With Halloween in just a few days (do you have your costume yet?) it’s absolutely time for spooky-themed reads. So here are some of my faves, divided up into Witches, Vampires, and a mixed assortment of Other!
WitchesDarkling by Brooklyn Ray
Representation: Queer Protagonists (gay trans man & cis gay man)
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Port Lewis, a coastal town perched on the Washington cliffs, is surrounded by dense woods, and is home to quaint coffee shops, a movie theater, a few bars, two churches, the local college, and witches, of course.
Ryder is a witch with two secrets—one about his blood and the other about his heart. Keeping the secrets hasn’t been a problem, until a tarot reading with his best friend, Liam Montgomery, who happens to be one of his secrets, starts a chain of events that can’t be undone.
Dark magic runs through Ryder’s veins. The cards have prophesized a magical catastrophe that could shake the foundation of Ryder’s life, and a vicious partnership with the one person he doesn’t want to risk.
Magic and secrets both come at a cost, and Ryder must figure out what he’s willing to pay to become who he truly is.
Content Warnings: Scenes of bloodletting, consuming blood, erotic bloody scenes. Death (and resurrection) of a main character and animal/pet. Explicit sexual content. Depiction of anxiety.
Darkling is a freaking phenomenal novella about a trans witch who is part elemental, part necromancer, and in love with his best friend. It’s dark and erotic and gorgeous, and you can read my full review of it here, but suffice to say I recommend it strongly.Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
Representation: PoC, Fat MC
Published by Dell Genres: Urban Fantasy
Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There's not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley's favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.
So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone's explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.
Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer...before the killer strikes again.
Undead Girl Gang got a lot of hype before release, and it was well-deserved; a Latina witchling who isn’t totally sure she believes in magic tries to bring her best friend back from the dead after her murder. The problem? She also manages to resurrect the three other girls who were murdered – and who are just as nasty undead as they were when alive. It’s a lot of snarky fun with plenty of poignant moments too.Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft by Tess Sharpe, Jessica Spotswood, Brandy Colbert, Zoraida Córdova, Andrea Cremer, Kate Hart, Emery Lord, Elizabeth May, Anna-Marie McLemore, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Lindsay Smith, Nova Ren Suma, Robin Talley, Shveta Thakrar, Brenna Yovanoff
Representation: Queer Protagonists, PoC
Genres: Urban Fantasy
A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era.
Are you a good witch or a bad witch?
Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth.
History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations.
Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.
A bruja’s traditional love spell has unexpected results. A witch’s healing hands begin to take life instead of giving it when she ignores her attraction to a fellow witch. In a terrifying future, women are captured by a cabal of men crying witchcraft and the one true witch among them must fight to free them all. In a desolate past, three orphaned sisters prophesize for a murderous king. Somewhere in the present, a teen girl just wants to kiss a boy without causing a hurricane.
From good witches to bad witches, to witches who are a bit of both, this is an anthology of diverse witchy tales from a collection of diverse, feminist authors. The collective strength of women working together—magically or mundanely--has long frightened society, to the point that women’s rights are challenged, legislated against, and denied all over the world. Toil & Trouble delves deep into the truly diverse mythology of witchcraft from many cultures and feminist points of view, to create modern and unique tales of witchery that have yet to be explored.
An amazing anthology of stories about teen witches, from an incredible list of authors. Many of the stories feature queer and/or non-white witches.Cold Kiss (Cold Kiss, #1) by Amy Garvey
It was a beautiful, warm summer day, the day Danny died.
Suddenly Wren was alone and shattered. In a heartbroken fury, armed with dark incantations and a secret power, Wren decides that what she wants—what she must do—is to bring Danny back.
But the Danny who returns is just a shell of the boy Wren fell in love with. His touch is icy; his skin, smooth and stiff as marble; his chest, cruelly silent when Wren rests her head against it.
Wren must keep Danny a secret, hiding him away, visiting him at night, while her life slowly unravels around her. Then Gabriel DeMarnes transfers to her school, and Wren realizes that somehow, inexplicably, he can sense the powers that lie within her—and that he knows what she has done. And now Gabriel wants to help make things right.
But Wren alone has to undo what she has wrought—even if it means breaking her heart all over again.
I haven’t really seen this book talked about, which is a shame because it’s one of my favourite witchy books. This time a young witch manages to resurrect her boyfriend, but it’s the lyrical way the magic is written that makes this story so dear to me.Wicked Like a Wildfire (Hibiscus Daughter, #1) by Lana Popović
Representation: PoC, wlw or F/F romance between secondary characters
All the women in Iris and Malina’s family have the unique magical ability or “gleam” to manipulate beauty. Iris sees flowers as fractals and turns her kaleidoscope visions into glasswork, while Malina interprets moods as music. But their mother has strict rules to keep their gifts a secret, even in their secluded sea-side town. Iris and Malina are not allowed to share their magic with anyone, and above all, they are forbidden from falling in love.
But when their mother is mysteriously attacked, the sisters will have to unearth the truth behind the quiet lives their mother has built for them. They will discover a wicked curse that haunts their family line—but will they find that the very magic that bonds them together is destined to tear them apart forever?
Wicked Like a Wildfire is the first in a duet about a pair of sisters who come from a family of witches – witches who are each gifted with the ‘gleam’, a magical gift tied to beauty, and which the sisters need to learn how to use fast when their mother is attacked. The writing itself is lush and gorgeous, and I adored the exploration of beauty’s links to power; this one is just a feast of a book.Born Wicked (The Cahill Witch Chronicles, #1) by Jessica Spotswood
Representation: wlw or F/F romance between secondary characters
Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they’re witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship—or an early grave.
Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word... especially after she finds her mother’s diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family’s destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.
If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood—not even from each other.
This one is set in a world a bit like ours, except that the USA is ruled over by the misogynistic church, and some women are witches. The main character and both her sisters are all witches, trying to keep their powers hidden for fear of reprisal, but there’s a prophecy that has no interest in letting them keep their heads down. Again, the writing is beautiful, and the worldbuilding is actually surprisingly good; this is one of the only ‘dystopia’ settings I know where we actually get a glimpse of what the rest of the world is doing outside of the USA.The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta
Representation: Queer Protagonists
The spellbinding tale of six queer witches forging their own paths, shrouded in the mist, magic, and secrets of the ancient California redwoods.
Danny didn't know what she was looking for when she and her mother spread out a map of the United States and Danny put her finger down on Tempest, California. What she finds are the Grays: a group of friends who throw around terms like queer and witch like they're ordinary and everyday, though they feel like an earthquake to Danny. But Danny didn't just find the Grays. They cast a spell that calls her halfway across the country, because she has something they need: she can bring back Imogen, the most powerful of the Grays, missing since the summer night she wandered into the woods alone. But before Danny can find Imogen, she finds a dead boy with a redwood branch through his heart. Something is very wrong amid the trees and fog of the Lost Coast, and whatever it is, it can kill. Lush, eerie, and imaginative, Amy Rose Capetta's tale overflows with the perils and power of discovery -- and what it means to find your home, yourself, and your way forward.
I’ve only just started reading this, but I’ve loved this author’s other book and it has an all-queer cast of teen witches, so I feel very confident in saying this one’s going to end up a fave.
VampiresSunshine by Robin McKinley
"Her feet are already bleeding - if you like feet..."
There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it's unwise to walk. Sunshine knew that. But there hadn't been any trouble out at the lake for years, and she needed a place to be alone for a while.
Unfortunately, she wasn't alone. She never heard them coming. Of course you don't, when they're vampires.
They took her clothes and sneakers. They dressed her in a long red gown. And they shackled her to the wall of an abandoned mansion - within easy reach of a figure stirring in the moonlight.
She knows that he is a vampire. She knows that she's to be his dinner, and that when he is finished with her, she will be dead. Yet, as dawn breaks, she finds that he has not attempted to harm her. And now it is he who needs her to help him survive the day...
I have to admit, I’m not sure where you’ve been if you’ve missed Sunshine – but I envy you, because getting to read it for the first time is a treat. A baker gets taken by vampires as a snack for another vampire whom they’re keeping prisoner – but instead of getting eaten, said baker and vamp prisoner team up to escape. It seems to be hit and miss – you’ll either love the writing style or hate it – but either way, you should definitely give it a try if you’re into vampires.The Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp
Representation: Queer Protagonist (Gay), PoC
Filled with characters as menacing as they are memorable, this chilling twist on vampire fiction packs a punch in the bestselling tradition of ’Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.
Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang, a vainglorious and well-established antiques dealer, has made a fortune over many years by globetrotting for the finest lost objects in the world. Only Sax knows the true secret to his success: at certain points of his life, he’s killed vampires for their priceless hoards of treasure.
But now Sax’s past actions are quite literally coming back to haunt him, and the lives of those he holds most dear are in mortal danger. To counter this unnatural threat, and with the blessing of the Holy Roman Church, a cowardly but cunning Sax must travel across Europe in pursuit of incalculable evil—and immeasurable wealth—with a ragtag team of mercenaries and vampire killers to hunt a terrifying, ageless monster…one who is hunting Sax in turn.
From author Ben Tripp, whose first horror novel Rise Again “raises the stakes so high that the book becomes nearly impossible to put down” (Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother), The Fifth House of the Heart is a powerful story that will haunt you long after its final pages.
This one is very much Horror with a capital H; it’s brutal, dark, and bloody, and includes at least one sexual assault, if I remember correctly. But the concept is kind of amazing: an antiques dealer made his fortune by hunting vampires (who are totally hoarders, and hoarders of treasure at that) and selling off their things. Now he’s elderly, but has managed to attract the attention of another vampire, so it’s kill or be killed. The vampires here are proper monsters, and the main character isn’t the most likeable person, but if you’re okay with very dark storylines you’ll probably enjoy this one.Those Who Hunt the Night (James Asher, #1) by Barbara Hambly
Alternate Cover Edition can be found here.
At the turn of the twentieth century, a former spy is called into service to hunt down a vampire killer...
Once a spy for Queen Victoria, James Asher has fought for Britain on every continent, using his quick wits to protect the Empire at all costs. After years of grueling service, he marries and retires to a simple academic’s life at Oxford. But his peace is shattered one night with the arrival of a Spanish vampire named Don Simon. Don Simon can disappear into fog, move faster than the eye can see, and immobilize Asher—and his young bride—with a wave of his hand. Asher is at his mercy, and has no choice but to give his help.
Because someone is killing the vampires of London, and James Asher must find out who—before he becomes a victim himself.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Barbara Hambly, including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.
The James Asher series is one of my favourite of all time, and I dearly love the vampires here – they’re cold and alien and properly frightening, powerful without being unbelievably supernatural. Set in the years leading up to WW1, the first book opens with the eponymous James Asher finding a vampire in his study – a vampire who wants his help tracking down a vampire hunter. The writing is beautiful, and I deeply appreciate how Lydia, James’ wife, is an important character with a ton of agency, something that only continues to grow as the series goes on until she and her husband split the role of lead character pretty equally. I reread this series every year and regret nothing.The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Representation: Several queer secondary characters, including a trans character
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown's gates, you can never leave.
One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.
This is actually my favourite of Holly Black’s books, and it’s a perfect standalone. In a world like ours, vampires and would-be-vampires live in enclaves cut off from the rest of the world, but social media allows them to wield enormous influence. Tana’s not a vampire fangirl, but has to head for an enclave anyway after she gets bitten. It’s dark and gorgeous and glittering, and I love it so much. Also, again: vampires who aren’t just pretty people with fangs, but feel very unhuman.Generation V (Generation V, #1) by M.L. Brennan
Representation: PoC secondary character
on 7th May 2013
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Fortitude Scott’s life is a mess. A degree in film theory has left him with zero marketable skills, his job revolves around pouring coffee, his roommate hasn’t paid rent in four months, and he’s also a vampire. Well, sort of. He’s still mostly human.
But when a new vampire comes into his family’s territory and young girls start going missing, Fort can’t ignore his heritage anymore. His mother and his older, stronger siblings think he’s crazy for wanting to get involved. So it’s up to Fort to take action, with the assistance of Suzume Hollis, a dangerous and sexy shape-shifter. Fort is determined to find a way to outsmart the deadly vamp, even if he isn’t quite sure how.
But without having matured into full vampirehood and with Suzume ready to split if things get too risky, Fort’s rescue mission might just kill him.…
Brennan presents a very unique take on vampires here; the worldbuilding is really cool, and the book itself is hysterically funny. Unfortunately the series ends at four books with a rushed ending, because the publisher didn’t renew the contract for the series, but these are still some of my favourite urban fantasies that more people definitely ought to know about.The Hallowed Ones (The Hallowed Ones, #1) by Laura Bickle
Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community? The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning.
Although the vampires here are fairly generic and more reminiscent of zombies – think the mindless vamps of the Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin – this is still a very unique take on a vampire apocalypse story, starting with our main character, a young Amish teenager trying to do the right thing – if she can figure out what that is. A very under-appreciated vampire story!Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite
Representation: Queer Protagonists
Published by Dell Goodreads
At a club in Missing Mile, N.C., the children of the night gather, dressed in black, looking for acceptance. Among them are Ghost, who sees what others do not. Ann, longing for love, and Jason, whose real name is Nothing, newly awakened to an ancient, deathless truth about his father, and himself.
Others are coming to Missing Mile tonight. Three beautiful, hip vagabonds - Molochai, Twig, and the seductive Zillah (whose eyes are as green as limes) are on their own lost journey; slaking their ancient thirst for blood, looking for supple young flesh.
They find it in Nothing and Ann, leading them on a mad, illicit road trip south to New Orleans. Over miles of dark highway, Ghost pursues, his powers guiding him on a journey to reach his destiny, to save Ann from her new companions, to save Nothing from himself...
This is another one that is definitely Horror, and will give the wrong person nightmares. Vampires walk among us, but they’re rare; the story focuses on a trio who delight in being as vicious and wicked as possible, and Nothing, a Goth teen who discovers he’s a vampire too when he runs away from home. Murder and bloodshed galore, and no promise of a happy ending for anyone, but if it’s monsters you want, this is the perfect vampire book for you.
OtherDrawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite
Representation: Queer Protagonists
Escaping from his North Carolina home after his father murders their family and commits suicide, Trevor McGee returns to confront the past, and finds himself haunted by the same demons that drove his father to insanity.
Another one from Poppy Brite, aka, Billy Martin; this one’s a ghost story with a haunted house, a comic book artist, and a hacker, and it’s dark and gory and definitely meant to keep you up at night.Feed (Newsflesh Trilogy, #1) by Mira Grant
The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop.
The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED. Now, twenty years after the Rising, bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives—the dark conspiracy behind the infected.
The truth will get out, even if it kills them.
I’m not typically into zombies, but the Newsflesh series has some of the best and most interesting worldbuilding I’ve ever seen, and I love the characters as well as all the twists and turns. This is pretty much the perfect book if you want to see what the aftermath of a real zombie apocalypse might look like, as well as having many clever and interesting things to say about politics and the news media.Highway Bodies by Alison Evans
Representation: Queer Protagonists, incl trans character
Who will you rely on in the zombie apocalypse?
Bodies on the TV, explosions, barriers, and people fleeing. No access to social media. And a dad who’ll suddenly bite your head off – literally. These teens have to learn a new resilience…
Members of a band wield weapons instead of instruments.
A pair of siblings find there’s only so much you can joke about, when the menace is this strong.
And a couple find depth among the chaos.
Highway Bodies is a unique zombie apocalypse story featuring a range of queer and gender non-conforming teens who have lost their families and friends and can only rely upon each other.
I’m reading this one right now and really enjoying it. It’s another zombie book, one where the zombie apocalypse hits Australia, and the cast is entirely made up of queer teenagers trying to survive. It’s really well-written and I love how distinct each of the characters’ voices are.Sea Change by S.M. Wheeler
Representation: Genderqueer protagonist
The unhappy child of two powerful parents who despise each other, young Lilly turns to the ocean to find solace, which she finds in the form of the eloquent and intelligent sea monster Octavius, a kraken. In Octavius’s many arms, Lilly learns of friendship, loyalty, and family. When Octavius, forbidden by Lilly to harm humans, is captured by seafaring traders and sold to a circus, Lilly becomes his only hope for salvation. Desperate to find him, she strikes a bargain with a witch that carries a shocking price.
Her journey to win Octavius’s freedom is difficult. The circus master wants a Coat of Illusions; the Coat tailor wants her undead husband back from a witch; the witch wants her skin back from two bandits; the bandits just want some company, but they might kill her first. Lilly's quest tests her resolve, tries her patience, and leaves her transformed in every way.
Sea Change is a dark, beautiful fairytale for adults and older teens, about a girl whose best friend is a kraken, and the quest she has to go on to get him back when he’s kidnapped by a circus. It sounds like crack, but it’s not at all comedic; it’s a stunning book that more people really ought to know about. There’s some gore and scariness, but I wouldn’t call it horror – maybe darker fantasy. I love this book so much and I desperately hope anyone reading this list gives it a go!
That’s all from me, I think. FOR NOW.