It is an aesthetic born of counterculture. One defined by a potentially insufferable amount of black clothing, wearing a lot of straps on your pants for seemingly no reason (it looks cool, okay), and copious amounts of eyeliner. The subcultures that have fractured from the original are too many to number but there’s something to be said for the defining factors of listening to music that’s outside the norm and creating art that’s meant to be a little out there and a little (or a lot) provocative. It’s counterculture, so that means relishing a bit in the over-the-top, in the grit, in the glamor, in the dark.
Also, sometimes one is just extremely lazy and an entirely black wardrobe makes getting dressed in the morning easy, but I’d like to think there’s more to it than that. So I have five books that I think cut to the heart of it all and are extremely Goth.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
A book that asks the incredible question: What if corpse paint—a popular make up style in black metal bands, for the uninitiated—was a legitimate part of the world building? What if everyone in the cast was extremely goth? What if one of the main characters was a girl so goth that she wears a human skeletal ribcage as a chest piece? Not only all of that, but Gideon is the first true Goth Jock I’ve ever seen in a book. I have yearned for that Goth Jock representation. Gideon the Ninth is a mystery and a hack ‘n’ slash and the most fun you can have with a skeleton (probably?). It’s about two girls who absolutely spitting hate each other and are forced to work together when Harrow, a necromancer, is called to become one of the Emperor’s closest contingent of necromancers, but a necromancer can’t ascend without their cavalier, and thus Gideon is dragged—not entirely willingly—along for the ride. Give this one to all goths, honestly, every kind of goth.
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
Perchance the proto-Goth fantasy? The original? Possibly not, but one that every weird Goth should read. Gormenghast is a dense narrative about a doomed lord, a villainous kitchen boy determined to rise above his station, and the myriad of unusual and bizarre individuals who populate a sprawling and decrepit manor. It is a grotesquery of prose, absolutely drenched in the most exquisite, over the top imagery. Fuchsia Groan is for every teenage goth girl who has wanted to be extremely dramatic all the time because no one—absolutely no one—can understand what she’s going through. If you’re looking for something with a fast plot, turn your gaze elsewhere, but if you want to really settle in Gothic Weirdness, then Titus Groan is the book for you.
The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht
This book is an oil slick. It’s a revelation. It revels. In a city in its death throes, Johann discovers he cannot die. When he meets a young nobleman with a vicious streak bent on revenge, well, very little can stand in their way. There’s knives! There’s a plague! There’s a delicious twisted romance! There’s an incredible amount of worldbuilding for a package that’s less than two hundred pages. Horror and fantasy with a streak of decadence for the goth that likes things more than a little bit grungy.
The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
Immanuelle must navigate a stiflingly patriarchal world where witchcraft is answered with a pyre, and her own dark powers put her in danger. This book has plagues! Feminism! A lightly unhinged boy who has prophesies but is doing his best! One of the most gloriously wild and bloody endings to a book I’ve ever read! The Year of the Witching is an extremely fresh take on the conflict between religion and magic. Perfect for all witchy Goths and those who love riveting horror.
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
Wintersong is for the drama goths, the ones who watched Phantom of the Opera (2005) at an extremely impressionable age and never quite recovered. Or, an even more apt comparison, the ones who watched Labyrinth at an extremely impressionable age and never recovered. When Liesl’s sister is taken by the Goblin King, she takes it upon herself to go into the Underground to bring her back. Darkly romantic and atmospheric in all of the best ways, this book reads like a fever dream you never want to wake from.
Originally published in May 2020
Emily A. Duncan is the New York Times bestselling author of Wicked Saints. She was born and raised in Ohio and works as a youth services librarian. She received a Master’s degree in library science from Kent State University, which mostly taught her how to find obscure Slavic folklore texts through interlibrary loan systems. When not reading or writing, she enjoys playing copious amounts of video games and dungeons and dragons.