The follow-up to T. Kingfisher’s bestselling gothic novella, What Moves the Dead .
Retired soldier, Alex Easton, returns in a horrifying new adventure.
After their terrifying ordeal at the Usher manor, Alex Easton feels as if they just survived another war. All they crave is rest, routine, and sunshine, but instead, as a favor to Angus and Miss Potter, they find themself heading to their family hunting lodge, deep in the cold, damp forests of their home country, Gallacia.
In theory, one can find relaxation in even the coldest and dampest of Gallacian autumns, but when Easton arrives, they find the caretaker dead, the lodge in disarray, and the grounds troubled by a strange, uncanny silence. The villagers whisper that a breath-stealing monster from folklore has taken up residence in Easton’s home. Easton knows better than to put too much stock in local superstitions, but they can tell that something is not quite right in their home. . . or in their dreams.
As always, a very big thank you to Tor Nightfire and NetGalley for the eARC!
As we reunite with Alex Easton, my heart could not help but swell with excitement for such an occasion. T. Kingfisher’s follow-up to What Moves the Dead serves as a friendly reminder as to just how equally charming and unnerving these tales can be. What Feasts at Night takes a bit of a different form in structure compared to its predecessor as this is not a classic horror retelling, but fret not dear reader, this change is a welcome one that revels in the complexities of trauma and vulnerabilities.
As the story opens, we find Alex and Angus on their way back to Alex’s hunting lodge in Gallacia, one that was inherited from their father and has allegedly been looked after by the lodge’s caretaker. Following the events that unfolded at the Usher residence, they want nothing more than to enjoy some downtime, especially with the anticipated visit of Miss Potter. However, what greets Alex and Angus is a rather messy abode that has remained untouched for some time. Further research proves that the caretaker has passed, his death shrouded with an air of dark intrigue as he claimed to have his breath stolen at night while he slumbered. While such a tale of fantasy is disregarded as deathbed confusion initially, Alex and company slowly begin to realize there may be some truth to this particular terror.
I would be remiss if I did not partially discuss the events of What Moves the Dead in relation to What Feasts at Night so if you have not yet read this, here is your somewhat spoiler-y warning. Kingfisher’s first entry in this Sworn Soldier series capitalized on a story that is well-known and well-loved, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. Given that this is a staple of horror literature, a certain amount of dread is immediately established just by the mere existence of this retelling, something What Moves the Dead capitalizes on quite well. This proved to help the story grow in a sense of existential dread and doom complimented by instances of body horror, sporror (fungal horror), and overall tension. It’s important to realize these strengths of an established retelling before going into a book such as What Feasts at Night that is not a retelling, but rather an original idea.
Kingfisher has never lacked in the originality department and continues to flex her creative muscles, namely in the affliction Alex faces on an internal level and the elusive threat haunting the hunting lodge on an external level. Alex Easton, as we know from book one, is a retired soldier and has spent a considerable time at war. They describe experiencing a condition known as soldier’s heart which is described as the inability to remain rooted in the present moment, often drifting back to times of immense stress of trauma from war. Of course, we can equate this to modern-day Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but Kingfisher writes this condition in a way that feels notably authentic, especially since Alex’s bouts of “soldier’s heart” are not confined to wartime incidents but also to the events that unfolded at the Usher house. Upon seeing mushrooms again, Alex experiences a terror and somewhat of a traumatic response, something that could be characterized as zany or nonsensical. However, through the lens of “soldier’s heart,” Kingfisher depicts the truth of PTSD, the ugly head that rears itself in unexpected ways.
This internal strife Alex battles is a horror in and of itself which exists in combination with an unseen and more importantly, baffling, haunting. This affliction described as having your breath stolen during slumber is one that strikes a particular chord of deep-seated fears, siege on the body whilst unconscious. This sleep paralysis of sorts capitalizes on the basis of human nature at its core level; it attacks while one is in the most vulnerable of states. Unable to fight back or protect oneself in such a state, this paralysis really doesn’t seem that different than Easton’s “soldier’s heart” with both threats capitalizing on the most powerless moments. Both in times of immense trauma and unseriousness, Kingfisher evokes an integral sense of fear with these external and internet afflictions.
While these matters of a darker nature prove this story is one that belongs within the realm of horror, one of the more endearing aspects of this series is the characterization of Easton and their assortment of company. Easton is such a loveable character with a noted sense of humor that balances the malevolent forces they face. Kingfisher has created something very special with this character, and I’ll happily follow this crew in their journey to tackle whatever evils they face for these reasons alone.
What Feasts at Night by T. Kingfisher is a significant addition to the Sworn Soldier series that while functioning in a new manner, delivers the same enjoyable horror as established by its predecessor. Alex Easton’s charm, humor, and wit shed light on a rather bleak landscape surrounded by internal strife, hauntings, and disturbing threats of demise. Kingfisher navigates topics of trauma with an experienced hand by demonstrating the complexities of trauma responses through the blatant fears associated with sleep paralysis. I’m not sure if there is anything else in store for Alex Easton, but I am certain I will follow them anywhere.
What Feasts at Night by T. Kingfisher will be released on February 13, 2024, by Tor Nightfire.