What is Horromance?

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Isabelle Popp

Senior Contributor

Isabelle Popp has written all sorts of things, ranging from astrophysics research articles and math tests to crossword puzzles and poetry. These days she's writing romance. When she's not reading or writing, she's probably knitting or scouring used book stores for vintage gothic romance paperbacks. Originally from New York, she's as surprised as anyone that she lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

Genre portmanteaus are having a moment, aren’t they? Romantasy is an undeniable force in bookish spheres these days, and I, for one, would love to see horromance blossom in a similar way. At first blush, readers who rely on happy endings might not seem to overlap much with readers who wish to be scared. But both kinds of books have roots in similar traditions. And there are readers craving both, myself included!

The Shared Beginnings of Romance and Horror

Gothic fiction paved the way for horror as we know it today. In many ways, gothic did the same for romance. Books like Jane Eyre and Rebecca inspired the gothic romance boom of the mid-20th century. Gothic elements from those books, which were by and large quite chaste, made their way into The Flame and the Flower. That blockbuster bodice ripper put sex on the page and ushered in a generation of historical romances that were operating with different rules than more manners-driven romances like Jane Austen’s and Georgette Heyer’s. That gothic influence continues to be seen in both historical and contemporary romance.

Likewise, Gothic authors like Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe have been hugely influential on centuries of horror writers. Horror fiction dwells on fear. These books ask readers to investigate the forces that cause harm and witness characters trying to escape them. Horror doesn’t have the same kinds of conventions as romance, so it’s quite easy to incorporate frights, both psychological and paranormal, into love stories.

What about Dark Romance? Paranormal Romance? Monster Romance?

I think it’s worth distinguishing horromance as a subgenre of romance from other related subgenres like dark romance, monster romance, and paranormal romance. Plenty of monster romances—books that pair humans and monsters (or monsters with other monsters)—have no element of fright at all. Likewise, paranormal romances, many of which posit a world where humans and paranormal creatures are in conflict, might put characters in high-stakes situations without ever really scaring the reader. And dark romance typically involves protagonists whom readers would be advised to avoid in real life. Think serial killers, mafia men, drug lords, stalkers, etc. They aim to let readers indulge in dark fantasies, but they aren’t necessarily meant to evoke fear.

What qualifies a book as horromance is an emphasis on fright. Readers should be experiencing life-or-death tension at the same time as romantic tension. Therein lies the true link between the readers. We love to be held in suspense, and we love the catharsis of a resolution. Horror novels don’t necessarily have to end with a tidy resolution, but romance generally brings that guarantee.

Back to Gothic

Does gothic romance count as horromance? One part of me says, of course, since gothic fiction is rooted in fear. The other part of me knows I’ve read some romances that are broadly considered gothic that did not raise a single hair on the back of my neck. Obviously, these distinctions are hazy. What scares one person might not scare another. Still, I want my horromance to be undeniably creepy.

Sadly, the subgenre is not as abundant as I would like it to be. Still, there are many fantastic books that will have you cowering and swooning in equal measure. Let’s look at a few. I’ve sorted them on a spectrum from romance-forward to horror-forward.

Horromance by Authors Primarily Associated with Romance

Cover of The Tenant by Katrina Jackson

The Tenant by Katrina Jackson

I love a romance that starts with the unexpected inheritance of a ramshackle house. I wish we could all be so lucky in this housing market! But you know those old houses come with ghosts. This sexy novella follows Noel to such a house, which is haunted by Ruby, a ghost from the 1930s. It’s got Southern Gothic vibes, a touch of family mystery, and things that go bump (and grind) in the night. As for scariness, it’s not a total hair-raiser, but it’s got some genuinely creepy moments.

Her Soul to Take book cover

Her Soul to Take by Harley Laroux

This book, a love story between a woman and the demon she summons, is huge among dark romance readers.  Despite Leon the demon supposedly being scary, he’s very nice to Rae. He’s trying to keep her safe from the cult that wants her soul, after all. It’s the cultists who are the scary ones in this story! This book starts a trilogy and is ideal for fans of that “I hate everyone but you” mentality in a romantic lead. Definitely check your content warnings with this one.

cover of the contortionist

The Contortionist by Kathryn Ann Kingsley 

If you like the idea of a sinister circus, here’s the romance for you. This book also falls under the category of dark romance because our female main character Cora’s love interest is a freaky guy named Simon, aka the Puppeteer, and he is decidedly not a good guy. Cora deals with chronic illness and strikes a bargain to join Simon’s circus family in order to ease her pain. Naturally, she doesn’t know what she’s really signing up for. This book starts a series that follows this relationship across more than one book, so you have to read on for the true resolution.

Horromance by an Author Who Writes Primarily Historical Fantasy

Cover of The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

This atmospheric historical fantasy explores the Chinese folklore of the afterlife through Li Lan, a woman who agrees to be a ghost bride, a person meant to calm a restless spirit through marriage. The Lim family asks her to marry their recently deceased son, who died under mysterious circumstances. Now Li Lan is pulled into the afterlife, guided by the charming Er Lang. Meanwhile, she’s crushing on the Lim family’s new heir, Tian Bai, and she needs to figure out the truths the Lim family is hiding. I am hinting at a bit of a love triangle. Readers’ opinions vary on whether this book is genuinely scary or more eerie, which is honestly true for basically everything on this list. However, many agree it has Spirited Away vibes!

Horromance by Authors Who Write Primarily Horromance

Book cover of The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

Simone St. James is a go-to author if you want books at the intersection of horror and romance. Many of her books could have made this list, but I chose The Haunting of Maddy Clare partially because it was recognized by the Romance Writers America as a standout novel with “strong romantic elements.” In post-World War I England, Sarah is temping. She becomes the assistant to a ghost hunter sent to investigate the titular ghost who died by suicide in the barn she’s haunting. Maddy Clare won’t communicate across the veil with men, so neither Sarah’s boss nor Sarah’s colleague Matthew are up to the task. As the trio uncovers Maddy’s story, Sarah and Matthew hit it off.

Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas book cover

Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas

Isabel Cañas hit it big with The Hacienda, a wonderful horror novel that I wouldn’t quite call horromance due to romance genre conventions. I still think you should read it; it has Rebecca vibes and a witchy priest! Vampires of El Norte hews closer to romance with this vampire story. Néstor, a vaquero in 1840s Mexico, thought his childhood Nena died years ago. But she’s alive, and they reunite. She’s also a healer trying to make her own way in life rather than being married off. Néstor and Nena have a lot to work through, but first, they must survive the vampires.

the cover of Heart, Haunt, Havoc

Heart, Haunt, Havoc by Freydís Moon

Is there a better meet cute than one between the exorcist and the owner of the haunted house? This story follows lonely occult expert and trans man Colin to the house of Bishop Martínez, a nonbinary brujo. Bishop is being haunted by an ex-husband, and Colin and Bishop must unravel the past in order to find a future. Definitely some real frights in this one! If you’re looking for a quick read, this is a novella that kicks off a series.

cover of voices in the snow by darcy coates

Voices in the Snow by Darcy Coates

Darcy Coates is another person known for straddling that horror/romance line (and her backlist is worth exploring!). This book piles on the horrors. Clare doesn’t remember exactly what happened to her before she woke up in a gothic home with a stranger. They’re snowed in, something apocalyptic has happened, and there’s something in the woods outside the house. You might think that’s too much stress, but if there’s one thing I know to be true as a romance reader, no amount of danger can prevent people from falling in love.

Horromace by Authors Primary Associated with Horror

cover of psychic teenage bloodbath

​​Psychic Teenage Bloodbath by Carl John Lee

This book is considered splatterpunk, so be ready for serious gore and serious violence! Susan, bullied for being queer, suffers an accident — or was it? — leaving her in a comatose state. She wants revenge, and the title gives you a clue as to how that’s going to play out. Meanwhile, Susan’s secret girlfriend, Charlie, is developing feelings for another girl, Lynette. Charlie’s dilemma about what to do with these feelings is perhaps a little less urgent than the psychic bloodbath, but the love story does resolve nicely!

cover of the haar

The Haar by David Sodergren 

Again, another book for people ready for gore galore. The Scottish fishing village of Witchaven is facing a threat from American developers looking to evict all the villagers. You know who’s not going to stand for that? Lifelong Witchaven resident and old lady Muriel McAuley. You know who else isn’t going to stand for it? Whatever malevolent force rolled in with the haar, the coastal fog blanketing Witchaven. This book is violent as all get-out, AND Muriel gets herself a delightful romance, the details of which I will leave for you to discover.

For more books that blend genres, check out some dark romantasy titles as well as genre-defying horror novels. Don’t let anyone put your or your books in a box! (Unless you’re moving, in which case, mix books with textiles so the boxes aren’t so heavy.)