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We each have our own preferred genres of choice. Kate loves horrors and thrillers, really anything that will keep her up at night! And Serena enjoys escaping through hidden doors into realms of magic and adventure. We also read mysteries, historical fiction, graphic novels, etc. etc. And that’s not even counting the multitude of sub-genres contained within each greater genre. In this series, one of us with present a list of our favorites from within a given sub-genre of one of our greater preferred genres.
Halloween is nearly upon us, readers, and while I am still full blown into Halloween mode, I’m also acknowledging that the season is going to end in a little more than a week and I am going to be sad (until I buck up and shift into Winter Holiday gear). So for this new “Diving Into Sub-Genres” post, though I usually switch up my genres that house said sub-genres, I’m sticking to horror, and I am going to focus on one of my favorites: witch horror! You all know how much I love witches of ALL stripes, and while I adore empowering and feminist spellcasters I also love vengeful crones who want to make others suffer. I’m very inclusive when it comes to my witches.
Witch horror can be traced as far back as Greek Mythology when Circe was turning Odysseus’s crew into pigs, or Medea was casting spells and killing her children to get back at Jason for daring leave her. You have a number of witches in fairytales as well, from Snow White’s stepmother to the witch who tried to eat Hansel and Gretel. And lord knows in real life a fear of witches led to a lot of violence and suffering because of a religious based mythology and superstition (the targets usually being women, outsiders, and other Others). Yes, witches have had their place as horror icons for millennia, and now I’m going to share some of my favorite witch tales that, I think, represent the sub-genre of witch horror pretty well.
Now here is a caveat: I’m really going to focus on horror when it comes to witch stories on this list. Even though there are SO MANY AWESOME NON HORROR WITCH BOOKS OUT THERE. But I want to be stringent in the sub-genre definitions, and witch horror is different from witch fantasy or witch historical fiction or what have you. Because I struggled with this decision, I am going to briefly list a few titles that aren’t horror but are still fantastic witch or witch related books that you can also give a go before All Hallow’s Eve next week if you aren’t looking for scares: “Cackle” by Rachel Harrison; “Practical Magic” by Alice Hoffman; “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” by Elizabeth George Speare; “Akata Witch” by Nnedi Okorafor; “Cemetary Boys” by Aiden Thomas; and “Hour of the Witch” by Chris Bohjalian.
Book: “The Witching Hour” by Anne Rice
Wanting to start with a classic, but not a classic that goes super far back into centuries and centuries, it seemed that Anne Rice’s “The Witching Hour” was a pretty good jumping off point. This book starts off her “Mayfair Witches” series, which follows a New Orleans witch family that has passed magic, and a pretty bad curse, down through the generations. When Rowan Mayfair pulls a drowned man out of the ocean and brings him back to life, she has to face the fact that she has strange powers, powers that her family has had and that she has tried to suppress. But what Rowan doesn’t know is that there is also a mysterious and dangerous spirit that has haunted the Mayfair Family. Known as Lasher, he wishes to possess the Mayfairs, and he now has his sights set on Rowan. This book follows a line of witches and spans over centuries, and brings Rice’s alluring yet horrific aesthetic to witch horror.
Book: “Hex” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Also known as the witch book that scared the ever loving piss out of me, “Hex” is definitely a ‘vengeful witch’ story that is horrifying and filled with dread until the very last page is turned. The first chapter had me saying ‘what the HELL IS GOING ON?’ for basically the entire length, and I can tell you that this was a common occurrence through this book. Black Spring is a sleepy small town in the Hudson River Valley, where people live and raise their families. But it is haunted by the ever wandering Black Rock Witch, whose eyes and mouth have been sewn shut after her execution during Puritan times led to her curse upon the town. The town keeps total surveillance on the wandering witch, and has kept her a secret from the outside world. But then a group of local teens decide to show her off on the Internet. And this sets off a torrent of deadly consequences for the town and all who live there. This book is scary as hell and doesn’t hold back.
Book: “The Year of the Witching” by Alexis Henderson
This was my favorite read in 2020, as Alexis Henderson’s “The Year of the Witching” is both scary as well as, in some ways, empowering and severely feminist. It’s a mix of historical fiction and dystopia, a world not ours but in a lot of ways like ours. In the small community of Bethel, the townspeople live a religious patriarchal life, and have banished witches into the Darkwood with violence and rage. Immanuelle Moore is herself a rebellion, the biracial daughter of a woman who ran into the Darkwood to find the witches, and who died in childbirth after her return. Immanuelle is trying to keep in line, but is drawn to the Darkwood by the spirits who live there. They give her her mother’s journal, and as she reads she starts to find out the truth about her mother, and the truth about Bethel. This kind of read will make your blood boil, but will take your breath away.
Book: “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: The Crucible” by Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa
Even though the final season of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” was lame lame lame, I still liked it as a whole because it was creepy, witchy, and a great look at witches with power taken from a bubblegum comic origin. But let me tell you, the comic that it is based upon is SO MUCH DARKER, and that is why it makes this list. Yes, we are following Sabrina ‘The Teenage Witch’ Spellman, as she adjusts to being a teenage witch while living with her witch aunts Hilda and Zelda. But this comic is straight up horror, with murder, dark magic, cannibalism, and black masses like whoa. And I LOVE IT SO MUCH, and I am SO SAD IT KIND OF DIED OUT. I love all the scary stuff that Aguirre-Sacassa brings to this story, and how it still manages to have tongue planted in cheek even as people’s faces are being ripped off and teens are being sacrificed for dark spells. I love handing it to unsuspecting people in my life, and it almost always has a positive, if not scandalized, reaction.
Book: “Goddess of Filth” by V. Castro
Sometimes the witches we deal with in these stories are amateurs, or even inadvertent, and then they unleash something a bit beyond their capabilities that has some serious consequences. That is the kind of horror story that “Goddess of Filth” by V. Castro is, and it’s pretty scary AS WELL AS EMPOWERING (yeah okay, I had to have some empowerment on this list as well, as I’m sure you’ve noticed as you’ve gone through it). Five Latina teenagers are doing some lighthearted witchcraft during the summer after their senior year, but they accidentally summon the spirit of an Aztec goddess, who possesses the shy Fernanda. Now her friends have to try and figure out how to get Fernanda back. But the spirit they are dealing with isn’t what she seems. This book about friendship, identity, imperial oppression, and teenage witchery is fun and pushes expectations of the themes at hand.
Book: “The Witches” by Roald Dahl
Why the heck not end this list with a children’s story? After all, “The Witches” by Roald Dahl is not only a classic children’s book, it also has some scary witches at the heart of it! An unnamed young boy learns about the existence of witches while living with his grandmother in Norway, whom he came to live with after his parents deaths. She tells him how to tell a witch from a human woman, as witches sole goals are to snatch up children and turn them into horrifying creatures. When the boy returns to England, he suddenly finds himself surrounded by witches, and has to thwart the Grand High Witch’s plan to run the world’s children into mice! It sounds pretty tame, but as a child this book is pure nightmare fuel! I hope that all the kiddos out trick or treating next week won’t run afoul any witches like this!
What witch horror books are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!