Halloween decorations are on the shelves in craft stores, pumpkin spice drinks are almost available at Starbucks, and August is nearly over. The spooky season is upon us and Halloween will be here before we know it. If you can’t wait for cool autumn days, overcast skies, and the falling leaves, then perhaps you’ll want to pick up one of the following gothic fantasy books to get you in the fall spirit early this year!
Gothic fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy. According to Book Riot, its roots stem from the romantic literary movement, which was popular in Europe during the 1800s. Common characteristics of gothic fantasy include “passionate emotion—pleasure and terror alike, darkly lush scenery, macabre elements, and an eerie atmosphere.”
Gothic fantasy and gothic horror share many commonalities, so you’ll often find the same books categorized in both sub-genres. Gothic fantasy combines gothic fiction with gothic horror and adds some fantastical elements to the mix.
So if you’re ready for summer to end and feel somewhat ghoulish, check out these seven gothic fantasy books and add them to your fall TBR!
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Dr. Victor Frankenstein is a young scientist whose obsession with creating a new race of human beings leads him to shun his family and friends. He shuts himself away from the world and entirely disregards his well-being; all his energy, time, and thought is dedicated to his unnatural experiment. After years of scavenging for human and animal parts from slaughterhouses, graveyards, and dissection rooms, Frankenstein manages to piece together his first creature… and bring it to life.
After his creation awakes, Frankenstein realizes with horror the truth of what he’s done. He flees from the creature, seeking the comfort of those he deserted for so long. However, the creature takes on a life of his own and attempts to enter the human world. Soon, Frankenstein will discover that his abandonment of his creation has consequences, and the creature will not rest until he has revenge over his creator.
The ultimate question Mary Shelley’s timeless Gothic horror novel makes readers ask is “who is the real monster in the story? The creature, or Victor Frankenstein himself?”.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Jonathon Harker is a “young English solicitor” who finds himself at Count Dracula’s castle on a business trip. During his stay, Harker experiences some horrific and ghastly occurrences. Three phantom women attack him, he sees Dracula transform into a bat, and finds wounds on his neck that resemble bite marks.
Although Harker returns home from Dracula’s castle and its horrors, he finds he hasn’t entirely escaped the Count. His friend is suffering from a strange illness, including sleepwalking, unexplainable blood loss, and uncanny throat wounds. Intending to put a stop to the person (or creature) responsible for the strange events that befell him, and with the hopes of saving his friend, Harker soon finds himself on a wild vampire hunt.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
In this phantasmagoric story about “the complexities of science” and “duplicity of human nature,” Dr. Jekyll is an amiable, respected, and brilliant scientist. He decides to experiment with a darker side of science in order to elicit his “second nature.”
He accomplishes his goals by turning himself into Mr. Hyde, “his evil alter ego” who refuses to acknowledge or atone for his diabolical crimes and actions. Jekyll attempts to assuage Hyde, and for a time holds power over his demonic self. However, his control doesn’t last for long, and soon enough Hyde gains possession over Jekyll’s mind and body.
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Book one of the Vampire Chronicles starts out with Louis narrating his journey through “mortal and immortal life.” He explains how he became a vampire due to “the radiant and sinister” Lestat, and how he became “unwillingly indoctrinated” into the vampire ways of life. Louis’ story carries him to New Orleans, where he meets Claudia, a captivating lost child. Louis doesn’t want to hurt Claudia; he wishes to “comfort her with the last breaths of humanity he has inside.” However, he ends up turning Claudia into a vampire, “trapping her womanly passion, will, and intelligence inside the body of a small child.”
Louis and Claudia develop an unbreakable alliance and reside within the French Quarter for a time. Their similar experiences and struggles, coupled with a mutual hatred for Lestat, prompt Louis and Claudia to travel and look for other vampires. Above all, the desire to “find somewhere they belong, to find others who understand, and someone who knows what and why they are.”
Eventually, Louis and Claudia end up in Paris at “the Theatre des Vampires–a theatre of vampires pretending to be mortals pretending to be vampires.” They meet Armand, who introduces the two into this strange society of vampires. However, Louis and Claudia soon learn that “finding others like themselves provides no easy answers and in fact presents dangers they scarcely imagined.”
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Noemí Taboada’s cousin sends her an alarming letter, desperately pleading for someone to save her from a strange peril. Noemí’s cousin recently married an Englishman and Noemí knows little about him or the area where he and her cousin live. After receiving the letter, Noemí travels to High Place, located far within the Mexican countryside.
At first glance, Noemí doesn’t seem like the ideal heroine. However, underneath her elegance and beauty lies intelligence and toughness. She’s also determined and brave. Noemí isn’t afraid of her cousin’s new (intimidating, yet charming) husband, nor his father (a patriarchal figure with a noticeable interest in Noemí), nor the creepy house itself, which begins to infiltrate Noemí’s dreams “with visions of blood and doom.”
Noemí’s only ally is the youngest son of her family, a “shy and sweet” boy who wants to assist Noemí (but may also be hiding a few secrets of his family’s history). High Place holds many secrets. Although the family’s magnanimous wealth and “faded mining empire” kept those secrets locked away for years, Noemí digs deeper and deeper and eventually finds “stories of violence and madness.”
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Sethe escaped a life of slavery and fled to Ohio. However, eighteen years later she still remains possessed by her memories of Sweet Home and the terrible events that occurred there. The ghost of Sethe’s baby haunts her new home. The baby died nameless and their tombstone was engraved with only one word: “Beloved.” An undeniable classic of American literature, Beloved also remains Toni Morrison’s creepiest and most distinct Gothic novel.
Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin
Although George R.R. Martin is best known for writing the incredible A Song of Ice and Fire series (the source material for HBO’s Game of Thrones), he’s also penned numerous other fictional works as well, including this frightening, Southern vampire story.
Abner Marsh is struggling in his job as a riverboat captain. After a rich aristocrat makes him an offer, Marsh begins to grow suspicious. His instincts are proven correct when he meets the ghostly pale, harsh-eyed Joshua York. York could care less that only one of Abner’s ships still remain, with the brutal 1857 winter having wiped out the rest. He also doesn’t care that he won’t get back his investment for ten years. York has his own agenda for wanting to travel down the Mississippi. However, these reasons are “none of Marsh’s concern – no matter how bizarre, arbitrary, or capricious his actions may prove.”
Marsh wanted to refuse York’s offer; there were too many secrets that could only mean danger. However, he agreed because he needed the money and the hope of obtaining a new boat and glory were too tempting. After the Fevre Dream sets sail, Marsh realizes this journey will prove to be much more sinister and noble than any nightmare he could dream.
Fevre Dream weaves together “a vampire’s quest to unite his race with humanity, of a garrulous riverman’s dream of immortality, and of the undying legends of the steamboat era and a majestic, ancient river” into an eerie and spellbinding horror story.