Looking for a Few Good Gothic Heroines

misstress_of_mellyn 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

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25 Responses to Looking for a Few Good Gothic Heroines

  1. Leigh says:

    I haven’t re-read a Barbara Michael’s book in years but I loved them. I always enjoyed the woo-woo books but I didn’t want to be scared out of my wits so her books were perfect.

    I discovered Susanna Kearsley’s books in the 90′s and I have managed to read everyone even though they are difficult to find – thanks to the library and a reader here at AAR.

    I probably developed my love for this type books from reading gothic books in my youth. If you had asked me in my teens who my favorite authors were – I would have immediately told you Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Victoria Holt was popular during that time too and I read most of her books.

    I don’t seek them out now, but when I do come across a well written gothic – well it takes me back to a time when my love of reading was firmly cemented in place.

    • LeeB. says:

      I discovered Susanna Kearsley’s books in the 90’s and I have managed to read everyone even though they are difficult to find – thanks to the library and a reader here at AAR.

      I have noticed that most, if not all, of Susanna Kearsley’s early books have been re-released in the past year or so.

  2. Andrea2 says:

    Would you consider Elsie Lee a gothic writer? I love her book Curse of Carranca, but haven’t read many others by her.

  3. Leigh says:

    Oh, my gosh I had Elsie Lee aka Elsie Cromwell on my keeperself for ever. I even named by two cats Shadrack and Meshack because of her books.

  4. Jane O says:

    A fairly recent one: Deanna Raybourn’s THE DEAD TRAVEL FAST, And THE HAUNTING OF MADDIE CLARE by Simone St. James, which is a real ghost story. HIghly recommended, both of them.

    I do love a good gothic, and not many people write them any more.

  5. Em says:

    FAIRER THAN SHE and DARK LEGACY were published as “gothic romances” in the 1950′s, and I still re-read them with great pleasure. The heroines are sweet, but also have quiet resources and talents of their own to stand up to the brooding heroes. Well worth searching Charles’ books out, if you can find them.

  6. Em says:

    Sorry, (face palm!), the author is Theresa Charles.

  7. Christine says:

    I love Gothic novels but I agree that the biggest challenge is finding ones where the heroine isn’t “TSTL.” I am a huge Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters fan and am so glad you mentioned “Be Buried In the Rain” which is one of my favorite books of hers. The best thing about her heroines is how intelligent and strong willed they are, which is even more remarkable given that some books go back to the late 60′s early 70′s. Some other favorites are “Into The Darkness,” “House of Many Shadows” and the Ammie Trilogy- “Ammie Come Home,” “Shattered Silk,” and “Stitches In Time.”

    Susanna Kearsley is another favorite and while I enjoy her time travel books my two favorites of hers are the more Gothic/supernatural ones “The Shadowy Horses” and “Named Of The Dragon.” They are both excellent reads and very much in the Barbara Michaels tradition (which was mentioned on the paperback cover to Shadowy Horses and is the reason I discovered her all those years ago.)

    While I cut my teeth on the old Victoria Holt books I find many do not stand the test of time as the heroines can sometimes be wimpy and the “heros” rapey.

    Another author of “Gothic” type novels I enjoyed is Velda Johnson. Her novel “The Underground Stream” involves a situation very similar to Kearsley’s “Mariana” only with a slightly more sinister flavor.

    Another author who wrote a few books in the genre as well that I recommend is Carolyn LLewellyn who wrote “False Light” and “Life’s Blood.”

  8. Cybercliper says:

    I don’t have a lot of experience with Gothics but my first introduction came from Eve Silver (His Dark Kiss/Dark Desires/Seduced by a Stranger) – loved them all and her heroines are usually pretty smart.

    Also Lydia Joyce’s Night series (The Veil of Night – my fav) has some pretty good heroines.

  9. I really enjoyed Amanda DeWees’s Sea of Secrets. There’s a good, strong heroine.

  10. JMM says:

    Caroline Llewellyn wrote four books that might be considered “contemporary gothic”.

    False Light
    The Masks of Rome
    Life Blood
    The Lady of the Labyrinth

    Katherine Howe’s “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane” was good, IMHO.

  11. Maria D. says:

    I haven’t read a good gothic in a long time – I have read several Mary Stewarts but they are older. Will check out some of the recommended ones

  12. Renee says:

    I also recommend Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt; particularly Nine Coaches Waiting and This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart and King of the Castle by Victoria Holt. I also liked Deanna Raybourn’s series starting with Silent in the Grave which I thought had some gothic overtones.

  13. Rosie says:

    No one seems to have mentioned Madeleine Brent, the pseudonym for Peter O’Donnell. I think he absolutely excels in writing kick-ass heroines, and all of his gothics/historical mysteries feature heroines with unusual backgrounds and skill sets fighting against some shadowy conspiracy that wants them dead. My absolute favorites are Moonraker’s Bride, The Long Masquerade, Stranger at Wildings, and Tregaron’s Daughter, but really all of the Madeleine Brent titles are good.

  14. WandaSue says:

    I loved gothics as a teenager! I couldn’t read enough of them, and fortunately they were plentiful at the library. I guess the late 60′s and early 70′s were prime time for gothics, and I surely did read a bunch of clunkers that even then seemed corny and lame. But for those of us of a “certain age,” here’s a fun website that may take you back down memory lane…


    I check it out every so often, and get a few laughs out of the covers, the blurbs, and the reviews. Enjoy.

  15. Barb in Maryland says:

    Another author no one has mentioned yet is Jane Aiken Hodge–I gobbled hers up like candy. A nice amalgam of gothic and romantic suspense. No doormat/ TSTL heroines in her books. Hooray!! She wrote mostly in the historic branch of the genre.
    I also loved Barbara Michaels’ first gothics–historicals like ‘Sons of the Wolf’
    Happy to see that Rosie mentioned Madeleine Brent. Great historic gothics. And I loved them, one and all.
    The first Victoria Holt (‘Mistress of Mellyn’) was her best under that name (the author also wrote as Jean Plaidy).
    Has someone mentioned Phyllis Whitney? ‘Window on the Square’ is still one of my favorites.
    So far, Susannah Kearsley is the only current author, IMO, who has mastered the gothic genre. Like Christine, I especially loved “Shadowy Horses”.

  16. Lazaraspaste says:

    I’m really glad to see this list. I’ve been really interested in Gothics lately, so it’s cool to see what other readers are recommending. :)

  17. Denise says:

    I enjoyed Anya Seton’s Dragonwyck (probably because I saw the movie first and loved Vincent Price as the mysterious hero). Does anyone else remember this one?


  18. Christine says:

    @Denise- I haven’t read the book but have seen the movie Dragonwyck a few times. I really enjoyed it- Gene Tierney is lovely as Miranda “just plain Wells” and it’s fun to see Vincent Price back when he was considered the “handsome bounder” or just “mysterious leading man” type before all the years of horror films. I also enjoy how Miranda is not completely innocent and kind of sees what she wants to see for a while and doesn’t have a problem flirting with the married man she admires. She’s like a sassier Jane Eyre without all the guilt. How does the book compare to the movie?

  19. JMM says:

    The book did the usual lectures on the virtues of being poor but honest.

    Don’t forget Barbara Michaels’ “Master of Blacktower”!

  20. Renee says:

    I am glad someone mentioned Madeline Brent as well. I don’t know how I forgot about Brent. Loved Moonraker’s Bride and Tregaron’s Daughter. Wonderful books.

  21. Kari S. says:

    One author of romantic suspense I discovered when I was a teen was Elisabeth Ogilvie. Most of her novels are set on the coast of Maine (shades of Dark Shadows!) and a number of them would probably qualify as gothics. I particularly loved The Dawning of the Day, The Devil in Tartan, the Jennie trilogy, and the pair about Mirabelle Taggart, Weep and Know Why and The Dreaming Swimmer. She also wrote both YA and children’s books during her long and prolific career. (She died when she was nearly 90.) There’s a good article about her on Wikipedia that gives a summary of her writing career.

    Someone mentioned Jane Aiken Hodge. One shouldn’t forget her sister Joan Aiken. One gothic by Joan is The Weeping Ash, but it contains a bit of “ick” factor in an incestuous relationship. She wrote others that would also qualify, including a few gothics for children such as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and its many sequels, and the standalone kid’s book Midnight is a Place. I am also very fond of If I Were You, a book about an imposter, but it is not a romance.

  22. Elaine C. says:

    July 21, 2012 at 2:34 pm (Quote)

    I loved Barbara Michaels’ books. I think I both have and read them all. Searched so hard to find them in used book stores, I haven’t wanted to give them up. Then I moved to all her Elizabeth Peters’ books. She’s been a favorite of mine for thirty years. Her books are mysteries with strong romantic elements. I have loved them! :-)

    By the way, have AAR reviewers given up reviewing European Historicals? The last was back in June – “The Thief of Shadows”?

  23. AAR Lynn says:

    @Elaine C. – No, we haven’t given up reviewing European historicals. I know we’ve got some in the works, though I’ve also noticed that we’ve been getting fewer European historicals for review and lots more from other subgenres lately.

  24. Ruby says:

    I’ll second Susan’s shout-out to “Sea of Secrets” by Amanda DeWees. I loved the book, and loved the heroine, Oriel, who reminds me so much of Jane Eyre — she’s the perfect combination of innocence and intelligence.

    Also, I re-read “The Bride of Pendorric” recently, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Favel. Roc, not so much, but Favel, yes!

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