The best gothic novels with strong female protagonists

The Books I Picked & Why

Within These Wicked Walls

By Lauren Blackwood

Book cover of Within These Wicked Walls

Why this book?

This young adult novel is a fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre, my favourite Victorian gothic novel. While readers of classic gothic novels will recognize the familiar tropes, Within These Wicked Walls is a wholly original story, with elements of Ethiopian culture and a fierce, badass Black heroine. If you’ve ever wished Mr. Rochester’s house in Jane Eyre was actually haunted, this is the book for you!


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John Eyre: A Tale of Darkness and Shadow

By Mimi Matthews

Book cover of John Eyre: A Tale of Darkness and Shadow

Why this book?

Like Blackwood, Matthews retells Jane Eyre (and another classic gothic novel I won’t name to avoid spoiling the story). This is a gender-swapped version of Jane Eyre: John Eyre is a humble schoolmaster who accepts a position as tutor to two boys at the home of Bertha Rochester, a wealthy, eccentric, and beautiful woman with many secrets. Bertha is a refreshingly powerful heroine, and the supernatural spin Matthews puts on the original story takes the sinister atmosphere up several notches.


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Bohemian Gospel: A Novel

By Dana Chamblee Carpenter

Book cover of Bohemian Gospel: A Novel

Why this book?

Bohemian Gospel is an unusual book. I wasn’t sure I’d like it at first because it has more supernatural and fantasy elements than the novels I typically read, but it is truly stunning. Set in thirteenth-century Bohemia, it features Mouse, another badass heroine, trying to survive in a world filled with dark powers that threaten to destroy her. While this novel isn’t strictly a gothic novel, it has the requisite spooky atmosphere and a compelling heroine in deadly peril. The highest compliment I can pay this book is that when I was reading it I was nearly late for my own book launch because I was so caught up in the story!


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The Ivy Tree

By Mary Stewart

Book cover of The Ivy Tree

Why this book?

The Ivy Tree is a classic by Mary Stewart, queen of the 20th-century gothic novel. I love all her novels, but I think this is her best. The first-person narrator is a savvy young woman who is persuaded to impersonate a heiress, and the twists and turns of the plot kept me guessing right to the end. The narrator is fascinating and filled with hidden depths. This is a book I re-read regularly because it’s a lesson in crafting the perfect psychological thriller, which is what a gothic novel is at its core.


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Mexican Gothic

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Book cover of Mexican Gothic

Why this book?

Mexican Gothic caused a sensation when it was first published in 2020. It has all the classic gothic elements—the young woman drawn into the secrets of a mysterious family and house—but it pushes those elements beyond what any gothic novelist had done before. Noemí Taboada is summoned by her newlywed cousin to save her from a mysterious fate, and at the beginning the story seems like a standard historical mystery. But once Noemí arrives at the decaying mansion, the story becomes very disturbing and very dark. It is definitely not for the squeamish, but it is guaranteed to keep the reader up all night turning pages! People whose interest in the gothic crosses the line into horror will love this one.


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