Is horror romance a genre? Sort of! Let’s talk about what it means. Horror and romance are both genres that use tropes to build tension, leading up to a satisfying conclusion — albeit in (generally) different ways.
At their most basic, horror romance books tell stories that are a subset of romance as well as being a subset of horror. These books may fall under other sub-genres, including paranormal romance, gothic horror, and dark fantasy, which can make it harder to identify titles that would also fall under the horror romance umbrella. But the books do exist, and are thriving in indie romance circles especially.
Gothic romance has not, historically, followed the main rule of the modern romance novel, the happy ever after (HEA): often, a gothic romance book ends tragically. Of course, this is not always true! At the end of Jane Eyre, Jane marries Edward Rochester; the unnamed narrator of Rebecca remains married to Maxim De Winter. But in general, romance is not the central focus of a gothic novel — whether it be gothic romance, gothic horror, Southern gothic, or any other sub-genre of the gothic — and so it is not crucial that the romantic plot end happily. For example, Wuthering Heights is thought by many readers to be the ultimate romance, but Cathy is dead for most of the book; in a similar vein, I have not read Nancy Holder’s novelization of the movie Crimson Peak, but I am fairly certain it ends poorly for the romance.
Way back in the 1990s, Harlequin had a horror romance series under the Silhouette Nocturne line (later renamed Harlequin Nocturne). Those books, beginning with The Last Cavalier by Heather Graham Pozzessere, were released over about three years and numbered 66 individual titles, but as I understand it were rather light on the horror elements, focusing primarily on romance.
But if you’re here for horror romance, chances are you’re looking for both the scares and that HEA. You aren’t alone — over at Book Riot, Jessica Avery made the case for horror romance five years ago, and there have been book lists on several popular literary sites since, including Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Electric Literature. There doesn’t seem to be a true mainstream movement toward a robust horror romance genre, but there are more books now than there were in 2018, and that’s not nothing. Let’s look at a few of them.
These books range from horror and gothic novels with a romance subplot to historical and contemporary romance with ghosts and paranormal elements to dark, second world fantasy — and lots in between. While I have made an attempt to only include books that fall firmly into both categories, I haven’t read all of these and cannot guarantee that they all contain both scares and an HEA.
YA Horror Romance
His Final Girl (B Mine) by Brooklyn Ann
Wes Carpenter and Linnea Langencamp meet at a 10-day summer camp for high school seniors. Their budding romance is interrupted by a prank gone wrong and awakens an ancient evil and puts everyone’s lives in danger.
The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw
Three sisters, drowned for being accused of witchcraft centuries ago, return yearly to exact revenge by borrowing local girls’ bodies to seduce boys and lure them to their watery deaths. Penny has to decide whether the new guy, Bo, is worth trying to save.
House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig
In this retelling of The 12 Dancing Princesses, Annaleigh begins to suspect that the deaths of four of her sisters were not accidents. As she sets out to find out who — or what — her sisters have been secretly dancing with, she faces a mysterious stranger whose intentions she is unsure of.
Belladonna by Adalyn Grace
Wealthy orphan Signa has been through several guardians, most of them more interested in her money than her well-being, all of them now dead. When the matriarch of her only remaining family is poisoned, Signa teams up with Death to find the killer.
There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins
Makani is new in town, just trying to make friends and maybe start something more with Ollie…but their fellow students are being murdered, and Makani’s past might have something to do with it.
Adult Horror Romance
Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison
Rory reluctantly returns to her hometown to help her sister Scarlett, who is pregnant and single. Then Rory hits an animal with her car, and when she gets out to check on it, she is attacked. As her body begins to change, she realizes that the full moon has a strong effect on her now.
Drawing Blood by Poppy Z Brite
Twenty year’s ago, Trevor’s father killed his entire family, except for Trevor. Now an adult, he returns to his hometown and meets Zach, a hacker who is on the run from the FBI. Together, they face whatever evil is in Trevor’s childhood home.
The Headmaster by Tiffany Reizs
Gwen impulsively applies for a teaching job at a mysterious school run by Edwin, who she has literally seen in her dreams. They quickly fall in love, but Edwin is keeping a secret.
The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh
Celine, a Parisian dressmaker on the run, takes refuge in New Orleans and is drawn to Sébastien, the leader of the underground group La Cour des Lions. But when bodies begin to pile up, it looks as though her new love may be a serial killer.
The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James
Ellie used to be a medium, but she doesn’t speak to the dead anymore. Until her friend and rival, Gloria, is murdered and asks for her help. Meanwhile, Ellie is dealing with World War I veteran James, who has made a career of debunking psychics.
The Unsuitable: A Novel by Molly Pohlig
Iseult’s father is determined to marry her off, but she manages to scare off most of the candidates he presents. Jacob, whose skin is silver because of a medication he needs, agrees to marry her. But Iseult’s mother Beatrice, who died giving birth, lives in a scar on Iseult’s neck and talks to her. CW: self-harm
House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson
Marion becomes a bloodmaid to Countess Lisavet, who shows a particular interest in her. But when the other bloodmaids start to go missing, Marion is torn between pleasing her mistress and saving her own life.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Noemí’s cousin married an Englishman and moved to High Place, where Noemí follows her after receiving a letter saying that she is very ill. At the house, Noemí finds disease and rot, and a young man who wants to help her find out what’s going on.
The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller
Alva’s abusive husband has died, leaving her free to return to New York and fix up a dilapidated mansion. She meets scientist Sam, who wants to help her solve the mystery of her new house’s haunting.
Omens (Cainsville) by Kelly Armstrong
Olivia is shocked to learn that she is adopted and her biological parents are notorious serial killers, imprisoned for life. She sets out to learn more about them, and with the help of their lawyer Gabe, begins investigating a murder her parents swear they didn’t commit.
Starling House by Alix E. Harrow (October 31, 2023)
Opal takes a job cleaning the mysterious Starling House, working for its grumpy heir, Arthur. She just wants to take care of her brother Jasper and get him out of town, but she is drawn to lonely Arthur and the secrets of the house.
Looking for more great reads? Check out our picks for the best historical romance, and learn all about dark romance. And then, sign up for TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations! TBR is a personalized book recommendation service that sends you books you’ll love to read. Here’s how it works: Simply fill out the reader survey and let us know what you want more of—such as best horror romance books—and what you’re not keen on. Then, an expert Bibliologist will read your responses and recommend three books just for you. Receive your recommendation letter via email in about two weeks, or opt to receive your recommendations as brand new hardcovers in the mail in about three to four weeks. Learn more and sign up now!