inside reader’s, that roots itself deeper until, too late, it blossoms into cold fear.
It’s an excellent adaption, I read The Fall of the House of Usher afterwards and loved looking at the comparisons between the two and absolutely adore how Kingfisher expanded on some details from Poe’s story. I also enjoyed reading Kingfisher’s Acknowledgements in the end where she talks about her own struggles writing the book and her journey to adapting Poe’s well-known story. The characters were all very interesting and unique from one another, the creepy Roderick and Madeline, our soldier protagonist Alex, and my favourite character was probably Eugenia Potter, fictional aunt to the one and only Beatrix Potter, an original character by Kingfisher who is very memorable. Also Hob, Alex’s horse, who had a surprising amount of personality. For such a short novella, Kingfisher sure knows how to keep reader’s hooked and guessing!
A thin and fast tale, What Moves the Dead is my first foray in Kingfisher’s work and certainly not the last. I can’t wait to explore more of her work!
Publication: August 2 2022
Pages: 176 pages (Hardcover)
Genre: Fiction, Horror, Adaption, Gothic, Mystery
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤
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.