Jun 6 2013 3:30pm

Good Writing, Great Stories: Literary Fiction Meets Paranormal Romance

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah HarknessLike the vampire on the prowl for fresh prey, it seems that the paranormal element is on a search for new territory. The hunt is closing in on the Literary Fiction Genre. Is this shift a result of fiction running out of places to go? Or rather is it born out of the desire to get new readers from the Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance genres into Lit Fic? At any rate, the escapism of the supernatural is becoming more desirable to mostly traditional regular fiction readers (not genre readers). People are looking for a way to escape the day to day drudgery of “real life” into worlds of the unknown, the urban legend and others while demanding a more challenging read. Here are some books that are blurring the lines between literary fiction and paranormal romance:

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Much of the story takes place in France and Oxford's Bodleian Library. A vampire and witch meet, and what ensues is a Da Vinci Code meets Practical Magic sort of story.  Discovery of Witches concerns a magical text and the battle of who will eventually possess it. Harkness draws elements of esoterica, wine making and even gemology into the story, something I found interesting, but at some points does make the story read a bit text bookish. Her main characters are stubborn, egocentric and not particularly likeable, but those elements are what makes this book stand out and place it in the lit fic arena.

The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.
True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Illusion and love set in turn-of-the-century France makes this paranormal thriller a must read. It's not paranormal in the traditional sense; instead, it's more the “illusion” of the paranormal. Take a dash of magic and the occult mystery of John Fowles's The Magus and you've got it! This book is so evocative you will crave red wine and Gauloises in no time.

The Radleys by Matt Haig

Peter, Helen and their teenage children, Clara and Rowan, live in an English town. They are an everyday family, averagely dysfunctional, averagely content. But as their children have yet to find out, the Radleys have a devastating secret.

In this moving, thrilling and extraordinary portrait of one unusual family, The Radleys asks what we grow into when we grow up, and explores what we gain – and lose – when we deny our appetites.

The Radleys is my favorite book in this new genre. On the surface it's about a typical British family...but this  family is hiding a deep dark secret, one drenched in blood—and that’s only scratching the surface. The Radley children Clara and Rowan are entrenched in vampire turmoil, along with their own puberty. This book touches on all kinds of taboos, one of the main themes being adultery. Gritty, often hopeless and very snarky, Matt Haig is a new talent on the horizon.

The Taker by Alma KatsuThe Taker by Alma Katsu

On the midnight shift at a hospital in rural Maine, Dr. Luke Findley is expecting another quiet evening of frostbite and the occasional domestic dispute. But the minute Lanore McIlvrae—Lanny—walks into his ER, she changes his life forever. A mysterious woman with a past and plenty of dark secrets, Lanny is unlike anyone Luke has ever met. He is inexplicably drawn to her . . . despite the fact that she is a murder suspect with a police escort. And as she begins to tell her story, a story of enduring love and consummate betrayal that transcends time and mortality, Luke finds himself utterly captivated.

This is a story of immortality and lost love. Spanning many decades and with a large cast of characters, The Taker details the epitome of regret and bad choices. Do we want to live forever? This book will make you ask yourself this very question, as it is a story of self-discovery.  Highly disturbing, well written and with incredible pacing, Katsu's offfering is definitely something to add to your to-be-read list.

Is this new crossover genre something that piques your interest? Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

More titles:

  • The Last Werewolf  by Glen Duncan
  • The Reckoning by Alma Katsu
  • Johnathon Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke


Synde Korman talks music and books on her website Tombstone Tails, along with creating a line of literary jewelry on her etsy site Cemetery Cat Designs.

When she’s not herding cats or creating art, she works as a part-time bookseller. You can find her on twitter as @psynde.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Lizzie Dee
I've likened Deborah Harkness's and Alma Katsu's books to a melding of historical and paranormal. I've thoroughly enjoyed their series and can't wait for the final books! Highly recommend to those who like PNR and Historical Romance.
Rachel Hyland
2. RachelHyland
Hmm, don't know that I'd put Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell anywhere near the PNR category, but I heartily endorse Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf and it's sequel, Tallulah Rising, as more literary versions of what I can only call the sub-subgenre. Glen Duncan is a genius -- if you can get your hands on a copy of I, Lucifer, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I'd add Watch Your Mouth by Daniel Handler in here, as well as Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory. Oh, and Sunshine by Robin McKinley. And most anything by China Mieville.

The Night Circus and A Discovery of Witches I love, love, love (though Book 2 in the latter series I love, er, less), but have yet to check out either The Radleys or anything by Alma Katsu. I certainly will now! Thanks for the heads up -- great post, Synde.
3. CarrieB
I am sooo in love with both Deborah Harkness and Alma Katsu, for slightly different reasons.

The history nerd in me loved Discovery of Witches. Though I agree it can read a bit dry at times (mostly in the 2nd book), I was so intrigued by some things I read that I went and did further research. For me, that's one of the highest compliments I can pay a book.

I have been pimping The Taker books to anyone who will listen for the last year. As someone who grew up devouring the Bronte sisters and Du Maurier and a general fan of the gothic novel, this book tore my heart out. I'm on pins and needles for the last book, The Descent, to come out. The books are very dark and full of nefarious characters all motivated by their own needs and desires. But stripped down, the books are a tale of love and redemption.

I would add to your list, Susanna Kearsley's The Winter Sea
and Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale.

My only wish is there will be more books like this being published in the future. Great post!!
4. juliagabriel
I loved Alma Katsu's books -- her writing is just gorgeous! If you want a taste of her writing, there are a couple of short stories about other characters in the books that I found for free on Amazon. Haven't checked lately but they might still be free.
5. Ian Robert Bell
Literary Fiction meets Paranormal Romance..........

Couldn't help but pick up on the header "Literary Fiction Meets Paranormal Romance" - I have been writing in this mode for some time and would take this opportunity to introduce a couple of my own novels which I have recently published - LONDON UNDERGROUND and its sequel THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOOD (Author: Ian Bell), currently available from all major online booksellers, including Amazon, Indigo Books, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones etc......

Hope you enjoy them.......
6. Bethany van Sterling
Thank you for posting this article, it's great to see literary paranormal/historical romance getting more attention and I'm looking forward to checking out these recommendations.

If any of you are looking for a short read in this genre, I recently published a literary paranormal romance novella called "A Man of the Wolves" on

Cheers! :)
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