I picked up the book, “What Moves the Dead” by T. Kingfisher, solely because of the cover of the book. Very quickly into the book, the cliché “don’t judge a book by its cover” had proven true again, and the book was just OK.
The book is solid black with an image of a fungus-infested hare. The fungus seems to have taken a life of its own, and seems to have entangled itself upon the helpless animal. The title also has an eerie ring to it, and you are left expecting a little fright. Frankly, the cover was better than the book! The book is a reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The year is 1890 and Lt. Alex Easton has received a letter from her friend Madeline, who has taken ill. As Easton approaches her friend’s home, there is obvious evidence that something is off with the house where Madeline lives. There is fungus everywhere and it seems like it has taken a life of its own. We later find out that Madeline is also not really herself. She speaks funny. She sleepwalks at night. Her brother, who is taking care of her, is also a little off. And the lake that sits near the house seems to have taken a life of its own.
The book is definitely a Gothic novel. I really think that Kingfisher is a great writer, but I do have a small bone to pick with her. In the book, Alex Easton is from a country named Gallacia. Gallacia is a made-up country and so is its language Gallacian. In the Gallacian language, there are over seven pronouns (ta, tha, than, var, ka, kan, va, van are some of them) used to describe male, female, their ages, their occupations, God and even inanimate objects. I just don’t understand why there are so many. Since it is made up, I would have liked it to be a little easier. The book stops several times to talk and explain about the proper use of Gallacian pronouns. It seems awkward to include this, and I found Lt. Easton’s pronoun mentality very unappealing due to the fact that in the 1890s, pronoun preferences were really not on anyone’s radar. Personally, I speak two other languages other than English, and I understand that pronouns can be tricky, but this made-up language felt needless in such a short book, and destroyed the growing suspense Kingfisher was trying to build.
Here is an excerpt of what I mean: “Of course va did. Va doesn’t mean to. Va slowed the process as much as va could, but va couldn’t help but feed a little.” Va is the pronoun used to identify that you are talking with a child, according to Gallacian. So, the person speaking was talking about a child. Why not just say that? All of this pronoun verbiage ruined the flow of a very well written book. I would understand a book that included pronoun preferences if the book was set in the present, but this is the late 1800s in England. According to the book, the pronoun “ka” is genderless and applies to soldiers, so Lt. Easton kept that pronoun after her service, but this feels a bit to crammed for me.
I can set all this aside though. The book was creepy and dark. It actually entered into my nightmares! My nightmare actually included digging long tapeworms out of my ear – thanks to the autopsy scene! The book was well written, but Lt. Easton just didn’t seem real. She was too “woke” for a person who lived in the 1890s. The other characters were also OK, but because there was an imaginary country with its own language, there had to be some world building of its culture in the story. So, instead of more storytelling or character development, we have so many more explanations that seem excessive for such a short book.
If you like Gothic books and don’t mind awkward pronoun usage, you will probably like this book.
I give this book 2.5 stars out of 5. This book is 165 pages long and has a Goodreads rating of 3.96. "What Moves the Dead" was published July 2022.
Other books in this genre that I did enjoy and do recommend are: "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte; "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte; "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson; "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde; and "Beloved" by Toni Morrison.