Book Club Nominees

6 Romantic Horrors

by psyche, curator of HOWLS book club nominees for July’s “Be Still My Heart: The Intersection of Horror and Romance” category

Horror romance and romantic horror are small but intriguing subgenres that don’t get a ton of attention, but there’s some really interesting ground to tread in stories where love and fear intersect. As a big fan of both horror and romance, I thought it was also an opportunity for me to try to push some fellow HOWLers out of their full-on creepfest comfort zones. The subgenres (like my list) tend to be dominated by ghosts and gothics, perhaps as they are some of the more palatable horror tropes you can fall in love alongside – like you won’t see (m)any romance/extreme horror combinations (erotic yes, but that’s a whole other story), though I have seen slashers with romance. 

Cover of Darkhouse by Karina Halle. The cover is a drawing of waves and lighthouse, done in block colors of black, purple, white, and yellow.

Darkhouse by Karina Halle

There’s always been something a bit off about Perry Palomino. For one thing, there’s her past which she likes to pretend never happened, and then there’s the fact that she sees ghosts. Luckily for her, that all comes in handy when she stumbles across Dex Foray, an eccentric producer for an upcoming webcast on ghost hunters. Perry’s uncle’s haunted lighthouse provides the perfect catalyst and backdrop for a horrific mystery that unravels the threads of Perry’s fragile sanity and causes her to fall for a man, who, like the most dangerous of ghosts, may not be all that he seems. 


If you google “horror romance” Karina Halle is your main result—she’s one of the few that seems to have focused her career largely on the subgenre. Also, this modern ghost hunter story sets off a lot of the period pieces on this list. 

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Cover of Silence for the Dead by Simone St James. Cover shows a woman standing on a beach, looking out at a building that must be a hospital or some other kind of institution. The building is on the top of a cliff above the water. The sun is setting in the background.

Silence for the Dead by Simone St James

In 1919, Kitty Weekes, pretty, resourceful, and on the run, falsifies her background to obtain a nursing position at Portis House, a remote hospital for soldiers left shell-shocked by the horrors of the Great War. But something more is going on at Portis House—its plaster is crumbling, its plumbing makes eerie noises, and strange breaths of cold waft through the empty rooms. It’s known that the former occupants left abruptly, but where did they go? And why do the patients all seem to share the same nightmare, one so horrific that they dare not speak of it? Kitty finds a dangerous ally in Jack Yates, an inmate who may be a war hero, a madman… or maybe both. But even as Kitty and Jack create a secret, intimate alliance to uncover the truth, disturbing revelations suggest the presence of powerful spectral forces. And when a medical catastrophe leaves them even more isolated, they must battle the menace on their own, caught in the heart of a mystery that could destroy them both.


This is one of my very favourite books. It caught me off guard at how well the author blended so many genres. It’s like a historical horror romance mystery with the real traumas from WWI (already one of my favourite eras), and a very creepy old house. This book was definitely a driving factor of why I thought of this category. 

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Cover of The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller. Cover shows a woman in victorian dress, shown from behind, from the waist down. Her hands are behind her and she grasps a key on a ribbon.

The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller

It’s 1875, and Alva Webster has perfected her stiff upper lip after three years of being pilloried in the presses of two continents over fleeing her abusive husband. Now his sudden death allows her to return to New York to make a fresh start, restoring Liefdehuis, a dilapidated Hyde Park mansion, and hopefully her reputation at the same time. However, … stories of a haunting at Liefdehuis begin to reach her. But Alva doesn’t believe in ghosts. So when the eccentric and brilliant professor, Samuel Moore, appears and informs her that he can get to the bottom of the mystery that surrounds Liefdehuis, she turns him down flat. Unfortunately, though Alva is loath to admit it, Sam is the only one who can help. Together, the two delve into the tragic secrets wreathing Alva’s new home while Sam attempts to unlock Alva’s history―and her heart.


This is like the modern version of a classic gothic romance, and it is getting some real buzz in the romance world. All the gothic tropes are there, but with a more skeptical, rational, and modern (at least for the Gilded Age) heroine. 

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Cover of Affinity by Sarah Waters. A mostly naked, very pale woman is shown perched on a bench covered in draped green velvet fabric. The woman has a sash of fabric covering her lap, and is only visible from the waist down.

Affinity by Sarah Waters

An upper-class woman recovering from a suicide attempt, Margaret Prior has begun visiting the women’s ward of Millbank prison, Victorian London’s grimmest jail, as part of her rehabilitative charity work. Amongst Millbank’s murderers and common thieves, Margaret finds herself increasingly fascinated by an apparently innocent inmate, the enigmatic spiritualist Selina Dawes. Selina was imprisoned after a séance she was conducting went horribly awry, leaving an elderly matron dead and a young woman deeply disturbed. Although initially skeptical of Selina’s gifts, Margaret is soon drawn into a twilight world of ghosts and shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions, until she is at last driven to concoct a desperate plot to secure Selina’s freedom, and her own. 


I don’t know if this one is a “true” romance (the actual romance genre has to end with happily-ever-after or happy-for-now for the central couple), but I couldn’t let this list be entirely heteronormative. This one has a Sapphic romantic plot and spiritualism in a Victorian prison so that sounds very cool. 

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Cover of Dark Desires by Eve Silver. A woman in formal Victorian dress is shown from behind, pushing open two sides of a wrought iron gate with her gloved hands.

Dark Desires by Eve Silver

Betrayed by those she trusted, penniless and alone, Darcie Finch is forced to accept a position that no one else dares, as assistant to dangerously attractive Dr. Damien Cole. Ignoring the whispered warnings and rumours that he’s a man to fear, she takes her position at his eerie estate, where she quickly discovers that nothing is as it seems, least of all her handsome and brooding employer. As Darcie struggles with her fierce attraction to Damien, she must also deal with the blood, the disappearances … and the murders. With her options dwindling and time running out, Darcie must rely on her instincts as she confronts the man she is falling in love with. Is he an innocent and misunderstood man … or a remorseless killer who prowls the East End streets?


This is closer to the more classic era of gothic romances (yes, early 2000s romance is more classic) and we’ve got a handsome Dr Jekyll (or is that Dr. Frankenstein?) type, an eerie estate, and murders. Also, fun side fact, ages back when I was a member of the Romance Writers of America, Eve Silver was my mentor for a while—and I haven’t read this one by her yet.

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Cover of The Dead List by Jennifer L Armentrout. Cover shows a crumbled sheet of paper laid flat and splashed with blood.

The Dead List by Jennifer L Armentrout

It’s Ella’s senior year of high school and she and her best friend Linds plan to make it the best year ever. But when Ella is mysteriously attacked on her way home from a party, everything changes. Ella’s carefree senior year plans disintegrate as she finds herself at the center of an attempted murder investigation. Ella tries to move on, but her attacker isn’t done yet. He shows himself in the form of horrifying signs and symbols: a clown mask strewn on her bed, a dead bird in her backpack, a shadow moving past her window in the night. And as the weeks pass, it turns out that Ella isn’t the only one being tormented. With the help of an old flame, Jensen Carver, and her friends and family, Ella tries to attain some sense of normalcy, but she can’t seem to shake the feeling that there’s a dark pattern hidden in the killer’s every move. In her seemingly safe West Virginia town, Ella starts to wonder who she can trust.


Trying to get fellow HOWLers to read not just a horror romance, but a YA romance horror may be two steps out of the comfort zone, but this looks like so much fun. Another modern story to balance out the period pieces, but I’m guessing this one will be fast-paced creepiness with this tormenting killer. 

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And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read Affinity by Sarah Waters. Join HOWL Society on Monday, July 12, 2021 to begin discussion!

Jessica Peter (she/her) is a social worker and a health researcher. She writes novels, short stories, and poems, all of which tend toward the dark, the uncanny, and the absurd. She is currently querying agents with an urban fantasy novel and writing a historical horror. Jessica lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada with her partner and their two black cats. Find her on Twitter @jessicapeter1 or at her website

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