Halloween is (almost) here again! Not that we need an excuse to read great horror, but that extra ghostly October atmosphere never hurts. Horror books abound, from the mildly creepy to the downright terrifying and everything in between. Even hesitant horror readers can find less frightening fare (say, horror comedy?) to keep themselves appropriately entertained. But there’s plenty of under-the-radar horror that might have escaped your notice. LGBTQ haunted horror, for instance, might not be something you’re as familiar with — even if its ranks include some classics of the genre.
I’m defining LGBTQ haunted horror here a bit beyond the confines of pure ghost stories. We can be haunted by so many things, after all, not all of them as ephemeral as ghostly apparitions. And with LGBTQ horror in particular, characters are often haunted by their pasts, by prejudice, and by the world around them. Ghosts, by comparisons, might seem tame. So in these books, some of the hauntings are literal, some less so. Some of these stories are haunted by ghosts and spirits while others are plagued by vampires, monsters, plagues, neo-Christian cults, and zombie-like creatures. But whatever the haunting, rest assured they are very, entirely queer.
Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Edited by Carmen Maria Machado
A classic of vampire literature, the precursor to Dracula basically started the prototypical lesbian vampire trope. But while the original story reads more like a cautionary tale, Machado’s new edited edition reclaims the story. This is done, in part, by asserting that Le Fanu censored Laura’s thoughts and true feelings when he pulled together the letters of Doctor Hesselius. The introduction and use of footnotes offer an inventive and incredibly effective manner of achieving a queer positive version of this classic story.
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
Full of gothic horror and Hollywood satire, Plain Bad Heroines follows a group of young women, writers and actresses, returning to the scene of a terrible accident that ended in the death of two students at Brookhants School for Girls over a hundred years ago. The movie — based on a book celebrating the queer, feminist history of the haunted school — begins to dredge up old horrors as fact and fiction become increasingly intertwined.
Yellow Jessamine by Caitlin Starling
A new plague has arrived on the besieged shores of Delphinium, Evelyn Perdanu’s ship to blame. But even as she tries to clear her company’s name, the crew falls ill and the sickness spreads. And they all seem to share one obsessive fixation: her. Forced to hole up in her estate amidst poisons and the memory of her dead family, Evelyn must uncover her connection to this terrifying illness before it’s too late.
On Sundays, She Picked Flowers by Yah Yah Scholfield
A southern gothic tale of a woman escaping her mother and finding a new place for herself near the woods. But there are things living in the woods, too. And as Judith becomes undone and redone in ways that are something more than human, she must face the familial trauma that brought her here and all the pain she’s experienced along the way.
To Break a Covenant by Alison Ames
New Basin relies on its haunted reputation to bring in tourists. But there’s nothing fake about the hauntings, even if most of the townspeople don’t want to admit it. But as the people of New Basin begin to experience all sorts of strange phenomena — sleepwalking, night terrors, voices in the shadows — the ghost hunters that are constantly rolling in are at a loss. That leaves four young girls, Clem and Nina, childhood friends who are maybe turning into something more, and Lisey and Piper to enter the mines. The same mines that 16 people died in years before.
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
With a deft hand, Rivers Solomon’s newest fiction explores the bodily horror of motherhood, religion, cults, and racism. Having fled from the compound she was raised in to give birth to her twin children in the woods, Vern survives any way she can. But she is being hunted. By the community she fled, by something monstrous haunting the woods and leaving horrifying threats toward her babies, and by shadowy government figures determined to understand the transformation taking over her body.
No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull
Monsters have come out of the shadows. They no longer fear the light, seeking safety in visibility. Their appearance coincides with a drastic increase in violence. Suicide and hate crimes are on the rise, even as protests erupt around the world both for and against the monsters. But there’s one important question no one has yet to ask: why did the monsters decide to appear now? What scared them out of the shadows? And will it be coming for humanity next?
Affinity by Sarah Waters
As part of her rehabilitation from a suicide attempt, Margaret Prior has been tasked with visiting the women’s ward of the Millbank prison, getting to know murderers and thieves. But one inmate in particular catches Margaret’s eye: a spiritualist imprisoned after a séance gone awry left one woman dead and another deeply disturbed. But Selina claims to be innocent. As Margaret is drawn into her world of ghosts and shadows, she begins to concoct a desperate plan to secure Selina’s freedom.
Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
A haunted house tale steeped in Japanese folklore, where a mansion resting on the bones of a dead bride attracts a group of friends for a night of revelry. But even as the thrill-seekers test their limits — and each others — the ghost of a lonely bride lurks, waiting.
The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters
Consumed with her sister’s cold case, Natasha searches for answers, even if those answers come through supernatural means. Della and her family have long provided those sorts of answers. But this time, Della believes it will take more than a potion. Because she’s fairly certain she knows the monster responsible for the disappearance of Natasha’s sister — her own mother, turned monstrous from a potion gone terribly wrong. With little to lose, Della agrees to help. Now, they are each other’s only hope.
Star Eater by Kerstin Hall
Elfreda is one of the Sisters of Aytrium, but she has vowed to avoid pregnancy at all costs, even if it will kill her — and one way or another, it will. So when a shadowy cabal offers her a way out as a spy with access to the highest reaches of the Sisterhood, she doesn’t look back. The opulent parties, bloodshed, and deception that meet her there are only to be expected; after all, this is a world in which even the most powerful women must make great sacrifices to ensure they have any choices at all.
This one does get pretty brutal, so check for a full list of content warnings if you’re concerned about that.
The Upstairs House by Julia Fine
Ravaged and unraveling after the birth of her son, Megan is left to raise the newborn mostly alone as her husband travels for work. She’s also wracked with guilt over her unfinished thesis on mid-century children’s literature. So when the presence of quixotic children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown who wrote Goodnight Moon comes to reside in her attic, Megan is caught up in a strangely personal haunting. Especially when she is drawn into the unfinished business between Margaret and her former lover, the once-famous socialite and actress Michael Strange.
Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo
Andrew and Eddie were best friends who did everything together. Everything, that is, until Eddie left Andrew behind for grad school. And just when Andrew was supposed to join him again, Eddie dies from an apparent suicide. All he’s left with is a world of grief, a phantom whispering of revenge, and a host of secrets and lies. The deeper Andrew digs into the truth of what happened to Eddie, the closer the phantom draws.
Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin (February 2022)
Gretchen Felker-Martin’s Manhunt is an explosive response to ever gender-based post-apocalyptic novel out there, following trans women and men on a journey across a devastated landscape of feral men.
Extasia by Claire Legrand (February 2022)
A girl tries to redeem her family’s name and save her village from destruction in this thrilling new YA novel from the author of Sawkill Girls. But in order to do that, she has to become a saint and join a cult.
Also In This Story Stream
- “The Girl With The Green Ribbon”: A Tale of Many Lives
- Tips for Reading Horror When You’re a Scaredy Cat
- The Rise of Middle Grade and YA Black Horror
- The Most Haunted Bookstores and Libraries Around the World
- Are We in the Midst of a Gothic Horror Boom?
- Why Do Kids Love Stephen King? A Reader Reflects.
- Why Do Readers Avoid Horror?
- It’s Like That and Like This and AHHH! 12 Great Horror Book/Movie Pairings
- 8 Feel-Good Horror Books That Are Both Scary and Fun