Winter is my very favorite season. Every year, I wait for the slow downward slide of temperatures, and about the middle of November, I start to watch the sky for that first early hint of snow. If you grew up in a snowy place, you know what I mean. There’s a certain color in the sky and a cold, sharp smell in the air. It’s also the perfect time to read wintry books! Is there anything better than being wrapped up in your favorite blanket with a steaming cup of the hot beverage of your choice and your current read? If your answer is anything other than “No,” we are not the same person. And that’s okay. (But you’re wrong.) Even if you’d rather read about the snow while lounging in the sun somewhere where cold is just a distant memory, this list is still for you!
Each of these queer wintry books is imbued with all the things that make winter wonderful! Or terrible, I guess, depending on your feelings about the cold, the dark, and the fact that the Antarctic is probably haunted. I tried to make sure I kept a balance between genres, and—to the very best of my recollection—there are no holiday books on this list. Instead, they’re all about capturing the impression of that beautiful (horrible) season: winter.
Leech by Hiron Ennes
As is my tendency, I’m kicking off this list with a book that has me completely obsessed, because when it comes to wintry books, Leech reigns supreme. It’s a queer medical Gothic horror novel set in a fictional Northern town locked in the depths of a terrible winter that keeps the residents trapped in their homes out of fear of the deadly cold. In the estate that overlooks the town, the house doctor has died violently by his own hand, and it’s up to the newly arrived Doctor, a member of the Institute just like the deceased, to discover the cause. In fact, all of the bodies of the Interprovincial Medical Institute are doctors because, for centuries, the Institute has been systematically replacing all the unreliable human doctors with its superior bodies, whose mind(s) can overcome any challenge or puzzle the Institute might encounter. Until they can’t. Because the parasitic creature that our Doctor discovers lurking in the cold, might finally be a problem beyond the Institute’s ability to solve.
Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk
Set in a wintery, windswept Chicago of the 1940s, C.L. Polk’s historical fantasy detective novella is the perfect short read for a wintery afternoon, coming in at just 144 pages. Polk packs an impressive amount of story into less than two hundred pages as they introduce us to Helen Brandt, an exiled magical detective on the trail of a notorious serial killer stalking the streets of Chicago. But Helen’s working with borrowed time. She sold her own soul to save her brother, and this job is her last chance to escape the costs of her faustian bargain. If she can locate the killer known as the “White City Vampire,” and bring them to justice, then her soul and her future will be returned to her, and she can spend the rest of her life with the woman she loves. Fail, and she will spend the rest of her eternity in hell, with no chance of ever escaping.
All the White Spaces by Ally Wilkes
In All the White Spaces, one of my favorite wintry books of recent years, Jonathan Morgan stows away on an Antarctic-bound ship, escaping his family and the life in which they wished to trap him. The captain of the ship is his hero, a giant among men who cut his teeth on adventure and who Jonathan would follow anywhere—even into disaster. When a fire strikes the ship, the crew has no choice but to flee across the pack ice to the Antarctic mainland in search of a secure place to overwinter, only to find an abandoned expedition camp full of nightmares. Something in the long darkness of the Polar nights is stalking the crew, turning their own minds against them, and unless they can find a way off the frozen continent, Jonathan’s first real adventure may be his last.
The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember
Can we just spare one moment of appreciation for that gorgeous, icy, cut paper cover? It makes me cold just looking at it. (It also makes me want to throw myself into a glacial ocean, but I think that’s one of those impulses maybe we don’t listen to, Jessica). Speaking of glaciers, The Seafarer’s Kiss is set in/on the glacier that Ersel’s mer-community calls home. Ersel has lived in the glacier her entire life. Despite her desire to see the world, she’s never been further than the edge of the ice shelf she calls home. So when a shield-maiden called Ragna washes up on the edge of the glacier one day, Esrel sees the human girl’s arrival as her chance to finally understand the wider world. But when their secret friendship is discovered, Esrel finds herself facing an impossible choice: give up her newfound happiness or risk exposing both herself and Ragna to the brutal justice of the merking. With no options left, Ersel turns to the god she can least trust: the infamous trickster Loki, whose deals always come with complicated strings.
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
Perhaps one of the best-known wintry books in the horror community, Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching is evocative of the gray kind of winter that hangs over a landscape and makes everything seem washed out and cold. Forbidding. It’s a novel about race and racism, memory, grief, and fear, full of fairy tale imagery and Gothic elements. Miranda is the fourth generation of Silver women to inhabit Silver House, a rambling hulk of a house in Dover, England, that her father has turned into a bed-and-breakfast. Her life growing up in the house with her twin, Eliot, was fairly conventional. The house may have more than its fair share of secrets, but it’s not until Miranda’s mother, Lily, dies suddenly that Miranda finds herself afflicted by new and strange symptoms that seem to be tied to the history of Silver house. Even escaping to university cannot entirely free her from the house’s influence, and when she brings her new girlfriend home with her, Miranda accidentally unleashes a whole new level of hostility from Silver House that will change all their lives forever.
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Based on a real-life event in Norway—a terrible December storm in 1617 that devastated the population of Vardø, a fishing community in northern Norway—The Mercies is a story of love and persecution based on the infamous witch trials that followed the Christmas Eve storm. Kiran Millwood Hargrave skillfully crafts the story of the wind-wrecked seaside village that, within a few fateful hours, sees the majority of its male residents wiped out when a vicious storm sinks their fishing fleet. Now largely without menfolk, the women of Vardø must learn to survive on their own if they hope to survive the winter and beyond. Fast forward three years and the life the village women have created for themselves in the aftermath of the tragedy is upended once again by the arrival of a cold and sinister zealot and his young bride. Absalom Comet takes one look at Vardø and decides it is godless and in need of a salvation only he is fit to mete out, even as his young wife finds herself falling for one of the very women he reviles. And so the witch trials begin.
Cold by Mariko Tamaki
Cold is a YA winter thriller mixed with a ghost story and told from the dual perspective of Todd and Georgia, two queer teens and social outcasts who didn’t know each other before Todd’s death brought them together. Sort of. Because all that’s left of Todd is a ghost hovering over his own murdered body, recounting the events that led to his corpse being abandoned in the snow. And though they were strangers to each other, when she hears about Todd’s death, George feels compelled to find out what happened to him. Cold is heartbreaking, to be honest. On the surface, it seems like the setup for a perfect murder mystery, with a bit of paranormal ghostliness thrown in. But at its heart, Cold is more of a character study of Georgia and Todd as they navigate a world that seems to have no place for them and that, for one of them, proved to dangerous to survive.
The Midnight Girls by Alicia Jasinska
Jasinska’s The Midnight Girls is a wintry YA sapphic fantasy novel set in a snowbound kingdom based on 18th-century Poland. In the Kingdom of Lechija, the frigid winter is marked by a season of festivals and masquerades, sleigh rides and marketplaces. Karnawał. In the midst of all the kingdom’s celebrations, however, two girls stand alone. Zosia and Marynka have been dispatched to the royal city of Warszów on a deadly mission that may well spell the end of their bright new friendship: kill the beloved Prince of Lechija and steal his pure heart. Both have their reasons for seeking the heart, and neither is willing to relent with so much at stake. But as the competition between them escalates, Marynka and Zosia face a fate worse than failure because Warszów has its own means of dealing with monsters.
Looking for even more wintry books? Book Riot has you covered! How about 5 Wintry Books to Read When It’s Too Cold to Go Outside? Or Wintry Novels for Every Seasonal Mood? This might be my favorite article title ever: Chilly and Killy: 10 Great Wintery Thrillers to Delight and Frighten You.