Book Review: What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher (fiction, horror)

Hello! This is my first stab at writing a book review. I was asked to write one for a work newsletter with a limit of 350 words, so it’s short and sweet! Here goes:

What Moves the Dead is a retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher”.  If you’re a die-hard Poe fan, like me, you’ll be happy to know that this retelling stays quite faithful to the original while still including enough new material to surprise you—the descriptions of the creepy flora and fauna are fabulous. Also, like Poe, this author has some gorgeous prose and creates an unnerving, claustrophobic atmosphere about as well as the master himself.

To sum up the novel (no spoilers), Alex Easton, an old friend of the Usher’s, receives a letter from them requesting help. Upon arrival, she finds that both the manor home and its occupants have fallen into a surprising state of decay. There are a couple of new characters introduced, a creepy lake and strange animals, as well as a series of horrendous discoveries. Through it all, the narrator helplessly watches as the House of Usher threatens to collapse, both literally and figuratively.

I’m always afraid to read/watch retellings of stories I love as they’re frequently so bloated with new material that the plot and feel of the original is completely lost (I’m side-eyeing at you, unnecessary three-movie adaption of The Hobbit). At a mere 176 pages, this novella is a fast, but engaging read. While I do appreciate the brevity (the original Poe story is only 24 pages), I wish we had learned a bit more about Alex and her past relationships with Roderick and Madeline; there are some hints, but it’s just not quite satisfying. We also learn very little about the supporting characters.

Overall, if you’re a fan of horror, gothic, Poe, or all three, I highly recommend this book. If you enjoy it, I also recommend the Netflix show, The Fall of the House of Usher. Each of the 8 episodes is based on a different Poe story and the whole thing was very entertaining. Happy reading!