For many, romance has offered the light, fun reads they needed during these cooped-up, high-stress pandemic times. But look, for some of us, horror has offered something equally delighting and escapist. I’m going to call it cathartic to avoid having to explore my psyche any further. It must mean something, though, because science — ahem, Science — says those of us who consume a lot of horror coping with this whole pandemic thing better than the rest of you. Yes. It’s like we’ve been practicing or something. For this very moment. Must be like when I crave ice cream because my bones need the calcium. But regardless of why, I know I’m not alone in craving dark, tropey stories this past year. I know, because 2021’s lineup of speculative fiction has taken a turn toward the dark and terrible. There are plenty of new titles coming our way this year that promise to delight and horrify. So if you’re looking to build your resilience to, you know, the world as it is right now, here are a few that look the bloodiest, strangest, and darkest 2021 SFF books:
A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson
This is gothic at peak monstrosity, and I mean this in the best way. The author’s overview for the book includes trigger warnings that promise blood, gore, body horror, and much more (though if these are triggers for you, do take this seriously). After Constanta is saved by a mysterious stranger, she joins the brides of Dracula. The story swings from atmospheric romance to the brutal and grim, and promises to be brimming over with capital-M Moods.
The Helm of Midnight by Marina J. Lostetter
In a fantastical city, thieves steal the death mask of a notorious serial killer, and unwittingly set the murderer’s spirit loose once more. And this time, the murders aren’t random — this time, the killer is looking for answers.
Come for the thrills of magical artifacts, heists, and monsters walking among us; stay for the depth in the characters.
Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart
It starts with a tale of revenge — a woman whose spent her life imprisoned breaks free with a mission on her mind. Then it adds in a powerful nemesis in the Queen’s daughter, who becomes willing to join forces to avoid becoming her mother’s next human sacrifice.
The two powerful enemies are forced to work together for a shared goal of taking down a kingdom in a very twisty and high-action sequence being compared to Killing Eve.
Yes yes yes.
This Jamaican-inspired fantasy promises to be a compelling debut.
Star Eater by Kerstin Hall
The thing that’s hooked me most about this novella is that it seems to be impossible to fully describe, except that it’s deeply weird.
A sisterhood fights to protect its magical bloodline; meanwhile, heroine Elfreda will do anything to avoid pregnancy. Her escape leads her into a complex world of opulence, espionage, and bloodshed.
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Domingo finds himself in the middle of a vampire gang rivalry in Mexico City, when he falls for Atl, descendant of Aztec blood drinkers.
Full of romance, gangsters, neo-noir vibes, and the incredible writing Moreno-Garcia already stunned us with in 2020 with Mexican Gothic.
Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis
Katrell gets by on the sparse cash she can make of her ability to talk to the dead — until one ghost’s threats to burn everything down if she doesn’t stop turn into trouble for her. Even so, things don’t start to really spiral out of control until one of Katrell’s summonings accidentally raises the dead.
I’m loving the promise of mysterious dark forces and ghosts raising hell in this one.