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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Six Spooky, Gothic Tales

The Gothic Undercurrents

It's the perfect time of year to read some spooky, dark, gothic tales. Desolate settings, mysterious deaths, darkness, hauntings--Halloween, here we come!

Here are six stories with gothic undercurrents that I really liked.

What are some of your favorite spooky or gothic reads?


01 Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

In this gothic Victorian tale, Waters offers a slow build to heartbreak, twists and double twists, hesitant attempts at love, and, finally, clarity and satisfying revenge.

Sue Trinder is a teenage orphan, the daughter of a hanged murderess who tries to live up to her fearless mother's bravery and strength. She's being raised in a household of cheats, thieves, and generally crooked characters. Yet she's been largely sheltered from the evils of the underbelly of Victorian London by her unofficial, doting adoptive mother, Mrs. Sucksby.

But when one of their group, Gentleman, comes up with a large-scale con, suddenly the makeshift family's potential fortune depends heavily on Sue.

She's asked to play the role of maid to an unassuming, wealthy young woman in a dastardly plot to take the woman's inheritance and leave her to rot in an insane asylum.

I wasn't certain how Waters would resolve the layers of deceit, secrets, and desires for revenge at play here. The story offers heartbreak, twists and double twists, hesitant attempts at unorthodox love, and, finally, clarity and satisfying revenge.

Waters is also the author of Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, and The Night Watch. I'm eager to read these as well.

Please click here for my full review of Fingersmith.


02 Things in Jars by Jess Kid

Female detective Bridie sets off on a desperate search for a missing child in Victorian London--and must also confront her own dark memories and past.

In Things in Jars, Jess Kidd offers a creepy, dark mystery tale gloriously steeped in details of Victorian London and seedy, sordid characters, all built on a framework of heroes with heart.

Along with the kickass, whip smart, savvy, kind, and irresistible Bridie are her striking and unfailingly loyal sidekick Sadie; Ruby, who is both a tender tie to her hardscrabble past and a devoted and helpful apparition. Various depraved and frighteningly cruel characters help drive the story of Things in Jars and add to the mystery.

Oh, and a mysterious, dangerous, but tragic child-creature-mermaid necessitates detective work and a desperate search through London and the countryside beyond, as well as through Bridie’s own messy memories and past.

Bridie is a strong female protagonist, and Things In Jars offers solid historical fiction details of Victorian London, which I love, within a creepy mystery with dark twists and turns. Yes on all counts!

The audiobook reading by Jacqueline Milne was wonderful.

For my full review of Things in Jars, click here.


03 The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Jackson's gothic horror tale is made all the more frightening by its reliance on terror, shadows, and mystery. This was a wonderfully spooky read.

In Shirley Jackson's 1959 classic The Haunting of Hill House, four people arrive at Hill House in search of paranormal experiences: a scholar of the occult, Dr. Montague; an unorthodox woman with an open mind and brave disposition, Theodora; a young woman who has witnessed mysterious goings-on in the past, Eleanor; and the jocular, mischievous future heir of Hill House, Luke.

All four of the guests witness inexplicable phenomena, and odd events cause some of the guests to doubt their own senses of what is real, what might be imagined, and what seems unquestionably otherworldly.

It's not always clear if Eleanor has telekinetic abilities, if she is noticing events others aren't tuned into, if she's mentally ill, or if the ghostly voices are real and influencing her actions. Jackson's gothic horror tale is made all the more frightening by its reliance on terror, shadows, and mystery rather than gory elements. What the author leaves unsaid is as spooky as the story on the page.

For my full review, check out The Haunting of Hill House.


04 Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

This is a compelling gothic suspense story with supernatural elements, and it keeps you guessing.

Sager has crafted a compelling Gothic suspense story in which we're along for the ride as Maggie, a young interior designer, returns to the childhood home where terrifying events exploded and led to her family's middle-of-the-night fleeing, never to return--until now.

Maggie struggles to establish what is and was real and what might be imagined, tries to piece together who knows more than they're admitting about past tragedies and unexplained occurrences, debates whether any of her parents' accounts hold merit, and begins to wonder with horror whether she can trust even her own memories.

The structure of Home Before Dark was intriguing--a book within a book within a book. It felt fluid and allowed for valuable layering and points of view.

I loved how Sager managed to keep me wondering who/what/when without making me feel manipulated by misleading details or bogged down by red herrings, and that he struck what was for me a perfectly eerie tone. All the pieces eventually fit.

For my full review, check out Home Before Dark.


05 The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

The Silent Companions is a spooky, atmospheric, gothic Victorian ghost story perfect for the season.

Elsie thought she had married out of her hardworking life and into a life of wealth and leisure. But when her kind husband passes away suddenly just after the wedding, pregnant Elsie and her tedious cousin-in-law Sarah must head from London to the family's neglected country estate, The Bridge, to bury him and set the house to rights.

Behind a door without a key--a door that is sometimes locked and other times mysteriously not--a "silent companion" (a realistic, freestanding painted wooden figure) sits eerily, as though waiting. Impossibly, the centuries-old figure bears a shocking resemblance to Elsie.

Purcell takes us through the disturbing events surrounding one family living two hundred years apart in the same house, making you wonder how reliable any of our main protagonists are. (And there's a twist and a double twist I loved.)

For my full review, check out The Silent Companions.


06 Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft

I adored the romantic setup and seemingly ill-fated attraction in Saft's young adult fantasy-mystery.

Wren is a loose cannon, a fierce soldier, intensely loyal, a magical healer, and she has an uncontrollable spirit--oh, and she's niece to the queen, who would like to be rid of her altogether.

Hal is from a neighboring land and is known as the Reaper of Vesria. He's known to be cruel, ruthless, and he's Wren's sworn enemy, a deadly force who has destroyed her countrymen and women in the wars that seem constant between the kingdoms.

I'd rate the first part of the book as 4.5 stars and the last 100 pages as 3 stars for me--toward the end, I found myself growing impatient with some false-feeling elements that had significant repercussions for the plot.

But the great young adult fantasy elements are all in place here: magic, healing, a defiant main protagonist with a conscience, loyalty, drawn-out romance, wonderfully faulted characters. Saft doesn't overdramatize the "love that must not be fulfilled" aspect, wonderfully structuring the reasons for (and the prolonged tension surrounding) the forbidden romance. There's also a Gothic undercurrent in this book, which I love.

For my full review, check out Down Comes the Night.


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