The term “Gothic” is notoriously tricky to define in literature. If you ask a dozen different English professors what it means, you’ll receive a dozen different responses. That is true of every question with an English professor, which is part of their appeal.
Nonetheless, we persist: in general, the term “Gothic” refers to a style of writing that falls somewhere between horror, mystery/thriller, and historical fiction. It’s more of a mood or vibe. Consider a moorside manor, dark and Byronic men, and courageous women in peril, as well as romance, terror, decay, and domestic conflict.
Gothic stories typically contain supernatural elements, such as restless ghosts, haunted mansions, and creepy little girls in the foyer. The Castle of Otranto, The Turn of the Screw, Rebecca, and pretty much everything by Edgar Allan Poe are examples of great Gothic literature.
In celebration of Halloween and all things dreadful, I’ve compiled five works from the recent and vast Gothic resurgence in fiction, dubbed the “New Gothic” by some. The collection meanders through several horror-related genres, with a few young adult works thrown in for good measure. Scroll down for additional information about the books, and take a minute to appreciate the stunning cover art.
Top 5 New Gothic Books You Should Read This Halloween
What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher
Despite being an Edgar Allen Poe fan, I rarely read these kind of books, so I may be biased here. I was excited to read this because it is based on Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher.
Alex Easton, a non-binary retired soldier, receives a letter from Madeline Usher in which she states that she is dying and asks that Alex pay her a visit before she passes. Alex rushes over to the Usher estate. Along the trip, they see odd fungi, a lake with an unnatural quality, and various animals moving and behaving oddly.
When they arrive at the property, Alex is taken aback to hear that their visit is unexpected. Roderick, Madeline’s twin, was completely unaware that she had written to Alex.
Despite the fact that both Ushers are looking worse for wear in their crumbling mansion, the first few days of Alex’s stay go by without a hitch. However, as time passes, things begin to take a terrifying turn.
This fun and creepy novella is told from Alex’s point of view. It’s classified as horror, but it’s not as frightening as I expected, which is good because I am easily scared. It’s quite evocative, with palpable tension – I nearly felt like I was standing right next to Alex. The writing style embodies the time period but doesn’t feel dry.
As one might anticipate given the genre, there are some graphic descriptions. I really like the humour, which served to balance out the more serious and tensed sections.
This was my first reading of T. Kingfisher, and I’m thinking about checking out The Twisted Ones next.
Get What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher on Amazon for $13.69
Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak
I had nightmares after reading this book. And I mean that in the best possible way!
This book was a page-turner for me; I read the first half in around two hours. I haven’t had much free time to read recently because of work, so it’s always good when you don’t even know you’ve read that much in such a short period of time. Mallory, the main character, was something I’d never seen before: a young, brilliant girl who should’ve been in college but let addiction get the best of her due to a sports injury. I adored the relationship she had with Teddy; it all seemed genuine and not forced.
I almost cried when reading this book. I screamed, gasped, jumped, and shivered. It was like reading, writing, and watching a horror film all at the same time. It was more than simply a book; it was a complete experience.
The graphics in this book were the most appealing aspect of its originality. Again, I strongly advise going into this book blind. All I can say is that the images were in my dreams and will haunt me for a long time. And that is a very positive thing coming from a real horror fan like me.
Get Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak on Amazon for $16.19
Helpmeet by Naben Ruthnum
Helpmeet is quite captivating, definitely eerie, a touch terrifying, very well-written, and, at least to me, baffling. I like the study of a (more-than) broken marriage coupled with caretaking (and the real horror that results), but I was a little confused by the idea, or this “third” person (without giving too much away). Perhaps this “third” person is the decaying, dirt anthropomorphized into a flower, something that seems lovely but is not, is deadly, all-consuming, and repulsive. The wrong thing, the wrong behaviors, feelings, and desires manifested as something genuine and truly horrifying. (I think I’m figuring it out as I type; like I mentioned, it definitely leaves a trace)
Helpmeet is a novelette, so it’s short, but there’s a lot here—a lot is said. The bleeding creature becoming more human as it fed on others was an original concept that reminded me of the first Hellraiser film. Wow, that’s really intriguing.
Get Helpmeet by Naben Ruthnum on Amazon for $11.99
The Cherry Robbers by Sarai Walker
The Cherry Robbers, a family saga, a novel about sisterhood, loneliness, misery, and grief over generations. Art, love, and feminine sexuality all play a role in the plot. Sarai Walker, the author delves on feminism and male/female power dynamics in intriguing ways.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I picked up this book, but I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s beautiful, heartbreaking, and lingers with you long after you’ve set it down, much like the spirits in the novel.
The premise immediately reminded me of Practical Magic – in some ways a reverse Practical Magic. The Chapel sisters are cursed by tragedy when they get married. Although the novel is less rooted in magic than Practical Magic, I believe it will appeal to fantasy fans as well as general fiction readers who aren’t quite ready to go into full-fledged fantasy.
The writing is fantastic and as I previously stated, the author has a talent for penning moments that will stay with you long after you read the book. She effectively captures both the extreme complexity and, paradoxically, the simplicity of relationships between mothers and daughters, especially sisters.
I strongly suggest this book, however I would warn readers with a trigger warning that birth/delivery problems are mentioned, as well as certain mental illness concerns that readers should be aware of before reading it.
I’d love to see this book remade as a Sofia Coppola movie.
Get The Cherry Robbers by Sarai Walker on Amazon for $17.99
Gallows Hill by Darcy Coates
It takes a lot to impress me, but this was a creepy novel. I am familiar with this author’s work and have read and appreciated several of her works, including The Haunting of Ashburn House, Dead Lake, and Craven Manor, to mention a few. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it at first, but the atmosphere of dread rapidly grew on me. I didn’t feel completely comfortable reading this when sitting outside after dark.
Ms Darcy Coates has a way with words, and she makes common clichés like murder, haunting, and zombies feel personal and truly alive. I actually skimmed some of her books’ longer and more detailed horrifying parts, which are brilliantly written in their own right, because I’m curious in what happens next to the characters.
This novel is both creative and disturbing. I enjoy how, even after a climactic scene reveals who knows what about something terrifying, there is still half a book left to tell. She doesn’t go for the conventional “then someone realized the truth, it was resolved, the end,” but rather gets there sooner and allows the reader to follow the characters in a new direction.
Get Gallows Hill by Darcy Coates on Amazon for $12.99
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