Spooky reading:  modern Gothic novels

Does anyone write true Gothic novels and stories anymore?  I mean in the tradition of The House of the Seven Gables or Rebecca.  Not horror:  Gothic suspense, with a dash of romance.

These days, modern urban fantasy, updated vampire novels, Romance and other fantasy sub-genres have largely taken over where Stephen King, Batman, steampunk and dark graphic novels haven’t.  There are even so-called ‘cozy’ mystery novels with witches (uh, Wiccans) in them.  But no:  we’re looking for something darker, grimmer (or, perhaps, Grimm-er).  Honestly spooky, more Gorey than gory.  Well, rejoice, fellow readers:  there are a few candidates around.  Check out the following at your favorite bookstore this month.

fireplace, book and a glass of wine

Seven Gothic Tales (1934) by Isak Dinesen; yes, this is the same Karen Blixen who wrote Out Of Africa, the film version of which was beloved by a few generations of Robert Redford fans.  Blixen/Dinesen was a very good storyteller, however, and these tales are not so much creepy or sinister as simply strange and haunting (as in memorable, not ghostly).  I remember reading this ages ago and wish I still had my copy, along with the other Dinesen books I lost.  Each tale is a handcrafted jewel, as in all her other books.

Nachtstürm Castle: A Gothic Austen Novel (2009) by Emily C.A. Snyder; a modern sequel to Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, itself a slightly creepy tale but not one of Austen’s best.  Yes, we’re back to Catherine, that gal with the overactive imagination – not my favorite Austen heroine, by far – and she finally gets her creepy mystery adventure here.  Not as enjoyable as P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley, but then that wasn’t Gothic, either.

The Accursed (2013) by Joyce Carol Oates; great title, not necessarily so great on the execution, depending on whom you ask; but hey, Stephen King liked it, which is high praise.  For some reason, this book was a challenge to diehard Oates fans.  Commenters on Amazon and Barnes & Noble online were more or less equally divided on opinion, from great to awful, which means that the novel isn’t what most of her regulars were expecting.  However, Gothic novel fans seemed to really like it, so you might, too.  We say:  it’s long, but give it a chance.  On the other hand, her volumes The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares and  Evil Eye: Four Novellas of Love Gone Wrong, among others, would certainly fit as modern Gothic, as might her short story collection Black Dahlia & White Rose.

The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel (2007) by Drew Hayden Taylor; a modern Gothic vampire story set in Canada and told from a Native American point of view – and he’s part French, of course.  Swoony and strange, probably perfect for young adults but still acceptable for grownup Gothic fans.

The House At Riverton (2008) by Kate Morton; although Morton – who is from Queensland, Australia – writes epic-style romantic suspense, this particular novel is more in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier than Harlequin romances.  With a backdrop of World War I and the Roaring Twenties, a mysterious suicide, and three people who keep a terrible secret, it’s a story worthy of a long night before the fireplace.  Lots of period details.

Emancipation: A Civil War Vampire Novel (2012) by Pauline Ray.  This a stranger mix than even I expected: part alternate history, part period novel and part dark fantasy.  Its promo brags that it’s not a “romance novel with fangs.”  Yeah, we’ll see about that.  Things start out all wrong – the Confederates have won the war, and our heroine Ella Lantry, the daughter of a plantation owner who’s lost her lover and son to slavery, senses just what a wrong result this is.  Also, she can’t save her lover, but she’s determined to save her son at all costs.  She’s prisoner on her dad’s estate and tries to escape by marrying a prototypical tall, dark stranger who is also very rich, reclusive and dangerous (oops).  Meanwhile, the Thirsty Ones (guess who) who roam the woods are ravaging the local population.  Melodrama much?  Ella’s tale evidently takes some time to tell, because this is the first book in a trilogy, all of which came out in 2012 (Rebellion and Search are the other two volumes).  Well, you have to admit it’s different; but at first glance, you have to wonder if they’ve conflated one too many genres here.  Amazon readers, at least, rated the series at between four and five stars, so you may as well try it, if you don’t mind alternate histories (they bother the heck out of me).

Dark Hero (2012) by Lily Silver.  This is subtitled The Reluctant Hero Series, Book 1, so you know there’s gonna be more.  Oh heck, it’s a blatant romance novel, but the formula is one taken straight out of folk tales and The Brothers Grimm:  an innocent gal is courted by and marries a dashing guy who, after the wedding, turns out to be something else.  Thing is, granny’s a sorceress who summons a hero to protect sweet Elizabeth from her evil stepfather.  Lo and behold, a handsome stranger arrives.  At least he’s not a frog prince or an enchanted hedgehog boy.  There’s eccentricity and suggestions of madness as well as a wedding, but the protagonists have to survive at least until the next book, right?  So just sit back and wallow in it, and make no apologies while you read and eat bonbons.  You’re allowed one of these every once in a while.

Until next time, Spookyfans!

Glass of Wine and Fireplace


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s