It is already late October, and splashed all across social media are carefully curated pictures of fall: hot coffee, cozy sweaters, and twinkling fairy lights. But it’s also the time to get into good ol’ fashioned spooky Halloween mode – be it binging on all the artsy A24 horror movies or getting ready to slip into an ingeniously crafted (or should we say, crafty!) costume. While us desis aren’t big on celebrating Halloween per tradition (and often make space for Diwali instead), it never hurts to curl up with a wonderfully spooky book on an autumn night and lose yourself to it. In this listicle, I bring to you 7 horror fiction books that are written by, or centre on, queer people and their experiences with the supernatural and the uncanny.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
To prove himself as a worthy brujo (practitioner of magic) to his Latinx family, Yadriel performs a complex ritual in the hope of contacting and releasing the spirit of his murdered cousin. However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is bursting at the seams with questions about his own death, determined to tie up some loose ends before he leaves. While he is initially reluctant, Yadriel agrees to help Julian to their mutual benefit. But the longer the boys spend in each others’ company, the more difficult their imminent parting gets. Blending magic and mystery with themes of heritage, transgender identity and queer love, Cemetery Boys is comforting, and just the right amount of spooky.
A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee
Perched upon the Catskill Mountains, the exclusive and prestigious Dalloway School has had witchcraft inextricably linked to its history. Rumoured to be haunted by the spirits of five dead students—girls who some say were witches, the corridors of the school are rife with whispers and secrets. Not that it matters to Felicity Morrow; all she wants to do is recuperate from the death of her girlfriend and be done with her senior thesis. But then, the Dalloway Five aren’t easy to forget. And what’s more, the new girl, an eccentric, brilliant prodigy novelist, Ellis Haley, needs Felicity’s help in researching the arcane history of the school for her new novel. Attracted despite herself to Ellis’ magnetic presence, Felicity must learn to make sense of the darkness around her, before it claims her again. Wonderfully atmospheric and creepy, A Lesson In Vengeance is an expertly crafted dark academia thriller with a pivotal, complex lesbian relationship at its centre.
The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester by Maya MacGregor
Sam Sylvester, a non-binary, autistic teen, moves to the small town of Astoria, Oregon after a traumatic experience in their last home in rural Midwest America. Their life seems to have taken a turn for the better, with new friendships and the potential of romance on the horizon. However, Sam is fixated upon the death of a teenage boy in 1980s Astoria, and is convinced he was murdered – especially since Sam’s investigation sets off a series of spooky events in their town. Threatening notes and figures hidden in the shadows begin to disrupt Sam’s life. Nevertheless, they doggedly persist in trying to find the killer, only to realise that the revelation might be more than what they bargained for – would they risk their new life for a half-lived one? Creepy, yet comforting, this book is the perfect blend of paranormal narratives with effortless queer representation.
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez
Gilda is a vampire. She is also Black, a lesbian and living through 19th century American racial politics, as she moves from Louisiana to Yerba Buena to Missouri and beyond. Spanning nearly 200 years, Gomez takes the reader through a beautifully written journey of political horror – where vampirism serves as a motif to underline the need for community, sororal love and social acceptance in a vitriolically racist and exploitative US. While it is not run-of-the-mill scary, the novel explores horrors of a different kind- racism, slavery, segregation, the threat of war and the fault lines of nation building. Originally published in 1991, today the lush and evocative masterpiece that is The Gilda Stories has become a seminal work of Black horror fiction as well as lesbian literature.
Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White
Benji, a 16-year old transgender boy, is fleeing from the fundamentalist cult that raised him, the same cult which unleashed the Biblical Armageddon and wiped out all the population of the Earth. Eager to find shelter away from their prying hands (desperately seeking the bio-weapon he was infected with), Benji is rescued by a ragtag group of teens from the local Acheson LGBTQ+ Centre, abbreviated as the ALC. Their leader Nick is gorgeous, autistic, and a deadly shot, and what’s more, he knows Benji’s secret – that the cult’s bio-weapon is mutating him into something beyond anybody’s reckoning. Still, Benji is taken in by the ALC and he is happy to belong. However, unbeknownst to him, Nick has a few secret motives of his own. Gory, explosive and chock-full of body horror, Hell Followed With Us is the perfect read if you are looking for an intense experience.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Pitched as “lesbian necromancers in space playing Among Us in a haunted house”, this sci-fi fantasy deals with the necromancers and cavaliers (swordsmen) of 9 interplanetary houses, staying together in an ancient and formidable mansion. They must grapple with enemies and make alliances in order to ascend to lyctorhood, under the omniscient eye of the Emperor. We follow their journey through the perspective of Gideon Nav, an indentured servant and cavalier to the cloistered Ninth House. Think re-animated skeletons, grisly murders, evil, scheming women and LOTS of bone jokes. With a butch lesbian and a homoerotic relationship at its centre, Gideon the Ninth is scary, but also, very queer and very darkly funny.
The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass
Jake Livingston is one of the only Black kids at his academy, a matter worsened by the fact that he can also, apparently, see the dead. It’s not that bad usually, most ghosts are just harmless and reliving their deaths in loops, keeping to themselves. But then Jake meets Sawyer, a troubled teen who shot and killed 6 kids at a local high school the previous year, before taking his own life. Now, Sawyer is back as a spectre, and he has grand plans for his afterlife – which, unfortunately, include Jake. As Sawyer begins relentlessly haunting Jake and bodies turn up in his neighbourhood, high school soon becomes a cat-and-mouse game of survival – one Jake is not sure he’s going to win. Whether you are in it for the gay rep or the frightening sequences in the vein of Get Out, you won’t be displeased either way!