A beginner’s guide to Gothic fantasy

From Book Riot, this post: A beginner’s guide to Gothic fantasy.

Well, it’s nearly Halloween, so why not, right? Here’s how this post defines Gothic Fantasy:

Gothic literature emerged in Europe in the late 18th century from the romantic literary movement. It’s characterized by passionate emotion—pleasure and terror alike, darkly lush scenery, macabre elements, and an eerie atmosphere. Gothic fantasy is a sub-genre of both gothic fiction and fantasy, and a strict definition is difficult to pin down.

Oh, interesting. Passionate emotion! I hadn’t thought of angst as an important criterion for this subgenre, but maybe it is. That does fit Catherine’s personality in Northanger Abbey. Sure, I can go with this whole definition.

I’ve never actually read ANY of the books on this list, which is perhaps because I’m not that into horror, don’t particularly lean toward macabre elements, and possibly because I’ve very definitely not into angst. Eerie atmosphere is fine, though as is darkly lush scenery.

This one sounds almost like something I might like:


“In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.” A creepy retelling of Twelve Dancing Princesses comes alive in this gothic young adult fantasy with teenaged Annaleigh and her sisters. In a manor by the sea, Annaleigh lives with her dad, stepmother, and sisters. One by one, the sisters are dying in increasingly tragic and untimely deaths. Annaleigh’s nights are disturbed by strange visions and ghosts, and when she finds out that her sisters have been sneaking out of the manor at night to attend mysterious balls, she isn’t sure whether to join them or stop them. Annaleigh must figure out who her sisters have been dancing with and the meaning of her ghostly visions before the curse claims her next.

I particularly like the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale, but a version where many of the sisters die increasingly tragic deaths might not be quite what I would prefer. Still, this one does sound like a possibility.

Here’s one I have read and liked:

I listened to this as an audiobook, a form it fitted pretty well even for me, and the slow pace of an audiobook doesn’t always work for me. I found the style quite appealing — lush and eerie, just as the definition above suggests.

A Gothic fantasy might be fun to read for Halloween. If anybody has a recommendation that fits the form, drop it in the comments, please!

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4 thoughts on “A beginner’s guide to Gothic fantasy”

  1. Strands looks like a Bluebeard variant. Is it?

    Well, for recommendations there’s always Zelazny’s Night in the Lonesome October.

    I haven’t read any on the list, although I once read quite a few Gothic novels. I’m still fond of Madeline Brent’s entries especially Merlin’s Keep . Or Barbara Michaels, where it’s not always a young lovely, there was at least one with a mature woman whose (grown) kids come to the rescue … what was that one…? Witch, and that’s on Kindle. She was really good at the creepy atmosphere. I had to read them in the daylight.

    Same era, Andre Norton was writing some. Judith Tarr has covered them over on Tor.com.

  2. I read Witch in the library several… um… decades ago. Recently, I re-read it. I especially enjoyed the fact that the hero was middle aged and balding and yes, still came through as a romantic hero when called upon.
    For a more recent Gothic novel, there’s A Stitch in Time. The time travel aspect is, well, just accept it, okay? Then you won’t roll your eyes at the ghosts. The Gothic atmosphere was well done, though I cannot ever become comfortable with the use of first person present tense.

  3. Yes, Strands is a Bluebeard retelling. The narrative sticks quite closely to the original, and manages to do it without making the protagonist into a complete fool — quite a feat.

    I like what you all are saying about Witch. I’m going to pick that one up if the price seems reasonable … yes, got it. It sounds great for Halloween reading.

  4. I love Barbara Michaels. She also wrote the Amelia Peabody series under the Elizabeth Peters pseudonym. I don’t know if what she wrote under either pseudonym qualifies as Gothic FANTASY though; it seems more like ordinary Gothic with just a touch of the supernatural. But her books are fun to read regardless. She wrote a bunch of gothic books with supernatural elements under the Michaels pseudonym,including the aforementioned Witch, and Ammie Come Home, and The Dancing Floor, and Patriot Dream, and Here I Stay.

    I’m trying to think of something that’s explicitly gothic FANTASY, but I’m drawing a blank. Although I wonder if the Theodora Goss series would qualify. Or the Kelley Armstrong Cainsville series?

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