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Review: A House with Good Bones - T. Kingfisher


Genre: Horror

Published: Tor Nightfire, March 2023

My Rating: 4/5 stars


"The problem with family is that they know where all the levers are that make you move. They’re usually the ones who installed the levers in the first place."


What can I say: one of my favourite horror-authors taking on one of my favourite horror tropes (the haunted house)… This was pretty much a designated hitter from the start.


In this "southern-gothic-horror", we follow a Sam, a thirty-something entomologist who, when her latest on-location-job is canceled, visits her mother and childhood home for an extended family-visit. Soon, she realises the home isn't quite how she remembered it, and neither is mom. Something strange is happening between these familiar walls, and it's having a devestating effect on mom. Sam sets off on a search for answers amongst the houses secrets, only to find out that some family-secrets are best left buried...


Kingfisher has a very recognizable writing style, and some distinct elements and interests that return in almost every single one of her books. For me, as a fan of those same elements: this is great. It also makes this review a little easier to write: if you love her previous works, there’s more where that came from here.

Her writing is characterized by a combination of humor and horror, conveyed through the dry-witted narrative voice of her protagonists. They tend to be down-to-earth, independent scientists and/or academics (we’ve had museum-keepers, doctors, bone-alchemists, and now an entomologist), with a skeptical outlook towards the supernatural. They are arguably underdogs in the situations they find themselves in, but rely on brains rather than brawl to stand their ground. Other recurring elements of her fiction are nature-/plant magic, witchcraft, mother-daughter dynamics, an animal companion and the highly specific eccentric-but-sweethearted-hillbilly-down-the-street-woman-side character (you cannot tell me that Gail, Foxy and the Dust-Wive don’t feel very similar).

In spite of these similar ingredients, the cocktail Kingfisher manages to brew still feels fresh and excited every time I read a new book of hers. I especially like that her light and readable style lends itself well to subtly introducing more difficult topics. The generational conflict and mother-daughter-dynamics steal the show here. The true to life concept of growing up, and seeing your aging parents in a different light, lends itself so well to the horror-genre. From fear of mental decline, to the fear of your elders antiquated beliefs and morals not holding up to a modern world: there’s a lot to unpack for future horror-authors, and I can’t wait to read it all.


The one element that Kingfisher subtly throws in, that really didn’t work for me was the comments on fatphobia. There’s a point where Sam, a plus-size woman just existing on page, suddenly throws out a mental tantrum, clearly aimed at the audience, about medical fatphobia. She suspects she might be hallucinating the events that happen in the house, but doesn’t visit a doctor because “they will only blame it on her weight”. As an MD, this hurts my heart, but I can see there’s probably a conversation to be had here. Unfortunately: that conversation is completely absent. It’s a throwaway line that in context feels insulting to medical professionals, as well as pandering to plus-size individuals. Had I been on the editing team, this line would’ve been left on the cutting room floor, as it adds nothing to the whole.


What kept A House with Good Bones from being a 5-star is the ending. As much as I love Kingfisher: endings aren’t her strong suit, and this is no exception. The reveal is a little silly, and the climax resolved a little too easily to be satisfying. That being said, the journey was enjoyable enough for me not to care too much about the destination. I will happily keep this author on my favourite-list and anticipate whatever she comes out with next.


You can find this book here on Goodreads.

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