Illustration/Design: Sanguine Woods.
Here they are…my faves–well part of them, anyway (stay tuned for Parts Two and Three); and they’re not in any type of order. I purposely refrained from giving them any kind of rating–ratings are biased by nature; this way, you can judge for yourself.
To me, they just have to be scary (adult scary–although I am a big fan of Roald Dahl). If you were burned to death tied to a stake, you’d be scary, too.
I also enjoy an eerie old-fashioned gothic atmosphere, which can add a complexity if written well that doesn’t always need scares to be effective. (The scary part usually rules out YA and Teen fiction for me; if you know of one I’ve missed, please send me a note!) Other than that just give me thoughtful characterization and good prose.
By the Pricking of my Thumbs, something wicked this way comes. – Witches, Macbeth
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, 2009
“White is for witching, a colour to be worn so that all other colours can enter you, so that you may use them. At a pinch, cream will do.”
There’s something strange about the Silver family house in the closed-off town of Dover, England. Grand and cavernous with hidden passages and buried secrets, it’s been home to four generations of Silver women—Anna, Jennifer, Lily, and now Miranda, who has lived in the house with her twin brother, Eliot, ever since their father converted it to a bed-and-breakfast. The Silver women have always had a strong connection, a pull over one another that reaches across time and space, and when Lily, Miranda’s mother, passes away suddenly while on a trip abroad, Miranda begins suffering strange ailments. An eating disorder starves her. She begins hearing voices. When she brings a friend home, Dover’s hostility toward outsiders physically manifests within the four walls of the Silver house, and the lives of everyone inside are irrevocably changed. And of course there is the house itself, 29 Barton Road, whose lines in the novel are grotesque, chilling and beautiful. At once an unforgettable mystery and a meditation on race, nationality, and family legacies, White is for Witching is a boldly original, terrifying, and elegant novel by a prodigious talent.
Winner of the Somerset Maugham Award
One of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists
From the acclaimed author of Mr. Fox; & Boy, Snow, Bird
Be prepared to be enchanted… – Fantasy Book Critic
Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, 2016
The greats of genre fiction, Stephen King and George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones), lead the fanfare for HEX–a good sign that Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s debut English novel is both terrifying and unputdownable in equal measure.
Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay until death. Whoever comes to stay here, never leaves.
Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town that is haunted by the Black Rock Witch—a 17th-century woman whose eyes and mouth have been sewn shut. Blind and silenced, she walks the streets, entering homes at will. She’s been known to stand next to a child’s bed for nights on end–and no one knows why. So accustomed, in fact, to have her about, the townsfolk have almost grown to forget she’s there…or threat she poses a threat. According to the legend: if the Black Rock Witch’s stitches are ever cut open, the whole town will perish.
The curse must not be allowed to spread. The elders of Black Spring have used high-tech surveillance to quarantine the town. Everyone is also required to use a cool little app they call “HEX”, which enables the town’s residents to track the witch and report on her whereabouts. Frustrated with being kept under lockdown, though, the town’s teenagers decide to break the number one town rule and go “viral” with the haunting, and in so doing, they send the town spiraling into the heart of a very dark nightmare.
Thomas Olde Heuvelt wrote his debut novel at the age of sixteen after studying English Language and American Literature in his hometown of Nijmegen, Netherlands, and at the University of Ottawa in Canada.
As a proud skeptic, supernatural stories rarely send a tingle down my spine. Witches, ghosts, and monsters are fun, but it’s people who have the ability to scare me. And yet, Heuvelt blends the supernatural and the natural in a way that sent me to bed shivering. – Matt Mollgaards
The Witching Hour (The Mayfair Witches, Book One) by Anne Rice, 1990
“We watch and we are always here.” – The Talamasca*
This book is just plain sexy. I don’t know how Rice manages to do it–witches, devils, haunting manifestations, huge emeralds in big diamond settings, dripping Spanish moss, secret societies…it’s all so very titillating.
The evil that blights the pages of The Witching Hour has an intriguing origin. In the 1600’s, in Scotland, a naive young woman, Suzanne Mayfair, learns for a lark how to summon demons. Later, she meets an untimely end; but the demon she summons, Lasher by name, goes on to bedevil the Mayfair descendants on down to the present day–seeing in them the means of fulfilling his ghastly, unnatural “ambitions”. In the process, Lasher turns the Mayfairs into a “witching family”–a witch here being “a person who can attract and manipulate unseen forces.”
Ironically, it’s a witch judge, an inquisitor, who teaches Suzanne Mayfair how to rouse the demon in the first place–an example of Law, in its zeal, fomenting transgression to serve its own corrupt agenda. It’s this sort of complex intertwining of antagonistic forces–moral, psychological, and biological–that forms the basic structural principle of this huge and sprawling tale of horror. Lasher is the real protagonist of The Witching Hour. Is he the Devil, himself? Or, is he an ancient pagan god-turned-demon?–the book’s Irish flavor points to this possibility. What is sure, is that, down the centuries, in Scotland, Haiti, and New Orleans, Lasher appears to the family as a slim, pale, elegant man with dark eyes and dark hair and a hypnotically seductive power over any of the Mayfair women reckless enough to entertain him.
The book opens with Deirdre Mayfair, whose sexual passion for Lasher proved to be so intense, her elderly Aunt Carlotta has had Deirdre heavily drugged on Thorazine since she was a teenager.
The latest and strongest of the Mayfair witches, however, is Deirdre’s daughter, Rowan, a child Carlotta forced Deirdre to give away at birth. Rowan is now a brilliant neurosurgeon with no knowledge of her family’s past. But she is still a Mayfair; and soon we must ask whether Rowan is a healer, as her profession suggests–or a destroyer. It becomes clear that she has the potential for both, and the question as to which will triumph, when, at last, she comes to grips with Lasher, is one with which Anne Rice tantalizes us to the very last page…and beyond.
*Talamasca: an order formed in the 14th Century for the study of the supernatural and whose members often possessed supernatural powers themselves.
The Witching Hour unfolds like a poisonous lotus blossom redolent with luxurious evil. – Los Angeles Times
Forsaken by J. D. Barker, 2014
“She wants to come back…”
J.D. Barker’s debut novel, Forsaken is the first book in a planned series centering around the town of Shadow Cove. The novel was a 2014 finalist for the Bram Stoker Award for “Superior Achievement in a First Novel”.
The book focuses on horror writer Thad McAlister, a literary sensation who just completed what may be the most important work of his career: Rise of the Witch. The novel is told in the form of journal entries by a 17th-century scribe named Clayton Stone, who was tasked by the court to detail the trial of a woman in town accused of witchcraft. The town is frightened of the woman and her alleged powers, and there are rumors she has “followers” living out in the woods. During the writing of the novel, Thad himself had felt haunted by the spirit of the witch. The idea for Thad’s book came from a very old journal of which Thad is very protective. His wife, Rachael, suspects something is not quite right about the book or the journal, but she refrains from speaking about her feelings because of a secret of her own that she fears may be involved in the hauntings. While on a business trip, Thad meets a mysterious woman who makes a request that rattles him to the core: she wants something from him; but what she wants isn’t real–it only exists in the fictional world of the book he has written. Thad begins to question whether he is losing his grip on reality; whether there actually are sinister forces at work, controlling him, “guiding” him towards an agenda the meaning to which he is not privy.
Forsaken is one hell of a read that strikes the perfect balance between horror and atmospheric tension. Barker captures a creepy, gothic tone that works surprisingly well in a 21st-century novel. Cool tidbit: as an homage to Stephen King, Barker includes a character from King’s novel Needful Things, Leland Gaunt (all approved and supported by King himself, of course), a first for a King character.
J. D. Barker has created a world within FORSAKEN that is enough to make you want to leave all the lights on even after you have finished the last page. – Fresh Fiction
Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber, 1943
Norman Saylor considered witchcraft nothing but quaint superstition until he learned his own wife was a practising sorceress. Even then, he still refused to accept the truth – one that every woman knows but no man dares to believe – that in the secret occult warfare that governs our everyday lives, witchcraft is a matter of life and death. Conjure Wife is a masterpiece of witchcraft and dark fantasy and the source of the classic horror film Burn Witch Burn! – Mboten Review
‘There are a lot of fascinating things you can learn about 20th Century America–and America today–by being a compulsive paperback collector. Seriously. It’s like being a Cultural Anthropologist.
‘Let’s take a look at Fritz Leiber’s first novel, Conjure Wife. In fact, it’s a near perfect example. The book has been reprinted around a dozen times by roughly as many publishers over the last 70 years, and each time the cover art and marketing copy tell you as much about society as they do about the book. More, even.
‘First, it helps to know a little about the novel. Conjure Wife was written in 1943; it’s a supernatural horror novel that imagines that witchcraft is an ancient secret shared by most women. Our protagonist Norman Saylor, a professor at a small town college, accidentally discovers that his wife Tansy is a witch. When he convinces her to abandon the mysterious art, the couple rapidly find their luck changing for the worse. Turns out that Tansy’s various charms were the only thing protecting them from an intricate web of curses and counter-spells cast by the women around them.
‘I always thought this was a fascinating premise. If it seems familiar, it’s because the story has filtered into public consciousness via film at least three times: Weird Woman (1944) starring Lon Chaney, Jr.; the Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson collaboration, Burn, Witch, Burn! (1962); and Witches’ Brew (1980), starring Lana Turner. Of course, the concept of a community of witches and warlocks living secretly among us has gradually become a popular fantasy trope–‘ it has been used by authors such as H. P. Lovecraft in the 1920s and 30s (“The Dunwich Horror”, “The Festival”); and Anne Rice in the 1990s (The Mayfair Witches Trilogy); as well as in TV (Bewitched, 1964 to 1972; Salem, 2014 to 2017) and in film (Bell, Book and Candle, 1958; The Witch, 2016).
‘Conjure Wife touches on some powerful themes: the power imbalance between the sexes, the suspicion and raw fear with which men view female sexuality, and the willful ignorance men are capable of when confronted with the community of women–especially when it comes to anything that looks like shared wisdom and knowledge. Every generation has viewed this book very differently and how publishers have packaged it over the years offers us fascinating insight into the way this country has changed over the last seven decades.’ (from a Review by Black Gate. See the full review at the first link, below.)
Review 1: https://www.blackgate.com/2014/02/15/lust-women-and-the-devil-seven-decades-of-fritz-leibers-conjure-wife/https://www.blackgate.com/2014/02/15/lust-women-and-the-devil-seven-decades-of-fritz-leibers-conjure-wife/
Stay tuned for Parts Two and Three…