Don’t you love sub-genres? Holy hell, I do!
I love stories that have the guts to mash up several genres and thereby create something fresh. It’s a fun way to take familiar elements and shove them into new settings or explore interesting themes from new angles.
We have no shortage of unique sub-genre mash-ups these days. I’ve written several, but today we’re talking about a new mashup genre I’m diving into with my next release A Night in Ruin. I’m talking about a supernatural thriller / gaslamp fantasy!
If you already know what that means, we could probably be fast friends. But don’t click away just yet cause I’ve got plenty of book recommendations below to add to your backlog.
For the rest of you, let’s break down these two genres and talk about what happens when you shove them together.
What’s a supernatural thriller?
Let’s start with the obvious and get more granular (read awesome) as we dive ever deeper into the abyss.
A thriller is a story with an exciting plot. It’s the kind of story that “pushes you to the edge of your seat.” They’re tense, often involving crime, and can be scary or creepy but don’t need to be.
What about the supernatural aspect? If something is unexplainable by science, then it’s considered supernatural. Could be ghosts but doesn’t have to be.
Isn’t this the same as horror?
Not necessarily. Supernatural doesn’t need to mean horror. If I’ve learned anything in life it’s that Ghosts and vampires can make out as well as, or better than, the rest of us.
But when you combine thriller with supernatural that creep factor starts to become more of a mainstay.
The line between horror and thriller can be blurry already, enough that my wife makes me read and watch thrillers before she does in case they’re too scary.
When you add the supernatural, elements of horror often rear their grisly head.
What’s the difference?
The line between horror and thriller is a hazy one, especially when you’re throwing around a word like supernatural. But there’s a difference.
Horror is a primal fear-based genre. One that plays on your fears, insecurities, or otherwise seeks to make you uncomfortable above all else. Moments of excitement are eclipsed by dread.
Supernatural thrillers prey on your fight or flight instincts. It’s similar to horror but where in horror we feel primarily dread or disgust, in thrillers those emotions are eclipsed by thrills.
Obviously, there’s overlap. There’s no line between the genre’s, just a blurry space full of the unexplainable wrecking havoc on the psyches of our favorite characters as we readers bite our nails and are pulled through page by page.
Classic supernatural thriller novels
It’d be impossible to make an exhaustive list of all of the greatest supernatural thriller novels in a post like this, but here’s a list of classics and stand out titles you should add to your backlog if you’re new to the genre. Some of them skew more toward thriller, others toward horror.
- The Shining by Stephen King
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
- Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
- We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
- Providence by Caroline Kepnes
- The Woman in Black by Kerry Wilkenson
- The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
- The Haunting of Hill House Shirley Jackson
- Watchers by Dean Koontz
- Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
What is gaslamp fantasy?
These days, just about everyone knows what a fantasy novel is while some still narrowly associate it with elves and dwarves and middle earth. They’re not wrong but fantasy can be so much more than that.
Fantasy refers to the setting of a novel. It takes place in just about any world other than our own. And sometimes, such as the case for urban fantasy, it’s set in our world with some fantastical elements thrown in.
If you want to get technical, and I know you do, science fiction is a sub-genre of fantasy. A massive one. But only hardcore genre nerds like me spend time arguing whether sci-fi falls under the fantasy umbrella.
Among poor lay-people, fantasy sometimes has this reputation for being set in the middle ages or similar time period. This was mostly true for a long time. But as the genre has grown, the settings have become much more diverse. And now we’re awash in sub-genres!
Gaslamp fantasy specifically refers to a fantasy set in the Victorian or Edwardian eras or a fantastical world of a similar setting. You’ll also see it referred to as gaslight fantasy.
Isn’t this the same as steampunk?
You’re astute! Perhaps you’ve read my steampunk novel Discovering Aberration and are wondering why that isn’t gaslamp / gaslight fantasy. The two genres are similar, for sure, but like our earlier comparison, there’s some nuance and the lines between the two can get blurry.
Steampunk exists in this interesting space between science fiction and fantasy. It’s also often set in a Victorian or Edwardian like setting. But in steampunk the themes tend to lean more towards fantastical technology while gaslamp leans toward the magical and can be more true to the classic Victorian or Edwardian time period.
Sometimes the difference between the two sub-genres is clear but often these books reside in that hazy area between the two genres.
If this all sounds confusing, that’s because it can be. When it comes down to it, the sub-genre these hazy books ultimately falls into is assigned by marketing professionals or contested by us genre nerds.
Classic gaslight fantasy novels
Once again, it’s impossible to list all of the gaslamp fantasy novels you should read, but I’ll try to list out many of the classics. Some of these may lean towards steampunk, that’s just the murky waters we’re treading right now.
- Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
- Soulless from the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger
- Stardust by Neil Gaiman
- The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
- The Golden Compass from the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
- A Darker Shade of Magic from the Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab (These books have some of the best cover designs I’ve ever seen)
- Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh
- Temeraire by Naomi Novik
- A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
So what is a supernatural thriller gaslamp fantasy novel?
The short answer is A Night in Ruin which is my novella set to be released early 2020. Sign up for my mailing list not to miss it.
But the longer answer is a thrilling book featuring the paranormal with elements of horror set in a Victorian-era setting.