What Moves The Dead by T. Kingfisher

Being the former Goth girl that I am, I retain my love for all things dark, macabre, creepy, ghostly, horrific, and occasionally gruesome, which explains why I love this book so much. What Moves The Dead is a fantastic re-imagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Fall of the House of Usher, which is like a Gothic orgasm contained within a book….a Gothgasm? Anyway, as with all Gothic literature, we’ve got a big, scary house. We’ve got strange noises at night and weird phantasms roaming around. We’ve got a classic damsel in distress. We’ve got some otherwordly visions, a mysterious death and the reanimation of a dead body. In short, The Fall of The House of Usher, and now, What Moves The Dead, are both crack in literary form for someone like me.

The narrator, Alex Easton, is a non-binary soldier from the kingdom of Gallicia, when they receive word that their childhood friend Madeline Usher, is extremely ill. Madeline’s brother, Roderick, formerly served with Alex in the Gallician Army and their subsequent friendship is also part of why Alex decides to pay their friends a visit. On the way to the Usher mansion, they meet Miss Potter, a visiting plant aficionado (and whose fictional niece is Beatrix Potter!) whose knowledge of plants, specifically mushrooms and fungus, later becomes a pivotal point in the book.

There’s a fungus among us! Yes, I went there.

When Alex reaches the house, they are shocked to see Madeline so physically wasted away and horrified at Roderick’s mental instability. As they continue their stay with the Ushers, trying to figure out what has affected them both, they also meet Dr. Denton, who has been summoned to determine the source of Madeline’s illness, and the two of them strike up a friendship. Madeline is not just physically wasting away, though. She is horrifying at times, sleepwalking and talking in a terrifying-sounding language to people who are not there. Roderick has hallucinations that appear to terrify him to the point he cannot sleep. And that’s just the beginning of the weirdness at Camp Crystal Lake….er, I mean, the Usher house.

In addition to both siblings acting inexplicably, Alex notices the bizarre and unsettling behavior of the many rabbits around the house and nearby lake, rabbits that stare at them relentlessly, follow them everywhere on the grounds, and creepily, come back to life. Yikes. I am not a bunny fan, either in terms of pets or eating, but the thought of being perpetually followed by one scares the hell out of me. And then, to make things even more weird, there are the most viscerally-colored and stinking mushrooms that proliferate the estate. If you’ve read Poe’s story, you know what happens so it’s not a spoiler when Madeline dies. The description of her body and its subsequent reanimation might be one of the more skin-crawling descriptions I’ve come across in modern literature.

The book has an overall sinister feel to it, with descriptions of long, dark, cold hallways on winter nights, the dark, cold lake nearby, and some of the more visceral descriptions of fungus that I’ve read in quite some time. Ironically, I would not recommend reading this book while eating, though I do HIGHLY recommend that you do read it. Being in an environment such as the estate and mansion of the Usher family, it’s not surprising that there are few food mentions, though Alex does try to help the food situation by surreptitiously buying a cow and having the meat served to his friends and the doctor. He considers shooting one of the rabbits for dinner, but their creepy-ass behavior deters him (as well it should.) And of course, there is no question about even touching one of the noisome mushrooms that grow and quiver viscerally everywhere Alex goes. So of course, being the dark-souled woman that I am, I decided that a dish combining rabbit and mushrooms was the way to go here. However, as stated previously, I am not much of a bunny fan so instead of serving up Thumper with a nice mushroom sauce, I went the way of a Welsh rabbit – or Welsh rarebit as it is also known – served over mushrooms and over bread as is traditional. No bunnies were harmed during the making of this dish.

Welsh rarebit is a cheesy beer sauce traditionally flavored with mustard and poured over bread, then toasted. Technically, you’re supposed to use Irish or British stout, but I had only Mexican dark ale so I used it. I like to think of it as my contribution to multiculturalism.

4 large portabella mushrooms
2 slices of bread
Olive oil, for brushing
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1/3 cup dark stout beer
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 generous tablespoon English mustard powder
2 eggs, room temperature

Remove the stems and gills from the mushrooms and sprinkle with olive oil, then roast at 400F for 15-20 minutes.

While the mushrooms are roasting, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and fry the chopped onion with a sprinkle of salt for about 15 minutes over medium-high heat.

Add in the flour and cook, stirring continually, until the flour breaks down and starts to thicken.

Add in the beer, the mustard powder and the cheese to the flour-onion mixture, lower the heat to medium-low and stir, mixing continually until the sauce thickens up into a luscious, golden, oozy melt. The smell is heavenly!

In a separate bowl, whisk together the two eggs and slowly add a bit of the hot cheese sauce into them, to temper them. Stir the eggs again and temper once more, then very slowly, one spoonful at a time, add the eggs into the cheese and stir. Turn off the heat, and continue slowly incorporating the eggs into the cheese, stirring frequently. You do not want to end up with scrambled eggs here.

Once the sauce thickens from the eggs, spoon it over the mushrooms and the bread, and put into the still-hot oven. Cook until the cheese sauce puffs up slightly, about 10 minutes, then remove.

Serve either alone or with a green salad. Either way, this “rabbit” with mushrooms is a delight that even dead Madeline Usher might come back to life to enjoy. Let’s hope not, though. Yeesh.

7 thoughts on “What Moves The Dead by T. Kingfisher

    1. Lol! I’m quite proud of that turn of phrase myself. And I hope youf Welsh rabbit comes out beautifully. I was very pleased with how mine came out, especially given that it was my first time and I didn’t use appropriate British stout. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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