Best Gothic Horror Books
When I’m talking about gothic horror novels, I’m not talking about books where kids who wear too much eyeliner and behave like wanna-be vampires are murdered slasher-style. (Although, that would be an interesting take on the genre…) I’m talking about Gothic, named after the architecture of old castles, monasteries, homes where a lot of these stories are set. The setting itself often plays a major role in these stories, so much so that the setting could be considered a character itself. Hill House and the Overlook Hotel are as alive as any of member of the human cast, for sure. You can see however that the modern goth sensibilities derive a lot of their stylings from the gothic horror novel. These books contain rich, descriptive language, much like a goth’s clothes. (All the lace, and the flowing sleeves, and the overcoats.) Most of them have a Victorian or pre-Victorian setting and are dark. (Like a goth’s clothes.) Finally, almost all gothic novels contain themes of excess. (One word: eyeliner.)
In the gothic horror novels that follow, you will find vampires, ghosts, damsels in distress, haunted houses, and terrible, evil villains. These are all staples of gothic literature since it’s origin with the Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, published in 1764. What you won’t find: alien clowns that want to eat your face, serial hack and slash killers that chase you around the pages, or ghosts that jump out at you. Gothic horror is far more subtle and imaginative than that. The real horrors are the ones that you don’t see, the ones that you have to imagine for yourself. The real terrors are the unanswered questions that will haunt you long after you’ve put down the book. That is what is so appealing about these books. The questions, the tricks that your own mind plays on you as you read, and even after. A lot of these books, you’re not sure if you should believe the narrator or if you, like the narrator, have stared down the road to madness. These 25 books are the books that will stay with you long after you read them and have you thinking about them years later, prompting you to take them out again. I should know. I’ve been there.
It should come as no surprise for fans of gothic horror that the Count reigns supreme. For those of you who have been living under a rock (or only reading Twilight for your vampire fix), here’s a brief rundown: Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to do some work for a mysterious nobleman, Count Dracula. Dracula is the perfect host, until Jonathan wants to leave his castle. Then, his nightmare begins. Meanwhile, Dracula is busy stalking Harker’s fiancee Mina and her friend Lucy.
Basically, Dracula is to gothic horror what Lord of the Rings is to fantasy. While Bram Stoker didn’t invent the vampire,he changed the face of vampire lore forever. His blood-thirsty and seductive hunter is the one that has haunted us ever since its creation in 1897. The brooding Louis, the magnetic Lestat, and even the sparkly Edward all owe their existence to the Count. Stoker’s Dracula has so completely captured the world that countless film, novel, and movie adaptations of his story have been made. Even when it was published, it was compared to books on this list, and it proved to be the most terrifying of all. Dracula will grip you by the throat and never let go.
The Haunting of Hill House is the ultimate haunted house story, complete with messages on the walls, rattling doors, cold spots.
Dr. John Montague rents Hill House for three months and invites a small group of people to join him to research any paranormal activity. In this group are the heir to the house Luke Sanderson, a psychic young woman named Theodora, and Eleanor Vance. It is through Eleanor’s eyes that we see the events at Hill House unfold, and even as she approaches it she describes the house as not being sane. That’s also when the crazy, paranormal stuff starts happening. The Hill House is very much alive in the story and makes it clear that it wants Eleanor to stay… or does it?
Almost immediately, the reader knows that The Haunting of Hill House is a classic of modern gothic fiction. I mean, first of all, all the gothic staples are there: haunted house, damsel-in-distress, themes of excess, and one very unreliable narrator. Honestly, Eleanor, like the governess in The Turn of the Screw is so unreliable that the book could double as psychological horror, but what makes it a great gothic horror novel is that you never see the real thrills and chills. You are acquainted with them only through Eleanor’s thoughts and feelings, and you’re left to figure out what other terrible things she’s not mentioning.
Frankenstein is the original mad scientist story. It opens with a feeling of dread.
Victor is being stalked as he travels, but the reader does not yet know by whom or what. As the tale unfolds, it chronicles the horror and tragedy of an experiment by egomaniacal Victor Frankenstein that goes horribly awry. When his mother died of scarlet fever, a distraught Victor decides to take it upon himself to bring the dead back to life. He digs up bodies, something that was as much frowned upon today as it was in the 1800’s, and tries to sew parts together. The reason he has to use A LOT of dead bodies is that it’s really hard to replicate the minute bodily functions. Add lightning, and the result is “the creature”: an 8-foot tall man yellow eyes and skin that looks like he’s had too much work done. The monster is actually deeply philosophical and intelligent causing the reader to question who exactly the monster is.
There have been so many film and novel adaptations of the Frankenstein story over the years that it is clear that it has captured our collective imagination, but what makes Frankenstein so gothic is the feelings that it stirs up in its readers, feelings of dread, disgust, sympathy, horror. These will haunt you from the moment you open that first page until well after you’ve turned the last.
A haunted house, a nervous governess and family secrets all give this book a creepy, gothic edge.
The Turn of the Screw is the story of a governess hired on in strange circumstances. Her employer gives her the care of his orphaned niece and nephew on the condition that she never contact him. On her first day, news comes that Miles, the nephew, has been expelled from school.Then, the ghosts start to appear.
The whole book has the vibe of the movie The Skeleton Key without the heavy-handed explanation of what's going on. In fact, that’s why The Turn of the Screw still haunts our imagination over a century after its publication. At times, its a psychological thriller, and the the governess may slowly be going insane. At others, something supernatural is going on, and everyone in the house has been keeping secrets. What’s great about The Turn of the Screw is that it can be read either way. So, if psychological horror is right up your alley, then enjoy the story of a woman going mad by turns in a spooky old house. If you prefer your chills coming from the supernatural, then you’ve got one of the eeriest ghost stories. If you like creepy kids, The Turn of the Screw is up there. It’s basically the jack-of-all-trades of gothic horror.
The Fall of the House of Usher is the perfect blend of the psychological and the supernatural. The narrator of the story is summoned to the ancestral home of his childhood friend Roderick Usher, who says he is suffering from “a nervous agitation”. He discovers that his friend is living in near constant fear of some horrible event. Like the house in which he resides, Usher seems to exude depression and anxiety into everything he touches. Our narrator soon finds himself drawn into the miasma of negativity, fighting to find a logical explanation for his misgivings about Usher and the house.
Ghosts, madness, a spooky setting all contribute to the gothic flavor of this story. From the first moment that we see the house, before we even meet its inhabitants, the reader is struck with a sense of decay. Roderick heightens the mood, and soon, page after page flies by as anticipation of some terrible impending doom looms larger and larger. The conclusion isn’t shocking so much as a realization of all that Roderick, the narrator, and the reader has feared. It is terrible and wonderful, but the best thing about it is, like the entire mood of the story and of the house of Usher, it is eerie and unexplainable. This is the type of book that will haunt you long after you’ve closed it, making you wonder what really happened.
With a film by Stanley Kubrick and, a more accurate to the book, TV movie, The Shining is a classic of modern gothic horror. Who can forget Jack Nicholson’s jarring descent into madness when he played Jack Torrance chasing his family around with an axe?
The demons in the book aren’t in Jack’s head though, but in the creepy hotel where he and his family live. The Overlook with all of its ghosts is practically a character, antagonizing the Torrance family. The ghosts at the hotel aren’t exactly the friendly sort: there’s a lady rotting in the bathroom in Room 217, gangsters, and murderous topiaries with flat, blank faces. And they all want Danny Torrance. When his father, Jack, decides to pack up the whole family and live at the Overlook during the winter as a caretaker, Danny becomes a touchstone that sets all of the evil in the house going. They attack the weakest link in his family. Jack is a recovering alcoholic with a short fuse, and the house manipulates Jack into madness.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the movie a million times, The Shining is scary! The feeling of unease, that something is lurking in the shadows is palpable and just as terrifying as the horrors that King does show. Not a book to be read alone, in the dark, in a hotel, but definitely one to pick up, and now, there is a sequel, Dr. Sleep, which will also keep you up at night.
“Winterfold has a cold embrace, and like the snows of winter, it does not let you go easily.” These lines mark the opening pages of White Crow, and if you are looking for a book that is just that, shivery and gripping, this is the book for you.
Rebecca’s father dragged her away to the dreary seaside town of Winterfold, where she befriends Ferelith, who is obsessed with the possibility of life after death. Their story intertwines with that of the rector of Winterfold Hall in the year 1798. He, too, is obsessed with the idea of life after death. He assists the enigmatic Dr. Barrieux in gruesome experiments designed to diving the realities of life after death. As Ferelith and Rebecca explore the crumbling Winterfold Hall, they discover the truth about the experiments and what they might mean. From its opening pages, the story will grab you and pull you under. Winterfold is crumbling into the sea, and with it its secrets. It’s a place filled with a creeping darkness. As the girls unlock the town’s darkest secrets, the reader discovers that Rebecca and Ferelith’s relationship in some ways mirrors that of the Rector and Dr. Barrieux.
Winterfold itself is so much more than a setting. It is a touchstone for everything that the novel is about. The characters are preoccupied with death and decay just as Winterfold is barely forestalling its own demise. Winterfold is hiding dark secrets, just as the characters are hiding secrets from one another.
The Woman in Black is a straight-out, no frills ghost story. It’s got the perfect, gothic vague edge of creepiness.
As an up-and-coming solicitor, Arthur is tasked with settling the estate of Mrs. Alice Drablow in the village of Crythin Gifford. Mrs. Drablow’s funeral is unattended save for himself and a mysterious pale woman dressed all in black. Later, while at Drablow’s estate, Eel Marsh House, Arthur encounters the woman again in a family graveyard. He attempts to approach her but she disappears. The disappearing woman isn’t the only odd thing about Eel Marsh House. There are screams coming from a locked nursery, and sounds of distress coming from the marshes. Oh, then there’s the other mystery. The children of Crythin Gifford have been going missing.
This is not a book for those people who want nail-biting scary. It’s also not a psychological thriller. This is a creeping horror that sneaks up on you slowly in a spooky haunted house and a town full of secrets, and that’s what makes it great gothic horror. Susan Hill doesn’t spend pages and pages describing the horrors that Arthur faces, letting the reader imagine those for themselves. Instead, The Woman in Black focuses on the unsettling atmosphere of Eel Marsh House and Crythin Gifford, and they aren’t places that you want to be after dark, at high tide, or pretty much ever.
I tried not to include more than one book by an author on this list, but in Anne Rice’s case, I made an exception. Interview with the Vampire had to be on this list. There was no other way around it. It is one of the iconic works of gothic horror, but it is not my favorite.
If you want to read an Anne Rice that is far more GOTHIC than her Vampire Chronicles. Read The Witching Hour, which chronicles the lives of the Mayfairs, a family of witches who have gained all their power and prestige from a demon summoned long ago. Demons, of course, always have hidden motives. And he’s chosen the latest Mayfair witch, Rowan, to make it happen. Rowan grew up blissfully ignorant of her family’s history, until her mother dies. Then, she travels back to New Orleans to learn the secrets of her past.
With forbidden love, demon possession, and all sorts of dark family secrets, The Witching Hour is a true gothic saga. It is a tale rife with murder, incest, and betrayal spanning 500 years and 13 generations. Anne Rice is a master of the modern gothic. She paints her worlds, whether it be New Orleans in the 1980’s or 16th century Scotland, with such vivid imagery that you become lost in the story. For all that, the creep factor is high, especially where Lasher is concerned. Although it may appear daunting at just over 1,000 pages, this book will enthrall you.
Remember how I said that the modern gothic aesthetic is inspired by gothic horror novels? Poor, tortured Louis is the poster child for modern goths. He tells the story of how he became a vampire and his difficulty coming to grips with the monster he has become. After the death of his brother, Louis wishes to die. Lestat is all too happy to oblige, but wanting company, he turns Louis into a vampire. Louis has some issues with the vampire diet, but Lestat’s appetites force him and Louis to flee to New Orleans. As Louis slowly comes to terms with his new nature, he feeds off an orphaned, plague-ridden young girl. Lestat turns the girl into a vampire daughter for the two of them. Louis discloses all the details of his life among these monsters to a journalist throughout the novel, and even though the vampires are portrayed, at times, as monsters, they are also incredibly human and sympathetic at the same time. So what is the journalist’s reaction to hearing the tale? Is he terrified by the knowledge that vampires roam the streets? Is he appalled by the excess of Lestat and the Theater of Vampires? Nope, he’s a total fanboy, and that is how goths are born. Of course, after Interview with the Vampire was adapted into a wildly successful movie starring Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas, and Christian Slater, who in their right mind would not want to be a vampire?
Robert Louis Stevenson is one of the first gothic horror writers to experiment with the idea that evil forces that influence the character are not some supernatural demons outside of the character’s control, but the demons in their own minds.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is told mainly from the point of view of Gabriel John Utterson who hears an interesting piece of news pertaining to his friend Dr. Henry Jekyll. A man named Edward Hyde has violently trampled a young girl and has given her bereaved family a check signed by Jekyll. Utterson becomes worried about what kind of monster may have ensnared his friend and is drawn into the mystery of the strange connections between the evil and violent Mr. Hyde and his respected friend Dr. Jekyll. There is a secrecy that surrounds both of the main characters that only serves to heighten the tension in the novel.
Despite its lack of traditionally gothic trappings, there are no haunted houses or damsels in distress, the feel of the the book is decidedly gothic in that Hyde is a shadowy figure whose true nature is never really shown, even at the shocking conclusion. Stevenson combines elements of science fiction, psychological thriller and gothic horror to spin a chilling thriller minds.
Speaking of haunted houses, House of Leaves will make you doubt your sanity.
Johnny Truant moves into the apartment of the recently deceased Zampano. There, he finds a manuscript that is a study of a movie called “The Navidson Record”, a movie about a family who comes home from vacation to find a mysterious change in their home. Their house seems to be growing. At first, it’s just a small room that has been added, then, a long, dark hallway. Efforts are made to document the house’s growth and changes, and these drive the characters insane, leading to murder and death. As Johnny reads about the film and discovers no evidence of the film or the house, except for Zampano’s manuscript, he becomes obsessed.
The mystery of the Navidson house alone is enough to qualify this book as gothic, as its practically a character in itself, but the fact that no evidence exists of the house, the secrets and mysteries surrounding Zampano’s narrative all enhance the gothic feel of the story, as does the madness already present in Johnny’s life. The novel itself uses many different color of ink to stress different words and ideas, and there is writing in the margins. As the novel progresses the writing becomes more erratic, showing Johnny’s deteriorating mental state, which the reader’s is most likely mimicking.
With a possibly sentient haunted house, a forbidden romance, and dark family secrets, this book has elements of every single gothic horror tradition, and it's really scary. As in, you're afraid to fall asleep at night for fear your own house might pull this kind of shit on you scary.
In The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, the reader learns about the origins of the Rose Red house. It was built on a Native American burial ground, and almost immediately after beginning construction, strange things start happening. Nevertheless, Rose Red is built, and the Rimbauer's move in. They are not exactly the happiest family in the world. The deaths and disappearances continue after the Rimbauers move in, and Ellen becomes convinced that she must continue to keep building the house or she will die. The diary format in which the story is told really lends itself to the creeping horror in the story.
The reader is pulled along into Ellen’s increasingly deteriorating mental state. Like Ellen, the reader is unsure whether there is something supernatural in the house or if the house itself is responding to her will. Written as a companion piece to the mini-series Rose Red, the diary is supposed to explain the history of the house and account for all the paranormal activity that the researchers face. The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer is much more atmospheric and creepy than the mini-series. In fact, it was so popular that it spawned its own TV movie.
Maybe you’d like your gothic horror in short bursts rather than as a full-length novel. In a Glass Darkly is a collection of short stories and novellas by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, collected as the case files of Dr. Hesselius, a “doctor” who believes that a lot of ailments can be explained by the presence of the paranormal.
Best known is “Carmilla”, the story of a lesbian vampire which was an inspiration for Bram Stoker. “The Room in the Dragon Volant” is about a young heir who meets a mysterious and beautiful countess whom he believes to be a damsel in distress.
The entire plot of the “The Room in the Dragon Volant” screams gothic but with a twist, instead of a damsel in distress, there is an innocent young man who is taken advantage of. If there’s only one drawback to that story, it is that there is nothing supernatural about it. If you want a more traditional gothic horror story, “Carmilla” has a young, innocent girl who is preyed upon by supernatural forces and probably deserves an entry on its own. Each of the stories contain a touch of the gothic in that the main characters either have some sort of dark secrets that haunt them, and each of the stories ratchets up the dread as you read. Creepy and suspenseful, this book combines supernatural and psychological horror to bring you six chilling tales.
Over the top, tragic, and with a terribly haunted setting, The Mysteries of Udolpho is another great example of a book that established the gothic horror tradition and actually popularized gothic horror in the late 18th century.
The Mysteries of Udolpho takes place in the haunted castle of Udolpho in Italy, where orphan, Emily St. Aubert is forced to live after her aunt marries the tyrannical Signori Montoni. Once there, Montoni traps Emily and her aunt in the castle, demanding their estates. It’s nothing personal. He just has a little bit of a gambling problem. Strange things happen in Udolpho, unexplained noises and apparitions. Stories are told about the previous owner who disappeared one night and still walks the castle, seeking revenge. But on whom?
Filled with arranged marriages, forbidden love, a haunted castle, a truly evil villain, and a damsel in distress. The Mysteries of Udolpho is similar to The Castle of Otranto in that it’s kind of a dark romance and the villain wants to marry the leading lady. There is a love triangle, but even that is thwarted by the dastardly villain. Terrible tragedy occurs, of course. What gothic novel would be complete without some tragedy. There are bandits and dark family secrets that lurk in the Udolpho. This novel was actually the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey whose main character imagines that she is living the terrible things that happened to the tragic Emily.
Winner of the 2009 Newbery Award, the 2010 Carnegie medal, and the 2009 Hugo Award, The Graveyard Book is a spooky and fun story about a brave young boy who longs for human contact and his adventures growing up among ghosts. In the first few pages, a killer named “the man Jack” slaughters an entire family, except for one toddler who has wandered away and down to the nearby cemetery. He is adopted by a group of ghosts. They name him Nobody (or Bod for short) Owens. Bod grows up in the safety of the graveyard and learns all the tricks of the ghosts. As he gets older, he makes friends and tries to venture out into the world outside the cemetery.
Murderers, secret societies, ghosts and a boy who grows up in a graveyard. This is like The Jungle Book of gothic horror. In fact, Neil Gaiman actually said that The Jungle Book served as an inspiration for The Graveyard Book. Like Mowgli’s jungle, Bod’s graveyard is as much a part of the story as any character. Both offer the boys both protection and danger, and both eventually become smothering as the boys discover that there’s more to life and themselves than what is hanging out in the jungle or the graveyard.
Set in an alternate history London where monsters called wych-kin prowl the streets of every major city in the world, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray is jam-packed with British folklore’s worst horrors. The Cradle Jacks are analogous to Spring-heeled Jack; Stitch Face is an even more frightening version of Jack the Ripper; and even Rawhead and Bloody Bones make an appearance, working for the shadowy and sinister Fraternity. Among these monsters is where Thaniel Fox finds poor, mad Alaizabel Cray. Thaniel, a young wych-hunter makes it his job to destroy the wych-kin plaguing London. He takes Alaizabel in and tries to help her, but Alaizabel’s craziness is hiding a dark secret. Apart from the monsters, Wooding’s London would be classified as steampunk, cousin to the dark gothic aesthetic. It’s the wych-kin which make this book so gothic. The creatures practically leap off the page and stalk you down dark alleys. Secrets lurk in the shadows and spell danger for both Thaniel and Alaizabel, and Alaizabel would be the perfect damsel-in-distress, if you weren’t worried that she was also the dastardly villain. As the plot twists and turns, you’re never quite sure who the real monsters are or what terrible motives they might have. It’s a thin line between friend and foe when you’re dealing with wych-kin.
What makes this so gothic? Wooding's creatures practically leap off the page and stalk you down dark alleys. Alaizabel is a perfect damsel-in-distress even as she may appear to be the dastardly villain. Dark secrets abound. As the plot twists and turns, you're never quite sure who the real monsters are or what terrible motives they might have.
The Darkest Part of the Woods is like a creepier Blair Witch Project without the camera bouncing around.
The forest, Goodmanswood is alive, a character whose life is inextricably linked to that of the Price family. The book opens when Lennox Price, the patriarch of the Price family, and some of his fellow inmates from the local insane asylum are killed in an attempt to escape into the forest. Sam’s mother, Heather, seems to be the only person in the family who is not affected by the forest, but as the forest broods, Heather begins to feel it reaching out to her as well. Goodsmanwood is such a presence in the story that it’s almost a character in itself. Dark secrets lurk in the woods and draw the Price family toward it. Such a sinister setting is textbook gothic. What’s more is that very few of the horrors of Goodsmanwood are ever really shown, and when they are shown, they’re pretty damn scary, leaving your imagination to wander the fertile ground of how truly terrible the things you don’t see can be. The tale is infused with a dark foreboding, much as the woods are. Madness creeps ever closer both for the reader and for the Price family.
What happens when the holiest of men falls from grace? He falls hard! Ambrosio was abandoned at the monastery in Madrid when he was a baby and grows up to be pious and chaste. As an adult, he is considered almost a saint. Then, a young monk reveals herself to him to be a woman named Matilda who disguised herself just so that she could be near him. She begs him to break his vows, specifically, of course, his vows of chastity. He refuses, being so holy, and all, but eventually he wears. And after the deed is done, he sets his sights on a new young lady, the noble and innocent Antonia. He will stop at nothing to get to Antonia, and nothing includes witchcraft, rape, and murder. There’s just two things standing in Ambrosio’s way: Antonia’s super protective mother and her love, Lorenzo.
The whole thing reads like an 18th century The Young and the Restless with bonus pacts with the devil, incest, and hauntings. At just over 400 pages, you’d think this book would be tedious, but the pages fly by as more and more shocking and over the top events occur. Antonia is an utter damsel in distress, and at times, her helplessness can get annoying. Lorenzo’s sister, a nun, is another damsel in distress, but her story is more intriguing as she is turned over by Ambrosio to the cruel prioress. There are run-ins with bandits and ghosts, and something no one expected!
Shades of Daphne du Maurier and Charlotte Bronte abound in The Thirteenth Tale, a novel about an amateur biographer who receives the chance of a life time. When she returns to her father’s antiquarian bookshop, Margaret Lea receives a handwritten letter from prominent novelist, Vida Winter. The popular, but reclusive author has always avoided questions about her life by spinning fantastical tales each more unbelievable than the last, but now, Vida is ready to tell her true history. The story that Winter weaves about her life includes the gothic staples of a haunted mansion, evil twins, and dark family secrets. Is the story true or is it just another elaborate fiction that the author has concocted? The mystery that Lea first encounters when reading Vida’s book sets the tone for the novel, and as Lea delves into her search for the truth of the story, she confronts some secrets of her own past. There are stories within stories, mysteries within mysteries. Angelfield House, like Manderley and Thornfield, is every bit as important as the characters who inhabit it.
This book reads like the gothic classic, Jane Eyre, and in fact, references that novel quite a bit, but the Setterfield trumps Bronte in the suspense department, and that’s where The 13th Tale shines. With all of the twists and turns in both Margaret and Vida’s lives, you’ll be guessing until the end.
If you like your gothic horror with a little Southern charm, try Candles Burning by Tabitha King and Michael McDowell. It’s a great Southern gothic ghost story complete with snobby Southern belles, spooky hotels, and murder.
Calley Dakin’s mother, Roberta, comes from the upper-class Alabama Carroll family, and refuses to acknowledge her husband, Joe Dakin’s origins or his family. When Calley Dakin is seven years old, her father is kidnapped, tortured and brutally murdered on a business trip to New Orleans. Calley is devastated as her father was the only one in her family who truly understood her. Then rumors begin to fly that Calley’s mother may have had something to do with the murder, Calley and her mother flee to an isolated island near Pensacola. It is there that Calley discovers her gift, she can talk to the dead.
At its heart, this is Calley’s coming of age story as she realizes her powers and learns terrible secrets of her family’s history, but don’t let that fool you, there’s plenty of spookiness in Calley’s life from the Merrymeeting bed and breakfast where Calley and her mother stay that looks eerily like Roberta’s childhood home to danger that the Calley’s emerging talents place her in.
Considered to be the first American gothic horror novel, Wieland takes your typical gothic romance and turns it sinister and deadly.
In one household, you have the Wielands, Theodore and Clara. Theodore inherits his father’s religious fervor, while Clara inherits the good sense. In another household, you’ve got the Plyels, Henry and Catharine. When Theodore marries Catharine, all is blissful and sweet until Wieland hears Catharine’s voice on the way home from his father’s temple even though (You guessed it) she ever left the house. The voices begin telling members of the families secrets and lies. Sudden, unexplained illnesses befall members of the family, and all of these mysterious occurrences seem to be centered around Francis Carwin, a dark and mysterious newcomer. We quickly learn that this story isn’t just about the problems in the love lives of these two families. Murder and madness accompany misunderstandings and mistaken identity, and no one is safe. Religious fanaticism, or is it possibly demon possession lurk around every corner. The creepiness begins as understated feelings of unease and emerges into full-blown terror as events quickly escalate beyond all of the characters’ control. This isn’t your Northanger Abbey gothic romance, the horror in Wieland is the real deal.
If you want a true gothic horror novel, Revenants is for you. It’s a vampire story set before vampires were sparkly or even sexy. The vampires in Farrington’s world are ruthless killing machines living in violent decadence and believing themselves to be better than humanity, whom they consider to be at best, prey and at worst, mere playthings.
Enter John LePerrowne, a reclusive nobleman whose family hides a dark secret. John has been haunted since childhood by a recurring nightmare in which a demonic figure captivates him. When John meets his alluring ancestor, Helena, he knows that she is the figure from his dreams, and what’s worse, that he is her next target. Dark family secrets are the core of this novel, and having a vampire ancestor is sadly just the tip of the iceberg for John. If horror novels with guts and gore are your thing, you can’t go far wrong with Revenants either. The vampires, especially Elizabeth, are unutterably blood-thirsty and cruel.
Told in the span of a century as John uncovers the truth about his family as well as the nature of vampire and their place in the world, Revenants is steeped in Gothic language and imagery. There is a creeping terror that follows John with each new horror that he uncovers.
Some of you might challenge Rebecca’s inclusion on this list. “That’s not horror,” you’ll bluster, but you’d change your tune after spending a week with Mrs. Danvers, the old housekeeper at Manderly. You’d come out of the experience pretty horrified, if you came out at all.
When Maximillian deWinter brings his young bride home to Manderley, Mrs. Danvers does everything in her power to undermine the young lady's confidence by constantly comparing her to the late Mrs. deWinter, Rebecca, who was supposedly much more worldly and urbane than our narrator. Because of Mrs. Danvers's obsession with Rebecca, Manderley is haunted by its former mistress. A National Book Award winner (1938), Rebecca has all the trappings of a great Gothic novel: a young and naive heroine, a spooky and imposing estate, secrets lurking in every corner, and of course, terrible tragedy. Everything is not what it appears to be at Manderley, which is kind of spooky to begin with, but Mrs. Danvers's psychological manipulations of the narrator and her maniacal fixation on Rebecca are truly terrifying. Though she is dead at the opening of the book, Rebecca is just as much of a presence as anyone living at Manderley, and it's enough to drive the current Mrs. deWinter insane in this gothic psychological mystery.
The Castle of Otranto is considered to be the first gothic horror novel, and for good reason. Like a goth kid’s eyeliner, this book is completely over-the-top, but like most gothic horror novels, the thrills and chills are an understated creepiness that run through the book rather than an in-your face psycho-killer.
The creep factor is low in The Castle of Otranto. Honestly, it reads more like a dark rom-com. Manfred is obsessed because a prophecy states that he will lose Otranto when the “real owner shall be too large to inhabit it.” Manfred’s family obtained Otranto some unscrupulous means, and that’s how Manfred intends to keep it, tricking the prophecy by marrying his sickly young son to Isabella, whose father technically has a legitimate claim on the castle. On the morning of the wedding, a giant helmet is dropped on Manfred’s son’s head, seemingly from the sky, putting an end to the marriage as well as the male line in Manfred’s family, essentially. The ever-resourceful, if not at all trustworthy, devises a nefarious plan to keep Otranto in his possession. Not really the stuff of nightmares, but Walpole’s story established what are considered to be the staples of gothic literature such as haunted houses, dastardly villains, and damsels in distress. Plus, The Castle of Otranto went on to inspire great gothic writers such as Daphne du Maurier, Stephen King, and Edgar Allan Poe. At 159 pages, this book may not give you chills, but it’s definitely worth the read.