When it comes to the many subgenres of romance, you have an incredibly wide range of options. There are the modern, relatable trappings of contemporary romance. You have the blast-from-the-past and nostalgic setting of historical romance.
There are the swords and sorcery wonder of fantasy romance, and the sensual, intimate elements of erotic romance, amongst many, many others.
However, for our money, it is tough to come up with a subgenre that manages to blend so many of these disparate elements in as compelling a way as dark gothic romance. Its allure is ever-present, and has carried it and virtually the entire gothic genre for as long as it’s been a thing!
And today, we’re going to spread that love and appreciation, by sharing with you some of our favorite dark gothic romance novels that are perfect for reading on a cold winter’s night.
What Is Gothic Romance?
There may be some readers here who have heard of gothic romance before but aren’t quite sure what it is. And, more importantly, what separates it from both traditional romance and gothic works of literature.
Well, this subgenre is exactly what it sounds like: A fusion of the many elements that make up these two genres.
From the gothic genre, gothic romance may borrow many things, from the character archetypes, such as the distressed female character trying to come to terms with what is right for them, the often charismatic, yet often tragic Byronic hero, to a plethora of secondary characters.
It’s also pretty common for the setting and aesthetic of a gothic romance piece to be inspired by classic gothic literature, often being set in a gothic mansion or castle, and with an intense atmosphere of mystery, a somewhat dour or moody atmosphere (rain is a very popular weather that appears in gothic fiction), and even the appearance of the supernatural potentially (although this is not always the case).
From the romance genre, gothic romance will often borrow more structural elements. The most apparent will often be making the main come from a female protagonist, as well lending intense emotions, both romantic and otherwise, to the atmosphere of the book.
The inclusion of a complicating secondary love interest is also a common feature of gothic romance, alongside a sometimes overbearing parental figure for the female protagonist (again, this is not always the case).
In short, this subgenre places a romantic plot line in the context of a gothic story, and all the trappings that this entails, and creates a truly fascinating blend of different ideas.
Starting this list with one of the most recent novels in this guide, Anatomy: A Love Story was published just last year and is already making waves in the genre.
Written by Dana Schwartz, this Regency-era tale focuses on the struggles of the female protagonist, who must battle the restrictions placed on women at the time to achieve her dream of becoming a surgeon, something that goes against the wishes of her wealthy family, as well as the struggles of a body snatcher who steal corpses for medical schools.
There is a little bit of something for everyone in this unabashedly feminist story, from a strong leading pair of characters to a little bit of fantasy, a dash of the macabre and horror, and, of course, a compelling main romance.
This book is sure to be a mainstay of gothic romance reading lists to come, so get a hold of the novel here.
Going from one of the newest entries of this genre to one of the oldest, gothic romances would likely not be where and what it is today without the seminal work of the Brontë sisters.
While largely unappreciated at the time, they have since gone on to be recognized as seminal writers in their fields, with Wuthering Heights by sister Emily still being considered one of the best in the genre, with her sole novel being the subject of a massive variety of plays, TV shows, movies, and plenty of other adaptations and spiritual successors.
The novel itself focuses on the young protagonist Catherine, who must choose between two love interests, one a member of an esteemed landed gentry house in the Yorkshire Moors in England, and Heathcliff, an orphan who has fallen in love with a woman above his station and class.
While that setup might sound like a classic romance tale in the making, the themes of domestic physical and mental abuse, and the challenging of then-established views of Victorian morality and religious values make for a story with plenty of twists and turns. It’s little wonder that the established literary class found this so controversial in its day.
If you want to check out this seminal work for yourself, you can find the physical novel here.
Moving away from the old classics, we come back to a gothic romance novel that’s a little more contemporary, though still full of the trappings and darkness that this genre is known and loved for.
Released in 2019, The Widow of Rose House is another piece of dark historical fiction. After benign widowed, protagonist Alva Webster moves back home to New York, where she attempts to move on from her past leaves her haunted. Quite literally, in this case!
With an old mansion filled with the spectral forms of the dead, a main character who is seeking to rebuild her reputation in a world where that means everything, and a charming and eccentric new love interest in the form of Professor Samuel Moore, this I another great entry into the genre, and one that every reader should consider, whether they love romance, the supernatural, and even serious conversations about escaping abusive relationships.
If any of these themes sound intriguing, make sure to check out the physical copy here.
While Emily Brontë might have created arguably THE seminal work of gothic romance in Wuthering Heights, it wouldn’t have been able to run without the walk that sister Charlotte Brontë created with Jane Eyre, released just a few months before in 1847 as well.
Born into poverty and abusive childhood, the titular protagonist, Jane Eyre, seems to catch a lucky break when she becomes the governess to the wealthy master of Thornfield House, Mr. Rochester.
However, as their love continues to blossom, Jane must overcome challenges both internal and external as she uncovers the sinister mysteries and acts of violence that have been unfolding around the estate.
With a great emphasis placed on the physiological and character growth of its main character, Jane Eyre served as not just an excellent example of a gothic romance that would cement the Brontë sister’s literary legacy, but a future template for many romance authors to come.
Whether you love classic romance novels or love a sense of danger and suspense in them, this is a novel that you should read for yourself.
Check out the novel here.
Now, if the mystery aspect of the previous novel is something that you love to see more of in your gothic romance, then this next entry will be right up your alley!
Combining the detective work and sleuthing elements of Agatha Christie with the classic regency-era romance and court intrigue o Jane Austen, Shadows of Swanford Abbey, the aforementioned Swanford Abbey is a former monastery-turned hotel where the vast majority of this story unfolds.
With twists, turns, and reveals that would leave any mystery and thriller fan more than satisfied, this novel does not abandon the core ideas that make the gothic romance a genre that people love and know, with a compelling main character, and a tumultuous, yet still captivating romance blossoming from the two leading characters.
If any of these themes and ideas sound like something that you’re interested in, you can find the novel here.
This final entry leans hard into the horror and suspense elements of this genre, with heavy inspiration from works like Shelley’s Frankenstein, and that choice by author Michelle Griep pays off.
The main character of the piece, the traveling author Amelia Balfour’s plans to travel to North Africa but are interrupted by the news that her disfigured brother is about to receive a revolutionary new surgery for his condition.
An event that, while fascinating on paper, has Amelia with serious doubts. Especially once she meets the surgeon who plans on carrying out this operation.
If that synopsis leaves you intrigued, then you can find the full novel here.
So, whether you are here for the elements of horror, suspense, the historical drama, or just here to enjoy a good romance story with a touch of the macabre, it is clear see that the Gothic Romance genre is alive and well in these works, and in the plenty more that we didn’t have the chance to cover.