Queer Fear: 13 Thrilling Queer Gothic Books
You’re here for queer gothic books. So let’s get one thing straight (lol): gothic literature is inherently queer! Themes that have persisted in this genre, including monstrosity and otherness, often have queer connotations and associations. Have a look at the widely recognized origin of the genre, Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto. Many scholars have identified homoerotic themes in the book. Some biographers think author Horace Walpole was gay or asexual, and that his writing may be a manifestation of his struggles. So queer gothic books are there from the very start.
So many other gothic classics, like Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, have had queer subtexts or not-so-sub-texts. Think about how Dr. Frankenstein, grieving his deceased mother, creates for himself not a maternal figure but a big, burly man: it’s queer! But things rarely end well for the queer-coded characters in older gothic fiction. Gothic novels often end with a restoration of order after the frightening and dramatic events of the plot. The monstrosity is subdued and the status quo is maintained.
The great thing about gothic literature is that contemporary authors are not beholden to that pattern. They can explore queerness in the open and create endings that set characters free if they so wish, while still calling back to other gothic traditions and storytelling modes. Because this is the genre of my heart, I had to be generous and give you 13 queer gothic books for your TBR.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
This novel, set in the 1820s, is a gothic thriller with a riveting crime narrative. Frannie Langton is awaiting trial in London’s Newgate prison (such an iconic location for historical fiction fans!). She is accused of murdering her master and mistress, but she doesn’t think she could have done it. So she goes back to the beginning and traces her full story, starting with her early life on a plantation in Jamaica. This is the gothic for fans of historical fiction that makes sharp commentary on racism, like The Underground Railroad and Washington Black.
The Wife in the Attic by Rose Lerner
Jane Eyre is both an incredible book and one full of all kinds of problems. I enjoy reading books that engage with this text and choose different angles to explore. This book — great on audio if you’re into that — spoils the major plot detail of Jane Eyre right in its title. Even knowing that, you will find Sir Kit, the Mr. Rochester analogue, charismatic at first. You’ll watch with fascination as the Jane stand-in, Deborah, falls in love with the titular character and the two exact vengeance. As a bonus, this book is set in the same universe as Rose Lerner’s other Lively St. Lemeson books.
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gómez
Vampires are a staple of gothic literature, and this book has become a modern classic since its 1991 publication. Gilda is an enslaved girl who escapes, and is then consensually turned by a vampire. She makes her way in the world, taking what she needs to survive but also giving back as best she can. If you like the idea of a Black lesbian vampire finding a family and witnessing the changes that come with history, this book will glamour you just like a vampire.
Lord of the Last Heartbeat by May Peterson
I’m often singing the praises of this series, and here I am doing it again! This book has one of the most awesomely spooky haunted houses, and really amazing opera magic. The romance between a nonbinary singer named Mio and an immortal with the power of a bear spirit is action-packed, strange, and cathartic. The best gothic novels have truly villainous villains, and this book has some doozies.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
This is a ghost story. It’s a vampire story. It’s got a small town that’s festering with evil. Good stuff, is what I’m saying. And if you’re looking for asexuality in your queer gothic books, it’s not a major plot point of this book. But its casual presence as part of the main character Elatsoe’s identity may be affirming for you. Ellie is a ghost wrangler who ends up in Willowbee investigating the death of her cousin. While that sounds serious, this book has ghost dinosaurs. It manages to be extremely fun while also commenting on colonialism and spotlighting Lipan Apache culture.
Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo
This book taps into a bunch of different gothic modes that you’re sure to appreciate. Not only queer gothic, but dark academia and Southern Gothic as well. In it, we meet Andrew and Eddie, who are the closest of friends. Eddie left for grad school in Nashville, and then died in an apparent suicide. Andrew inherits his house, which comes with a roommate he doesn’t know and more dark secrets than you can shake a stick at.
Testament by Jose Nateras
This gothic horror has a richly detailed setting: a historic hotel in Chicago called the Sentinel Club. Gabe works there in the Rosebriar Room, their fine dining establishment. He’s trying to dig himself out of a hard time — a traumatic breakup and a suicide attempt. His dark past mirrors that of the hotel itself. It’s haunted by something sinister that has its eyes on Gabe. This is a story that delves into gothic metaphors for racism and generational trauma, and it’s the kind of book that pulls you in and doesn’t let go.
Gaywyck by Vincent Virga
Daphne Du Maurier’s classic Rebecca helped usher in a wave of gothic romances in the mid 20th century that dwindled as historical romances and straight-up horror novels become popular. Most of those gothic romances featured straight couples, but Gaywyck aimed to use those beloved storytelling beats to tell a deliciously gay tale. Robert heads to clifftop mansion Gaywyck to catalog the library. There he meets Donough Gaylord, and you can guess how it goes. Side note: the Fated Mates podcast episode with author Vincent Virga is not to be missed!
The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza, Translated by Sarah Booker
Queer horror from a MacArthur genius? Yes, and a slim, Kafkaesque read at that. The story, translated from Spanish, follows an unnamed narrator, who claims to be male. When two women invade his house on a stormy night interrogating him about his gender, his failure to convince anyone about his maleness lands him in a sanitarium. It’s a little The Yellow Wallpaper, a little The Trial. Perfectly gothic and surreal.
Reader, I Murdered Him by Betsy Cornwell
Can you tell I love Jane Eyre? I will read just about any twist on it, and this one will keep you on your toes. In the original novel Jane is Adele’s governess. In this novel, Adele knows why Mr. Rochester — who might be her father? — is no good. She leaves home for finishing school in London and meets a charming thief named Nan. And then she becomes a vigilante, murdering men who commit violence against women. I’m pumping my fist triumphantly just writing that!
The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean
This book has a contemporary setting, starting on the Yorkshire Moors, one of the most gothic of landscapes. A population of people who literally eat books lives there. When Devon gives birth to a child who has a hunger for human minds, she tries to keep him safe by integrating into regular human society. This book definitely has body horror elements, if that’s your jam.
Silver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco
If you’ve read and enjoyed the gothic classic Dracula, this one’s for you. Dracula is a bunch of things: an epistolary novel, a gothic novel, but also a detective novel. Rin Chupeco continues in this vein with their vampire novel starring Remy, the son of a duke in the fictional kingdom of Aluria. He’s trying to find who’s unleashing mutant vampires on his city. But here’s the real clincher: this is your book if you wish more of the sexual tension in the novels you read resulted in polyamory.
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
While classic gothic settings include crumbling castles, estates, and monasteries, a school for girls is another perfect setting for tales of the macabre. Plain Bad Heroines is a Russian nesting doll of a book, telling multiple stories across time. Two girls in 1902 are obsessed with a scandalous memoir, but they end up mysteriously dead and the school closes up. Over 100 years later, a film is being made about the event. The stories interweave in delightful and twisty ways. Hint: if you listen to this in audio, check out a hard copy from your library if you want to see the illustrations.
Looking for more queer scares? Here are some of the best queer horror novels, queer haunted house stories, and queer YA horror.
I could talk all day about queer gothic books, but instead I’ll just encourage you to read more gothic literature. We’ve got gothic books for every mood, recent gothic books, and some YA gothic. If you read them all, they will haunt you. If you don’t read them all, they will also haunt you…