The year is winding down, and those who participate in such things are starting to think about the works they plan to nominate for various awards. While I’m still (always) frantically trying to catch up on reading, below and in no particular order, are my favorite novels and novellas from 2022. I may make updates as I continue to read, but in the meantime, hopefully this might help readers (and folks who nominate for awards) find something new to love.
Reluctant Immortals by Gwendoyln Kiste
A wonderful reclaiming of classic Gothic heroines Lucy Westerna, Bertha Rochester, and Jane Eyre, set against the backdrop of the Summer of Love in San Francisco. Kiste takes these imperiled women, acknowledges their trauma and pain, and asks what comes next. Horrible things were done to them in their past lives, but Lucy, Bee, and Jane refuse to let the abusive men in their lives define them. Reluctant Immortals is a lovely exploration of friendship, the nature of monstrousness, and what it means to choose kindness over violence.
The Path of Thorns by A.G. Slatter
An intricately-constructed Gothic fairy tale that unfolds new layers with every turn of the page. New takes on the tropes of Gothic literature seem to be in lately, and I am digging it. A lonely manner, family secrets, a supernatural threat, a complicated romance – the Path of Thorns has it all, and is a thoroughly enjoyable dark and twisty read.
Echo by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
An isolated lodge, brutal winter storms, uncanny birds, and a deeply haunted mountain. Thomas Olde Heuvelt brilliantly infuses elements of cosmic and folk horror into the story of a man whose boyfriend survives a climbing accident on a forbidden peak and returns to that peak with him to help him heal. Far beyond physical injuries and psychological trauma, it seems increasingly likely that something supernatural has a hold of his boyfriend, and they struggle to unravel the mystery before it destroys them both.
The Hacienda by Isabel Canas
Another take on classical Gothic tropes, this time set against the backdrop of an isolated ranch in Mexico. Beatriz moves into her new husband’s house and sets about trying to fix it up and make it a home. Something malignant seems bent on keeping her from getting comfortable, but luckily, unlike many Gothic heroines, she has allies willing to help her get to the bottom of the potential haunting. Lovely and atmospheric, with a wonderful slow-burning romance added in to the supernatural mix.
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
The glamour of old Hollywood meets the glamour of faerie, two beautiful and glimmering existences that seethe with darkness below the surface. Luli Wei stumbles into movies almost accidentally, but once she sees the potential, she’s determined to become a star on her own terms – not an easy feat for a Chinese American girl with limited and often racist roles being the only things available to her. There are avenues to power however, for those willing to make dangerous deals and terrible sacrifices. This is a lush and gorgeous novel full of queer romance, complicated family relationships, and wonderful characters faced with impossible choices.
Base Notes by Lara Elena Donnelly
Like Siren Queen, Base Notes is another lush and gorgeous novel full of queer romance, complicated relationships, and wonderful characters facing impossible choices. But rather than old Hollywood and faerie glamour, Donnelly gives us a chilly basement where the protagonist, Vic, brings the bodies of the people they’ve murdered in order to decant memories from their corpses and create exquisite, one-of-a-kind perfumes. Base Notes is equal parts beautiful and brutal, and absolutely immersive and absorbing. It’s a serial killer story, but also a story about economic inequality, access to resources and power, and even hope, friendship, and love.
The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay
Like many of Tremblay’s novels, the Pallbearers Club is rife with unreliable narrators and unreliable narratives. It might be a story about a man whose life has been irrevocably intertwined with that of a 200-year old vampire, or it might be a story about two lonely, awkward people finding kindred spirits in each other and navigating a fraught, off-and-on friendship spanning nearly thirty years of their lives. Or it might be both, or neither, or something far more complicated. Either way, it’s a delightful look at the way memory and narrative are constructed, and the lies we tell ourselves and others in order to survive, presented as a memoir manuscript littered with interjections and snarky asides from the main character’s maybe-possibly-a-vampire-best-friend.
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
A reimagining of the classic story of Doctor Moreau, focused on his daughter Carlotta, who is growing up on an isolated estate on the Yucatan peninsula with only her father’s hybrid creations as companions. Moreau is struggling with his research and desperately trying to convince his patron to continue funding his work. Meanwhile his patron’s son has designs on taking over the property, which would spell doom for the secret existence of the hybrids. Carlotta fights to save herself, her friends, and her home, while being pulled between between multiple conflicting loyalties. Gorgeous, smooth writing and a wonderful voice that made the story feel like a seamless fit with Wells’ original, while also being wholly fresh and new.
All the White Spaces by Ally Wilkes
Like Echo, All the White Spaces brings hints of cosmic horror to the story of characters trying to survive vicious storms in an already brutal and unforgiving wintery setting. A group of shipwrecked Antarctic explorers take shelter in a mysteriously abandoned outpost after their ship burns. The story focuses on Jonathan, who stows away on the expedition as a way of honors his older brothers’ dream of exploring the Antarctic after they are killed in the war. All the men on the expedition have brought their own ghosts with them into the cold and the dark, each of them harrowed and haunted in different ways, leading to rising tension among the surviving crew as well as rising paranoia, which feels increasingly justified as it appears they are being stalked by something unnatural. Queer, full of breathtaking prose and complex characters, deeply eerie, and just a fantastic read all around.
Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey
A slick and fast-paced novel about complicated family relationships dialed up to eleven. Vera’s dying mother calls her home for the first time in many years, forcing Vera to confront uncomfortable memories about her serial killer father and examine the nature of love and evil. Added to the mix is a man staying in her mother’s guest house, bent on making art out of Vera’s history and trauma, and the possibility that she is being haunted. Sharply-written and a wonderful exploration of monstrousness and monstrous love.
Sundial by Catronia Ward
2022 was a year of novels that pair well with each other, tackling similar themes, and feeling like they’re in direct conversation. Sundial, like Just Like Home, features a woman coping with traumatic past, peeling back the layers of her complicated relationship with her family. Rob brings her troubled daughter to the remote desert compound known as Sundial, where she and her sister spent their childhoods alongside their father and stepmother’s strange experiments and an ever-revolving group of grad students who oftentimes felt like devotees of a cult. Rob lost her sister Jack, and there are things about their relationship and their shared past she doesn’t want to admit even to herself, but which she’ll have to face if she has any chance of saving her daughter. Again, like Gailey, Ward does a wonderful job of exploring monstrousness and love and the intersection between the two, while also exploring the nature of evil and repeating cycles of violence.
The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal
Kowal takes the spirit and vibe of the Thin Man movies and brings them to a cruise ship journeying through space. Tesla Crane, heiress and engineering genius, is traveling incognito with her new husband, formerly a detective who is now trying to simply enjoy life as a regular citizen. Their honeymoon is rudely interrupted by a murder, leaving Tess frantically trying to clear her husband’s name when he is accused by virtue of being the one to discover the body. As if that weren’t bad enough, people keep turning up dead around them, and almost everyone Tess talks to seems to be keeping secrets. Kowal brings together romance, witty banter, danger, mystery, a wonderful setting and wonderful characters, including Gimlet the very best and most adorable service dog ever, and as an extra bonus, offers up cocktail recipes at the start of every chapter.
Saturnalia by Stephanie Feldman
Magic, secret societies, an alt-future Philadelphia in the grip of environmental collapse, and a decadent mid-winter festival where fortunes are poised to be made and broken. Nina used to be a member of the exclusive Saturn Club, now she’s barely making rent, telling fortunes and tending to other people’s properties. When the person she considers to be her last friend and ally offers her a ridiculous sum of money to steal a mysterious box from the Saturn Club, she feels as though she can’t pass up the opportunity. But what was meant to be a simple job turns immediately complicated, bringing up painful memories from her past, as she’s stalked across the city by something supernatural, leaving her uncertain of who she can trust and running for her life. Feldman does an excellent job of exploring the dynamics of power and the cost of magic in a tense novel that also serves as a love letter to Philadelphia.
The House of Drought by Dennis Mombauer
A deeply atmospheric novella following various characters, in various times, as they encounter and inhabit an eerie house in a field in Sri Lanka. There’s a claustrophobic sense of being watched by something beyond the fields, and something inside the house as well, which contains more depths and dimensions than its architecture suggests. Mombauer creatures an effective dream/nightmare-like feel as the story moves in time. It’s a satisfying haunted house story that also blends in elements of myth, history, and examines the horrors of colonialism and humanity’s impact on the environment.
Helpmeet by Naben Ruthnum
Another deeply atmospheric novella, with an effectively claustrophobic and oppressive setting. A woman is trapped in a decaying house with her decaying husband, pieces of him literally falling off as a strange sickness devours him. The set up feels classically Gothic, as does the voice – a wife bound to her husband by a sense of duty, facing horrors as a result of her husband’s actions. The story smoothly shifts to introduce elements of cosmic horror, making what follows far weirder than expected in the best of ways.
The Talosite by Rebecca Campbell
An effective blend of body horror and alternate history, which like Ruthnum’s novella gets increasingly weird in the best of ways as it progresses. A young scientist following in her father’s footsteps stitches together horrors from the bodies of fallen soldiers, sending them back out onto the battlefields of WWI. Campbell captures the perfect voice and tone for the novella, making it feel both like a classic sci-fi horror in the vein of Frankenstein, but also making it feel unique and fresh as well. A highly effective look at obsession, the idea of science gone too far, and the horrors of war.
Uncommon Charm by Emily Bergslien and Kat Weaver
An utterly charming (pardon the pun) novella about magic, ghosts, and deeply buried family secrets. Julia’s cousin Simon comes to stay in her home and be trained in magic by her mother. On the surface, the tone is light, full of snappy, witty dialog, and characters bent on circumventing rules and getting up to mischief. There’s darkness beneath the surface though, and true heart and emotion as well. This is the kind of novella that is perfectly satisfying at its length, but also left me longing for more with these characters and in this setting.
What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher
Another highly-atmospheric novella, drawing on Gothic tropes to re-tell Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. A retired solider travels to the estate of kan’s childhood friends, Roderick and Madeline Usher, to discover that not only is something wrong with the twins themselves, but with the very land. There are unnatural lights in the waters of the tarn and the rabbits in the field move in ways nothing living should. Madeline and Roderick are both wasting away, Maddie sleepwalking and seeming increasingly unlike herself, and Roderick nervous and jumping at every sound. Kingfisher honors the original tale, and transforms it with new twists, resulting in a wonderful re-imagining of a classic tale full of those genuinely unsettling and eerie moments that she excels at creating.
Bishop’s Opening by R.S.A. Garcia
Deep worldbuilding, wonderful characters, and a slow-burning mystery that unfolds into a complex story of political maneuvering and interpersonal relationships. A group of cargo haulers is caught up in an assassination attempt when one of their number impulsively steps into to save a man’s life and winds up being accused of being one of the perpetrators of the attack. Garcia does a wonderful job of creating a world that feels fully lived in, and characters whose lives, complex motives, and often clashing worldviews feel like they extend far beyond the page.
Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk
The perfect mash-up of magic and noir that steadily reveals new layers to its central mystery to build to a satisfying conclusion. Helen photographs crime scenes, specializing in finding the supernatural elements at play that most people are unable to see. Her latest job brings her face to face with her estranged brother Teddy, who is only one of many parties – not all of them human – with an interest in the case. Time is running out for Helen as she tries to solve the mystery, protect her lover Edith, repair her broken relationship with Teddy, and save her own soul. A wonderful, slick voice and an excellent, multi-layered mystery.
Empire of the Feast by Bendi Barrett
A heavily anime-influenced story of warring factions and uncertain alliances set against the backdrop of a sumptuously-built world powered by sex magic. The latest ruler of the Stag Empire wakes up next to the corpse of his previous incarnation, the victim of assassination, with no memory of who killed him or the various complexities of his precarious political situation. He doesn’t have the luxury of time to recover though, but must jump straight into the effort to maintain peace, hold his empire together, untangle his own history, and figure out who he can trust, all while seemingly being haunted by the hungering, demonic entity imprisoned in the nearest sun.
Pomegranates by Priya Sharma
This novella was just released in a gorgeous hardcover edition from PS Publishing a few weeks ago, and I hope folks don’t miss it in the year-end rush. It’s a re-telling/re-imagining of the myth of Persephone, set against the backdrop of the climate crisis, seamlessly blending mythic figures and gods with the real world. Told through three primary voices – those of Demeter, Persephone, and Bear, a human scientist desperately trying to gather seeds for a seed vault, the novella is full of lovely and evocative prose. It flips the traditional story of Persephone as a victim of kidnapping, to give us a Persephone deeply in mourning over Hades, who she viewed as her only true family, choosing to close the underworld in her grief, leaving the dead and the living both stranded in a world of eternal winter. It offers us a lovely balance of hope and heartbreak, and again, I hope folks don’t miss out due to its publication late in the year.