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Review: What Feasts at Night by T. Kingfisher

Nathan’s review of What Feasts at Night by T. Kingfisher

T. Kingfisher returns to the world of What Moves The Dead in a sequel that doesn’t quite reach the creepy heights of its predecessor, but Kingfisher fans will be swept up in her characters, prose, and wit.

What Feasts at Night follows Alex, our non-binary former-solider protagonist, as they return to their home country of Gallacia and find the man who was supposed to be tending to the house has died. This death was not quite natural, which sets off another horror-tinged adventure, this time of the ghostly and not fungal variety.

There are many, many elements that work in What Feasts at Night, with Kingfisher’s effervescent way of making every situation sing with just a touch of sardonic humor. Kingfisher’s skills are on full display as we get to know more about Gallacia, it’s history, and it’s culture. Gallacia is a strange, Eastern European inspired country with often hilarious cultural norms – and they are fully on display here. One of my favorite parts of the book was that we got to know more about Gallacia, and how Alex is both molded by their cultural background and fiercely resistant to it. Through this, we learn much more about Alex, and thus this novella becomes a fascinating character study more than the creepy horror story that perhaps the blurb promises. Additionally, once Miss Potter (the artist-mycologist extraordinaire we met in the first book) arrives, Kingfisher finds myriad ways to mine comedy around cultural clashes and misunderstandings.

Ultimately, I think readers will find a lot to relate to between how Alex and Miss Potter experience Gallacian culture. Like Alex, many of us have tried to eschew and escape where we were raised. Alex obviously doesn’t have a lot of respect for Gallacian culture, no more evident than through their love of French culture, and Kingfisher slowly peels back layers to how Alex’s past informs their present. With Miss Potter, we have all been in a situation where we are trying to respect and fit into a culture that is not our own….and fail miserably despite the best of intentions. If Kingfisher’s brand of witty humor and character work is why you love these books, then What Feasts at Night will have so much for you to, well, feast upon.

The weakest element of What Feasts at Night is that it takes quite a while to warm up. In a regular novel this isn’t a problem, but in the novella format this ultimately means that the “heart” of the plot begins and ends fairly quickly. We spend a lot of time with Alex and co. as they do chores around the hunting lodge, talk to some townsfolk, and have dinner parties. Readers looking for the same kinds of thrills and horrors of the first book will eventually get it, and Kingfisher is a master of painting a terrifying and horrific picture when she gets there, but the actual creepy/spooky stuff only kicks in about 2/3 of the way through the novella. In other words, just as things are getting good the book ends. The climax of the story is forced into just a few pages, leaving the solution to the problem is a bit too convenient; all of the conflict dissipates pretty quickly.

Of course, since this is a T. Kingfisher book, people doing a bunch of chores is still quite the engaging read. Kingfisher imbues the novella with her usual wit and humor, keeping the pages turning even when the plot doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I was laughing along with all of the awkward encounters, cultural misunderstandings, and sardonic asides. I would read Kingfisher write about even the most boring of topics (like, well, mushrooms – which I hate) because she knows how to write magnificent prose without it getting purple, and her characters come to life so fully realized almost immediately.

And I think this is where What Feasts at Night really differs from the first book. The characters shined in that mushroom adventure, but the atmosphere and the plot are what truly guided that novella. A threat was always lurking, and we readers were along for the adventure. However, in this sequel there is much less of an adventure and a greater emphasis placed on the characters – who are they? What makes them work? How did they become who they are?

This is no truer than with the character of Alex. Alex is working through some stuff, including warfare-related trauma and insecurities around their culture and upbringing. In many ways this is a much more personal and psychological book for Alex; while the fungal threat was mostly external, the chills and scares in this book have to do with confronting our own traumatic paths. This makes for a vastly different reading experience, as this book is less scary and thrilling, and more contemplative. This is not inherently a bad thing, but readers should be aware to manage their expectations as they dive in!

I think the only time that the more contemplative nature of the book gets in the way is Alex’s reluctance to believe the supenatural phenomena that are going on around them. Despite so much evidence to the contrary, Alex just doesn’t believe that this supernatural occurrence is real, and so much of the book is evidence being thrown in Alex’s face, and then them just saying “nah”. This works from a thematic perspective, and the conflict between belief and reason. Alex has a deep-seated fear of mushrooms because of the first book’s events, but that was a threat that was visible and tangible. This more ghostly threat of this book is vastly different, and so Alex’s previous experiences don’t prepare them here. In practice, however, this thematic contrast just slows down the middle chunk of the novella as readers are left waiting for the good stuff to finally start up.

What Feasts at Night is a great book, which is no surprise because T. Kingfisher can do no wrong in anything she writes. I just wish that it had more of the horror elements that What Moves the Dead did, because that was why I was anticipating this sequel so much. This novella is still worth your time, just go into it with the right expectations!

Concluding Thoughts: This sequel to What Moves the Dead is more focused on the characters and less on the spooky, which will delight some readers and disappoint others. Kingfisher brings her trademark whit and charm as Alex, Miss Potter, and more return to deal with a supernatural entity threatening Alex’s home country of Gallacia. We get a lot more worldbuilding here, leading to some riotous cultural misunderstandings, and the character arc Alex goes through is nearly flawless. The novella could be paced better as it takes a bit too long to get to the horror goods, but the end is worth the journey. Highly recommended, just go in with the right expectations.

 

 

Thank you for reading my review of What Feasts at Night!

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