WHAT FEASTS AT NIGHT rating: 4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐.
Chilling! It wasn’t real horses as I predicted from the cover, but dream horses that were scary in WHAT FEASTS AT NIGHT, the second novella in the Sworn Solider horror series by T. Kingfisher (Tor/Macmillan, February 13, 2024). However, distinguishing dreams from reality is iffy in this book, set in a remote hunting cabin in winter. The mythical monster that is trying to kill the characters in their dreams can be trying to kill them in their sleep.
The caretaker is missing when Alex Easton and his friend Angus make it to the cabin in the wilds of their homeland of Gallacia, and tension builds around the fear of being the next to go missing. Old folk remedies to get rid of the monster are no help at all.
I’m always impressed with Kingfisher’s writing style and wit, and WHAT FEASTS AT NIGHT provides both. This novella is light on plot but heavy on atmosphere, just like the first novella in the series, although I was more into the plot of WHAT MOVES THE DEAD and found it more frightening. While WHAT MOVES THE DEAD gave the sense of magic growing out of control, this novella gives the sense of being surrounded by magic, enclosed, under siege. Escape is next to impossible, which seems to be the essence of the horror in this series.
There are equivalents for the hares from WHAT MOVES THE DEAD in WHAT FEASTS AT NIGHT, but these creatures (no spoilers!) are just not as scary as the hares. They needed something to make them more horrifying, although I can’t imagine what.
Alex is a great nonbinary character. Ke is good practice for thinking about a literary character in a non-gendered manner and attributing only the physical characteristics that the author describes, which can be hard for me, just as it is easier for me to imagine white characters and read in my own voice. T. Kingfisher is full of creative use of pronouns in the Sworn Soldier series. If queer representation is what you crave in adult fiction, the fantasy genre is leading the way.
I look forward to the continuation of this series. What will the author dream up next?
Reading in context:
Creative pronouns for nongendered representation of characters also appear in WITCH KING by Martha Wells (Tor/Macmillan, May 2023), who is back to writing both fantasy and science fiction, to my delight. Her first fantasy novel, THE ELEMENT OF FIRE, was published 20 years ago. I’m thrilled that WITCH KING is first in a series called The Rising World, because I’m eager for more adventures with Kai. Wells is one of the best builders of worlds in the biz.
Speaking of incredible worldbuilders, Ursula K. Le Guin was inviting readers to imagine characters who could cast off and take on genders as easily as they change clothes in 1969, when she created the planet Gethen in THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS (Ace Books). While Le Guin didn’t use nonbinary pronouns, a “he” today could be a “she” tomorrow and vice versa, and gender norms were unheard of to the inhabitants of Gethen, who were totally androgynous.
My first encounter with a main character using they/them pronouns was Sibling Dex the Tea Monk in Becky Chambers‘s charming Monk & Robot series. In writing about the Wayfarers series, which everyone keeps telling me to read, Tor Publishing calls Chambers’s writing “Hopepunk” and I think that frankly, I was born for inclusive Hopepunk. Bring it on.
There is a small-town specter in the classic horror novel by Susan Hill, THE WOMAN IN BLACK (1983), and the townspeople clam up when asked about it, just like the townspeople in Wolf’s Ear, the closest town to Alex’s cabin. To tell you what else that gothic horror novel has in common with WHAT FEASTS AT NIGHT would be a spoiler, but you should totally read THE WOMAN IN BLACK. Profile Books (UK) published a gorgeous hardcover.
What I’m reading right now:
THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K. Le Guin (1983) because I can’t bring it up in my blog without reading it, and I have never actually read it.
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