Five Unmissable ‘Dark’ Novels
When it comes to dark literature, there are some novels that stand the test of time and others that inspire authors across the world to keep on producing amazing horror, ghost stories, and sometimes even just new explorations of classic tropes.
By no means a definitive list, we’ve tried to pick and choose from across the dark spectrum of books, and have included some classics and some newer additions. Not everyone will like all of them - it’s a matter of taste - but each of them is a shining example of work within its genre, and we’d highly recommend giving them all a go.
I mean come on, it’s not a long list!
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
It’s always nice to get started with a favourite, and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is still selling plenty of copies well over a century after it was first published.
A gothic novella, you might be surprised to find that you can easily read this classic Scottish story in an afternoon or less - but if you’ve been living under a rock since, well, 1886, here’s a quick teaser…
Gabriel John Utterson is a friend to the scientist, Dr Henry Jekyll, a typical Victorian guy who’s trying his best to repress just about every nasty thought and animalistic feeling he’s ever had.
Utterson encounters an unpleasant character about the town by the name of Edward Hyde, and soon enough this Hyde bloke ends up killing someone - or so it would seem. Remembering that the sinister Hyde is connected to none other than Jekyll himself, Utterson deduces the Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll. But never in his wildest dreams could he have predicted exactly how the two were linked, and why.
Though you’ll likely have seen plenty of versions of the two infamous characters in films and television, there’s something about the original that’s simpler and somehow darker than the comically pathetic Jekyll and horribly vicious Hyde we’re used to.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Another oldie (but a goodie), The Picture of Dorian Gray is a classic piece of fin de siècle fiction, and you might be surprised to hear, the only completed novel ever written by Oscar Wilde. The epitome of wit and humour even in the 21st century, his 1890 novel still stands strong as an example of the dark side of human nature, much like Jekyll & Hyde does.
Typically Wilde and droll, the story follows the pursuits of the young Dorian Gray as he becomes ever more self-aware, indulgent and manipulative following the comments of his quick-witted friend Lord Henry Wotton and gentle portraitist Basil Hallward.
As his deeds grow ever darker and uglier, so does the painting of himself that Dorian hides in his attic, while outwardly the angelic Gray remains always the same, unchanging despite the horrors and atrocities he commits.
Deeply unsettling and yet hard to put down, this short novel isn’t one to be missed by anyone who claims to love the dark and macabre.
Vicious by V. E. Schwab
Released in 2013, Schwab herself has described this novel as a cross between Marvel and Dexter. Though there are no flying superheroes in this story, there’s an inner darkness to Vicious’s characters that’s evident right from the start.
The story follows two university friends in flashback, Victor and Eli, as they discover a pattern in survivors of near-death experiences that suggests dying - in the right circumstances - can be enough to awaken superhuman abilities.
Determined to try this for themselves (whilst congratulating themselves on their own genius), the pair proceed to orchestrate their suicides and subsequent resuscitation. The results aren’t quite as predicted.
10 years later, when Victor escapes from the prison to which Eli sent him, he’s intent on getting his revenge and bringing down his former best friend.
With characters who are morally grey right from the start, Vicious is a refreshing twist on the superhero trope that exhibits the true darkness of human nature and how ego and attitude can go a long way to bringing out the worst in people. Though a full-length novel, it’s hard to put this one down once you’ve started - so make sure you’ve got plenty of snacks and a good cuppa on the go.
Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
One look at this author’s Instagram feed and you can see she’s part of the gang. Dark, gothy and unholy as hell, Wicked Saints is the fantasy novel for modern goths seeking something blood-drenched, angsty and icy.
The first instalment of the Something Dark and Holy trilogy, the story follows Nadya, a girl who can speak to the gods, as she journeys from her now-destroyed home in the magic-less Kalyazi to seek vengeance on the heretic blood mages of Travania.
Forging an alliance with two other war refugees and their traitorous Travanian friend, Nadya must betray the divinity she’s always believed in, in order to summon the dark magic she needs to survive.
Bitter and beautiful, Wicked Saints might have a fair few complex names for your mental tongue to trip over, but is a surprisingly brutal beginning to a promising series.
The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness
Not so much a singular novel as a trilogy, these books begin with A Discovery of Witches, which you might have seen advertised as a television adaptation from Sky.
Following the story of the last living descendant of Bridget Bishop, the first witch burned at Salem, the books explore a modern world where vampires, witches and daemons live among us, unseen and unrecognised by all but each other.
Diana Bishop is an American living and working as a researcher at Oxford University when she discovers a strange and enigmatic manuscript in the Bodleian Library. Though remarkably adept at using her own witchy powers, Diana can’t fail to notice the strangeness of the pages, script running across them, both there and not there at once.
Stubbornly, she sends it back. Of course, this is much to the dismay of every vampire, witch and daemon in the vicinity, who she soon learns are all determined to get their hands on the manuscript they believe to be the Book of Life, and the key to the survival of their species.
Neither a classic vampire piece of literature nor a classic witch story, Deborah Harkness nevertheless puts her historian’s mind to good use with this funny, heartwarming story of mystery, history, love and found family. If you’ve ever wished for an author that explores the convoluted histories of their immortal characters, then this is the trilogy for you. Each and every moment is grounded in truth and reality to draw you right in.