When I wrote my post for the TBR Challenge yesterday, one of our commenters brought up a good point – it’s hard to find a gothic where the heroine isn’t a doormat. Nowadays, gothics are pretty hard to find anyway but even in their heyday, they seemed to have more than their fair share of childlike, frequently fainting heroines. Growing up, I remember my mom loved gothics and while I enjoyed some of the old books she picked up at library sales, there were definitely some helpless idiot heroines out there. And while The Jade Pagoda, the book I read for TBR Challenge yesterday, didn’t feature a completely spineless heroine, it still isn’t one I’d put on a list of recommendations.
After seeing the request for good gothic suggestions, Barbara Michaels immediately came to mind. Though better known today for her Amelia Peabody books written as Elizabeth Peters, under the Michaels name she has written a number of novels full of creepy Gothic goodness. And by and large, her heroines have their spines intact. I’ve enjoyed a number of her books, but Be Buried in the Rain remains a favorite. It was written in 1985, so parts of it are a bit dated, but there’s a reason it’s still in print.
For those looking for more modern authors, Susanna Kearsley is the main one who came to mind. Her haunting romances, such as The Winter Sea, have heroines who are intelligent (or at least the ones I’ve read are) and quietly brooding stories. It’s like having the best qualities of the old gothics, without all the doormat heroines and craziness.
However, this was as far as I got before I was stumped, though we did get a couple of other good suggestions in the blog comments yesterday. I haven’t read many gothics lately, and many that I’ve seen bring on the crazy. So, I threw up the questions on Twitter to see if any other readers/authors could give us a few good gothics. Here are some ideas I received:
Lazaraspaste mentioned that she’s been enjoying Virginia Coffman, and recommended The Alpine Coach. Coffman’s books have recently been re-released on Kindle, so now might be a good time to try her gothics.
Several readers also mentioned Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney as good sources of gothic tales without the weak heroines. Rachel Potter, formerly of AAR, mentioned Stewart’s Touch Not the Cat as having a non-doormat heroine, and author Susanna Kearsley, herself the author of some wonderful gothic-tinged romance, recommended Nine Coaches Waiting and This Rough Magic, also by Stewart.
Kearsley and reader Maili also brought up another gothic author I had forgotten about – Catherine Gaskin. I remember finding one of her novels at a UBS back in high school and enjoying it, but I never knew much about her. However, it sounds like the out-of-print The File on Devlin has some real fans. Perhaps this is the next author who needs reissuing on Kindle?
And for more modern books, reader Letitia mentioned The Siren, an upcoming novel from Tiffany Reisz. The author herself chimed in to describe her book as, “modern Gothic – erotic romance +horror.”
Thankfully, it’s looking as if gothics without doormat heroines are perhaps not so scarce as I’d feared. But it’s still a short list, so we’re looking for a few good gothic heroines. If you know of any good gothics free of TSTL heroines, list them in the comments. Let’s get a good list going!
– Lynn Spencer
I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.