Saturday, February 24, 2024

Return to Gallacia with Alex Easton in What Feasts at Night by T. Kingfisher

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What Feasts at Night is the second novella in T. Kingfisher’s Sworn Soldier series. The first book, What Moves the Dead, is a retelling of The Fall of the House Usher. Both follow Alex Easton, a sworn soldier from the country of Gallacia. What Feasts at Night sees Alex returning home after kan* time abroad, only to discover horrors are not the sole province of the English.

*A quick primer if you are new to Kingfisher’s Gallacia: sworn soldiers use the pronouns “ka” and “kan” as opposed to a “he”, “she”, or “they.” Gallacia, due to various laws, has multiple such genders. It’s a complex culture and language in general, which provides many instances of humor thanks to Kingfisher’s wit.

Cover of What Feasts at Night by T. Kingfisher, book two in the Sworn Soldier series.

Unlike the initial novella,
What Feasts at Night is not a retelling. Instead, it leans into folklore. While the term “moroi” does exist, I could not find specific tale references; particularly not including the details we find here. Also, Kingfisher is delightfully open about where she finds inspiration. She is an author I enjoy partially because her works are often in dialogue with others. If this was a retelling, I am confident we’d know.

So, it’s not a retelling. Alex Easton is standing tall on kan own feet, in kan own country. If Kingfisher intends to write more in this universe (and I believe she does) this is an important step. How do these characters and settings hold up without the draw of a beloved classic? What ideas can be explored in Gallacia, with Easton, better than in a new standalone novel? As a reader, I’m thrilled. As far as sequels go,
What Feasts at Night established a pattern and opened the door to the unexpected.

That sounds a tad paradoxical, but it’s true. Book series, I find, have two main options. They can follow set characters through an overarching story or through separate formulaic type stories. The Sworn Soldier series is now firmly in the second category. Readers can now expect that one of these novellas will involve a gothic style mystery steeped in nature. But we have also learned the source and location of that mystery can vary from book to book. It feels like a classic monster of the week setup, but in novella form.

Most importantly, we know more of Easton as a narrator. This is someone who survived rather unbelievable events. Yet, when presented with more unbelievable events—ka does not believe. Rather than this being a glossed over plot hole or weak narrative tool, this discrepancy is directly addressed and handled comedically. Looking back on events, Easton
knows that ka could have (and should have) handled the situation better. Humans don’t tend to enjoy dwelling on tragedy. Alex Easton is no exception.

Cover of What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher, book one of the Sworn Soldier series.

This brings me to the last point I want to address with this sequel. Soldier’s heart, the Gallacian term for PTSD, colors many of Easton’s responses. We see ka deal with the trauma of the experiences detailed in What Moves the Dead. They aren’t glossed over, they aren’t a new normal. Faced with horrors again, what does our sworn soldier do? Ka goes back to the war. There’s a passage in What Feasts at Night that describes war as a place; a place outside of time. Soldier’s heart, as a condition, is a return to that place. As someone who has never been in a war, it’s the most poignant and succinct empathy I’ve come across.

I’ve addressed all the ways that this sequel furthers and benefits the series as a whole. What I haven’t done is discuss the plot. If you want to see how Alex Easton and friends deal with a creature who steals your breath while you sleep, pick up
What Feasts at Night when it is released on February 13, 2023 from Tor Nightfire. In the meantime, you can read (or reread) What Moves the Dead. There are mushrooms, it’s wonderful.

Thank you to Tor Nightfire and NetGalley for the ARC.

Images courtesy of Tor Nightfire.

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