If you like stories filled with haunting prose, spooky settings, brooding characters and a grim-dark vibe, chances are that you have a soft spot for Gothic literature.
The genre’s roots can be traced back to works such as Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) and Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), while other elements of Gothic fiction show up in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847) and in the unsettling stories of Shirley Jackson, among several other noted writers.
From the supernatural and terrifying tales of Edgar Allan Poe to mystery thrillers such as Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938), Gothic novels probe into the shadowy aspects of one’s psyche, revealing that more often than not, the real monsters aren’t ghosts or ghouls but humans themselves.
While the genre has erstwhile been dominated by white authors, the macabre aesthetics and dark themes are also brilliantly explored in the novels by several writers of color, some of which are discussed below.
Garcia’s Mexican Gothic is a gorgeously-written and hugely enjoyable novel.
It combines all the staples of Gothic fiction—a sprawling manor in the countryside, a young woman on her own, incestuous secrets and a cast of sinister characters—into a thrilling tale that offers a scathing critique of colonialism and eugenics.
The Hacienda is Isabel Cañas’ debut novel, set in the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence.
Beatriz is the daughter of a disgraced general, who agrees to be the second wife of Don Rodolfo whose first wife has, unsurprisingly, died rather suddenly and mysteriously. Beatriz has her own hacienda, but of course, the menacing house itself is concealing a few secrets…
Indra Das’ Lambda award-winning novel, The Devourers is an inventive twist on werewolf (and shape-shifting) narratives.
Alok is a professor of history whose humdrum life changes when he is approached by a man claiming to be a "half-werewolf." The stranger regales Alok with a tale, and enlists him to transcribe some manuscripts. As Alok dives deeper into those papers, he is pulled into a terrifying tale about love and loyalty, possession and heartbreak.
From the Mughal Empire to contemporary Kolkata, the novel deftly straddles the different time periods, while weaving folklore and history into a stunning and visceral meditation on gender, violence and loneliness.
Even though Sethe has escaped her former life of slavery, she isn’t free—she is still haunted by the traumatic memories of the past and the malevolent ghost of her unnamed baby.
A gripping narrative about grappling with grief and the psychological bequest of slavery, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a disturbing but unforgettable read.
The Ghost Bride
After her father loses his fortune, Li Lan’s marital prospects are severely affected. So, instead, she becomes a ‘ghost bride’—a practice to appease a restless spirit—for the deceased son of the wealthy Lim family.
Yangsze Choo’s debut, The Ghost Bride is a lovely historical fiction novel. It combines Chinese and Malayan folklore, with some vividly dreamy settings and a stirring romance.
White Is for Witching
If you’re a fan of enchanting, stream-of-consciousness prose, unreliable narrators and multi-layered narratives, White is for Witching by Nigerian-British writer Helen Oyeyemi is sure to dazzle you with its tragic story about the Silver family.
Miranda Silver has pica, a rare eating disorder that leaves her with a hunger for chalk, while Eliot, her twin, is hungry to get away from the oppressive house he has grown up in.
But the haunted house itself has a way of holding the characters—and the reader—captive.
The Book Eaters
Several Gothic classics feature the salient trope of a passive and helpless woman, unable to escape or negotiate with the patriarchal confines of her existence. So, it isn’t a surprise that a lot of contemporary Gothic and dark fantasy novels (written by women) strive to give female characters more agency and control in their lives.
In that light, Sunyi Dean’s mesmerizing debut focuses heavily on motherhood, monstrosity and domestic violence. The novel’s protagonist, Devon, is a survivor of domestic violence and a "book eater" (a creature that literally consumes books for sustenance) who is on the run with her son, Cai.
Raised on a steady diet of fairytales and romantic notions, Devon slowly questions the stories she has grown up with and rebels against her patriarchal family that has tried viciously to control and contain her.
Elsa Park is a Korean-American particle physicist who studies neutrinos; despite the distance that she has put between her family and herself, she is still haunted by her mother’s folktales.
Angela Mi Young Hur’s Folklorn is a darkly speculative novel that delves into intergenerational trauma, mental illness and Korean myths to tell a story that will resonate strongly with female readers who are still struggling to escape the legacy of toxic upbringing and familial demons.
The Ballad of Black Tom
Technically a novella, The Ballad of Black Tom deliciously mixes Lovecraftian horror and historical fiction. Set in Harlem in the 1920s, the story follows Thomas Tester as he hustles his way through life until a book delivery to a sorceress opens up a strange and macabre world.
If you’re looking for something short, Victor LaValle’s book that richly tackles xenophobia, racism and other topical issues, is a creepy and wondrous read that can be finished in a single evening.
Finally, if you’re in the mood for something YA, you can check out Catherine Yu’s vampire horror novel, Direwood.
When Fiona, the elder sister of sixteen-year-old Aja, inexplicably disappears, young Aja has to befriend and bargain with Padraic, a charismatic vampire, to find her sibling. But soon enough, she gets sucked into some vampiric drama.
Filled with some gore and 90s nostalgia, Catherine Yu’s novel is a fun and engaging romp.