Even if readers have never heard of the term gothic romance, many are familiar with the motif of a scared white woman in a white dress running for her life with something dark and forbidding behind her. This collection takes that and makes it even better. Featuring 20 original stories, these modern explorations of the genre cover all the major tropes including various monsters and ghosts, a werewolf, a servant of Satan, and more. Even better, they include horrors that are more based in real life and historical atrocities that women and other minorities have had to face over the years. While there are moments that get close to this in older works, this collection brings it to the forefront and shows us what we have been missing out on all these years.
The inclusivity of these stories is the strongest point of this collection as it allows for a wider range of options that hold deeper meanings than would otherwise be possible. The very first story shows how different this collection is with the main character being a black woman who yearns to raise a captain’s children as her own. This is by far not the only story that features a woman of color. There are a wide range of ethnicities, sexualities, genders, and even untranslated languages showing clearly that these strong emotions can resonate beyond language and other forms of difference. That said, they do include plenty of the more traditional subversions of the genre too. Gothic romance stories have traditionally provided a stage for explorations of female agency in particular. It is no surprise then that most of them are horror stories at their heart. These stories mostly show how women have been placed in positions where they have very little control over anything including their own survival. This is explored here too, but it is made explicitly clear why those things are wrong. Thankfully, we also see more examples of women who have found ways of rejecting this or even bringing to light the wrongs done to women who have already fallen victim to these sexist monstrosities.
I honestly love so many moments in so many stories, but there are a few that stand out from the bunch. Nika’s “Secrets in the Silk” is an example of a Taiwanese story that is both very well written and gorgeously drawn. In it, we see a woman supporting another woman and giving her the credit she deserves. It is a beautiful example of the monster being a victim and not a villain. “One More Cup,” by Barbara Guttman, features a woman who grows a fascination with a monster killing local villagers, but contentedly visiting her for tea. They share their lives through her window and they slowly build a relationship. It is a wonderful nod to the classic subversion that shows women who happily end up dating monsters. This draws attention to the perspective that these monsters are better options than the suitors more traditionally made available to them. Finally, written by H. Pueyo, with art by Dante L., “Fazenda do Sangue Azul” tells the story of a renegade journalist in Brazil who is hiding out in an abandoned plantation. He quickly discovers a lonely, and very friendly, Serbian ghost. The art here is breathtaking and the fact that it features two men shines a spotlight on a strong lack in the genre as a whole with an exception of shōnen-ai. It shines a light on historical erasure as well. Other stories in the anthology also cover these topics, but this one has so many other little touches and moments that it stands out above the rest. There is simply too much to praise in this short story!
The anthology includes many extras and they are simply excellent as well. It starts with a forward by Jacque Nodell, which gives a very good overall history lesson on the genre in comics, the genre’s start in literature with a name drop of The Castle of Otranto, and the way it is seen in television with a mention of Dark Shadows. They know their audience. For those who aren’t familiar, she lists the common conventions including, “isolated and eerie locations, inherited crumbling manors, family secrets, ghosts, secret identities, and passions heightened by mysterious circumstances.” She even talks about the extras often included in these comics such as the advice columns and quizzes showing how the genre influenced them. Speaking of quizzes, this collection has one! Titled, “How Grave is Your Misfortune,” it was a fun and well thought out inclusion. I hadn’t felt the urge to take a quiz like that in a long time, but I love the little references included in it and the conclusions for each result were simply perfect. There are also the common pin-up artwork pages, some bookmarks that would be a joy to use, and fairly detailed bios for the creators at the end.
Overall, this anthology is everything I could have wanted. If you even think you might be interested, pick it up. This is a must buy for any fan of Gothic Romance and even for those who aren’t. This beautiful collection shows how gothic romance can be soooo much better if it includes more than just white girls in white dresses running for their lives.
(W) Various (A) Various (CA) Leslie Doyle
Publisher: RENEGADE ARTS ENTERTAINMENT / BEDSIDE PRESS
Diamond Code: Gothic Tales of Haunted Love SC JAN181855