Recommended gothic fiction books

Gothic fiction ordinarily combines fiction, horror, death, and romance. Frankenstein, Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Melmoth the Wanderer are good examples. Elements often found in gothic fiction include a virginal maiden, and older, foolish woman, a hero, the tyrant/villain, bandits/ruffians, clergy, a setting - usually a castle, an abbey, a monastery, or some other, usually religious edifice.

Recommended Reading

Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk-that is all the furniture. And in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh-a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.

"In such a short novel The Machine Stops holds more horror than any number of gothic ghost stories. Everybody should read it, and consider how far we may go ourselves down the road of technological ‘advancement’ and forget what it truly means to be alive." Cat Fitzpatrick, Fantasy Book Review

Handsome Dorian Gray has found the secret of eternal youth. As those around him age, Gray remains young and beautiful. Knowing his actions have no consequences he lives a wild life of pleasure, breaking heart after heart – including that of a young actress called Sybil Vane. Gray treats her so badly that she kills herself. But Gray has another secret – in his attic he hides a portrait of himself. While his own body remains fit and healthy, the image in the portrait becomes older and more disfigured with each debauched act he commits. When the portraits creator, Basil Hallward, discovers the horrific truth, Gray kills him in a fit of rage. While Hallward may no longer be a concern, Gray’s own life may be in danger from Sybil’s brother, James Vane, who still blames him for his sister’s suicide and begins vengefully stalking the young pleasure-seeker. Terrified that his life is spiralling out of control, Gray vows to give up his wanton ways, and especially not to mistreat his latest conquest, innocent Hetty Merton. As his behaviour improves Gray expects the painting to begin returning to its original state – so is horrified to find it even more grotesque. Can Gray find any way out of his nightmare?

"A key example of Gothic horror fiction, The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde’s only novel and a classic of modern literature. It was originally published in a shorter version in Lippinscott’s Monthly Magazine, an American literary journal, in 1890, then revised and published in book form in 1891. Upon publication, its portrayal of moral decadence and its strong homoerotic undertones caused controversy and ensured that the book was poorly received by readers at the time." Fantasy Book Review

The Picture of Dorian Gray is available as a free ebook

"A gorgeous volcanic eruption... A work of extraordinary imagination" New Yorker

"The Gormenghast Trilogy is one of the most important works of the imagination to come out of this age" Spectator

"Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy has grown out of its reputation as a cult classic and into the mainstream of fantasy, as a book no reader interested in Gothic dare to miss. It is one of the most distinctive, absorbing and wonderfully strange books ever written" Adam Roberts

Titus, heir to Lord Sepulchrave, has just been born: he stands to inherit the miles of rambling stone and mortar that stand for Gormenghast Castle. Inside, all events are predetermined by a complex ritual, lost in history, understood only by Sourdust, Lord of the Library. There are tears and strange laughter; fierce births and deaths beneath umbrageous ceilings; dreams and violence and disenchantment contained within a labyrinth of stone.

When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula with the purchase of a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client and his castle. Soon afterwards, a number of disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman's neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the imminent arrival of his 'Master'.

"In the ensuing battle of wits between the sinister Count Dracula and a determined group of adversaries, Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre. Dracula has been attributed to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature. Structurally it is an epistolary novel, that is, told as a series of diary entries and letters. Literary critics have examined many themes in the novel, such as the role of women in Victorian culture, conventional and conservative sexuality, immigration, colonialism, postcolonialism and folklore. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, the novel's influence on the popularity of vampires has been singularly responsible for many theatrical and film interpretations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries." Fantasy Book Review

Murder and monstrosity on the streets of Victorian London. Nineteenth century London can be a very dangerous place. Beneath the prim and proper morals of Victorian society lurks a violent madman who emerges at night to commit the most cold-hearted of crimes. Nothing is known of him except his name: Mr Hyde. Just who is this evil man? A lawyer and a doctor beginning their own investigation are shocked to find that Mr Hyde is an acquaintance of their respectable friend Dr Henry Jekyll. Worse still, Dr Jekyll is unwilling to listen to stories of Hyde’s chilling behaviour, and retreats into his laboratory work when confronted. But as the months turn to years and the violence turns to ruthless murder on London’s streets, Dr Jekyll is finally forced to confront the chaos, and to admit that he can no longer hide from Mr Hyde.

"As would seem fitting for a tale as strange as this, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde comes with a number of literary legends attached. One states that gruesome scenes from the story first appeared to Stevenson as nightmares. Another suggests that the impetuous author torched the first full draft after criticism from his wife. Neither myth may be true. The only certainty is that Stevenson’s book very cleverly captured the clear contradictions of Victorian society, demonstrating the awful consequences of keeping man’s natural animal instincts locked away beneath the strict ideas of ‘decency’. Jekyll and Hyde is a terrifying glimpse into the dark depths of the mind."

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is available as a free ebook

Four seekers have arrived at the rambling old pile known as Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of psychic phenomena; Theodora, his lovely assistant; Luke, the future inheritor of the estate; and Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman with a dark past. As they begin to cope with horrifying occurrences beyond their control or understanding, they cannot possibly know what lies ahead. For Hill House is gathering its powers - and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

"The Haunting of Hill House, is one of those classics which absolutely deserves its accolade. Indeed, while I have not seen the recent Netflix series; which apparently has very little to do with Jackson’s novel, at least it might help bring in a few more tourists to look around Jackson’s house of horrors, since while its stood for sixty years, Hill House is definitely still worth a visit, just don't expect to leave it unchanged, since whatever Hill House contains, it has the very disturbing and quite appropriately horrible habit of getting inside your brain and staying with you."

Imagine the twisted evil twins of Holmes and Watson and you have the dangerous duo of Professor James Moriarty – wily, snake-like, fiercely intelligent, terrifyingly unpredictable – and Colonel Sebastian “Basher” Moran – violent, politically incorrect, debauched. Together they run London crime, owning police and criminals alike. A one-stop shop for all things illegal, from murder to high-class heists, Moriarty and Moran have a stream of nefarious visitors to their Conduit Street rooms, from the Christian zealots of the American West, to the bloodthirsty Si Fan and Les Vampires of Paris, as well as a certain Miss Irene Adler...

"Newman has once again produced a fantastically entertaining and fulfilling re-imagining of popular fictional characters, putting them into adventures of his own imagining, whilst succeeding in being both reverential as well as mischievous." Daniel Cann, Fantasy Book Review

A boy is put on a train by his stepmother to make his first journey on his own. But soon that journey turns out to be more of a challenge than anyone could have imagined as the train stalls at the mouth of a tunnel and a mysterious woman in white helps the boy while away the hours by telling him stories - stories with a difference.

"Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth will chill and thrill in equal measure and is the perfect kind of scary for children in that it will make the hairs on the back of their necks rise and send shivers down their spine but will not give them nightmares. Delectably dark, and with a beautiful gothic style (perfectly captured by David Robert’s illustrations), this is a book that will appeal to all ages." Fantasy Book Review

What you create can destroy you. One freezing morning, a lone man wandering across the Artic ice caps is rescued from starvation by a ship's captain. Victor Frankenstein's story is one of ambition, murder and revenge. As a young scientist he pushed moral boundaries in order to cross the final frontier and create life. But his creation is a monster stitched together from grave-robbed body parts who has no place in the world, and his life can only lead to tragedy.

"Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, generally known as Frankenstein, is a novel written by the British author Mary Shelley. The title of the novel refers to a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who learns how to create life and creates a being in the likeness of man, but larger than average and more powerful. In popular culture, people have tended to refer to the Creature as "Frankenstein", despite this being the name of the scientist. Frankenstein is a novel infused with some elements of the Gothic novel and the Romantic movement. It was also a warning against the "over-reaching" of modern man and the Industrial Revolution, alluded to in the novel's subtitle, The Modern Prometheus. The story has had an influence across literature and popular culture and spawned a complete genre of horror stories and films."

Frankenstein is available as a free ebook

Winterfold, a place of crumbling cliff paths, deserted churches and ruined graveyards, forms the backdrop for Marcus Sedgwick's latest work, White Crow, a contemporary gothic thriller for young-adults. Rebecca is an unwilling visitor to Winterfold during a long, hot, claustrophobic summer and, against her better judgement, befriends local resident Ferelith. The two girls discover more about each other (and about Winterfold) than either really want to, uncovering frightening secrets that would be best left long forgotten.

"White Crow is an intelligent and thoughtful book whose themes of afterlife, faith and death - both human mortality and the demise of a town itself – are explored delicately. Two strong female leads drive a story that is both chilling and memorable in equal measure. Highly recommended." Fantasy Book Review

In this prequel to Mary Shelley’s gothic classic, Frankenstein, 16-year-old Victor Frankenstein begins a dark journey that will change his life forever. Victor’s twin, Konrad, has fallen ill, and no doctor is able to cure him. Unwilling to give up on his brother, Victor enlists his beautiful cousin Elizabeth and best friend Henry on a treacherous search for the ingredients to create the forbidden Elixir of Life. Impossible odds, dangerous alchemy and a bitter love triangle threaten their quest at every turn. Victor knows he must not fail. But his success depends on how far he is willing to push the boundaries of nature, science, and love – and how much he is willing to sacrifice.

"My assessment of this book is that it is excellent, well written and true to the original. Oppel has captured Victor’s voice in such a way that his journey into the darkness of the original book is both believable and inevitable because of his character and the choices that he makes. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who has read and enjoyed the original." Fantasy Book Review

Bram Stoker's immortal Dracula told us about Count Dracula as an undead vampire. But how did this come to be? Who was Dracula in real life? There has always been speculation, but The Dracula Papers now offers the ultimate answer. It takes us back to the year 1576, to the wild land of Transylvania and to the early life of Prince Vladimir who came to be the horror known as Dracula.

"So, I've read Sookie Stackhouse, and I've read the Twilight Saga, I watched Buffy, Being Human, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries. While I honestly admit to enjoying them, (except the Twilight movies, seriously people), it seems that the market is becoming oversaturated with angst-ridden, over-sexed vampires, and there’s only so much crazy eyed Vampness a girl can take (yes, Damon Salvatore, I mean you). So, let’s get back to where it all started - old school Gothic tales set during the early years of everyone’s favourite Vampire, Count Dracula. This is a chunky book, 470 pages to be precise, and I was a little daunted at first, but, from the moment I started reading I literally could not put the book down." Helen Greenwood, Fantasy Book Review

What good is a toy that will wind down? What if you could put a heart in one? A real heart. One that beat and beat and didn't stop. What couldn't you do if you could make a toy like that? From the moment Mathias becomes the owner of a mysterious piece of paper, he is in terrible danger. Entangled in devious plots and pursued by the sinister Doctor Leiter and his devilish toys, Mathias finds himself on a quest to uncover a deadly secret.

"The Toymaker is an excellent book, one of very few that I wish were longer, and the book’s ending is as chilling as it is unexpected. A superb debut in which everything fits together like a jigsaw." Floresiensis, Fantasy Book Review

A small, quiet Midwestern town, unremarkable save for one fact: when the local teenagers reach a certain age, they run wild. When Lumen Fowler looks back on her childhood, she is surprised that she became a kind suburban wife, a devoted mother. In fact, she never thought she would escape her home town. When We Were Animals is Lumen's confessional: as a teenager, she fell beneath the sway of her community's darkest, strangest secret. For one year, beginning at puberty, every resident breaches during the full moon. On these nights, adolescents run wild, destroying everything in their path. For as long as she can, Lumen resists. Promising her father she will never breach, she investigates the mystery of her community's traditions and the stories erased from the town record. But the more we learn about the town's past, the more we realize that Lumen's memories are harbouring secrets of their own.

"The writing is beautiful: poetic and vivid and this includes the dialogue. This is a book you just need to sit down and read, allow the words to wash over you and experience Lumen’s extraordinarily eventful life. It will stay with you long after the last page is finished."

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Recommended reads by sub-genre

Select a sub-genre below to see which books we highly recommend.

High / Epic fantasy books
High / Epic fantasy

Secondary world with epic characters, themes, and plot
Historical fiction / Alternate history books
Historical fantasy / fiction

Historical fiction with fantasy elements
Grimdark fantasy fiction
Grimdark

Bleak subject matter and a dystopian setting
Parallel worlds.
Parallel universe

Fantasy set in parallel worlds
Science fantasy / Speculative fiction books
Science / Speculative

Draws elements from both science fiction and fantasy
Children's fantasy books
Children's Fantasy

Fantasy for ages up to 12
Young adult fantasy books
Young Adult

Fantasy for ages 12+
Adult fantasy books
Adult Fantasy

Fantasy for ages 18+
Dystopian fiction
Dystopian / Post-Apocalyptic

Fiction set in dark, nightmarish worlds
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Monarchy / Empire

Fantasy books with empires at their core
Gothic fiction books
Gothic Fiction

Fiction with elements of fear, horror, death, gloom and romance
Vampire fiction
Vampire Fiction

Fiction with vampiric characters
Werewolf fiction
Werewolf Fiction

Fiction with werewolf characters
Steampunk books
Steampunk

Fiction with steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology
Dragon fiction
Dragon Fiction

Fiction with the legendary, scaled, fire-breathing creatures
Fantasy books featuring dragons
Wizards / Magicians

Fantasy with wizards, witches, magicians, sorceresses...
Lore, Legend and Mythology
Lore, Legend and Mythology

Inspired by ancient folklore and mythology
Fantasy books featuring dragons
Military Fantasy

Fantasy books focusing on mailtary life
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Roman historical fiction

Explore the ancient Roman Empire
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Star Wars

Books exploring the galaxy of the ever-popular franchise
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Animal fantasy books

Fantasy with sentient animals
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The Thief / Assassin

Fantasy books starring the thief or the assassin
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Supernatural

Fiction exploring beyond the laws of nature
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Manga

Japanese comic books and graphic novels
House of Small Shadows
Horror

Liked to be scared? These books will do that...
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Comic Fantasy

For the reader who loves to laugh
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Inspired by Tolkien

Love Lord of the Rings? Now try these...
The Time Traveller's Almanac
Anthologies

The best science fiction and fantasy anthlogies