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Last Updated on March 12, 2024 by Jella Erhard

Explore the allure of dark historical fiction, where classic novels and new reads converge to unveil the mysteries of the past. Delve into stories that blend eerie atmospheres, supernatural elements, and rich historical detail, captivating readers with every page turn.

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darkest historical fiction books

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 Top Dark Historical Fiction Books Of All Time

Stepping into the world of dark historical fiction books is like opening a creaky door to a room you know you probably shouldn’t enter, but curiosity won’t let you turn back. It’s that deliciously eerie blend of the known and the unknowable, where the past isn’t just a series of dates in a textbook but a living, breathing creature with secrets in its shadows.

Why do we love to tiptoe along these shadowy corridors of history? Maybe it’s because these stories are the roller coasters of the literary world. They send us plummeting into the depths of human nature, whirling us past the supernatural, and sometimes, they even loop us through the downright terrifying, all with a historical backdrop that makes everything feel just a bit too real.

From the foggy, gas-lit streets of Victorian thrillers to tales where spirits from the past refuse to rest, dark historical fiction has it all. It’s not just about the scare factor; it’s the allure of unraveling mysteries that were, or could have been, tucked away in the folds of history. 

You’ve got your gothic romances haunting old mansions, horror stories creeping through medieval castles, and psychological thrillers making you second-guess every shadow of the Renaissance. The best part? There’s always a new dish being added to the spread.

Writers today are concocting ever more inventive ways to blend the eerie with the historical, serving up tales that are as fresh as they are frightening.

RELATED: Best New Historical Fiction Books

What kinds of dark tales are stitched into this patchwork quilt? Oh, just your average love story gone wrong amidst a war, ancient curses making life difficult in what should have been a charming old house, and perhaps a pact with the devil in the fine print of a family’s lineage.

These dark historical fiction books dive deep, exploring not just the external horrors but the internal ones that whisper doubts and fears, pushing characters and readers to question what lurks in the human heart.

So, why do we keep coming back for more, you ask? It’s simple: dark historical fiction holds up a mirror to the complexities of the human soul, all while wrapping us in a cloak of the past.

It’s a genre that proves, time and again, that the most compelling stories are those where the ink of history bleeds into the shadowy realms of the supernatural and the psychological. Ready to turn the page? Just remember, in these stories, the past isn’t dead. In fact, it’s not even past.

Projections by S.E. Porter

Unrequited Love, Misogyny and Revenge, Magic and Projection

Projections by S.E. Porter - new dark historical book

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Publication Date: February 2024
Genres: gothic historical fiction, historical fantasy

Synopsis:

Projections by S.E. Porter, right? Picture this: It’s like someone decided to stir up a cocktail of gothic flair, sprinkle in some heartache, and then said, “Why not make it fantasy?” You’ve got a sorcerer who’s basically the poster child for “If I can’t have her, no one can,” turning rejection into a centuries-long grudge.

Instead of moving on, he conjures up copies of himself to roam the earth, searching for someone to love him back—or else. Talk about not handling a breakup well.

Porter isn’t just throwing spells and shadowy alleys at us she tells us how obsession can lead to vengeance, and how maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance for redemption amidst all the magic and mayhem.

If you’ve ever wondered what happens when love goes from butterflies to dark, twisted magic, Projections is your kind of read. It’s as if Porter is saying, “Let’s take a magical mystery tour through the darker sides of love and see what happens.” Spoiler: It’s wild, it’s weird, and it’s absolutely worth the trip and is a great choice for those who love new gothic books.

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

Mystery of the Missing, Secrets and Lies, Atmospheric Setting

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley - dark historical fiction book

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Publication Date: February 2022
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense historical fiction

Synopsis:

Jess lands in Paris with visions of baguettes and brotherly love, only to find her brother Ben has ghosted her. And not in the “forgot to reply to your text” kind of way. His apartment is like a vault of mysteries in the world’s most enigmatic city, and the neighbors?

Let’s just say they’re not rushing over with welcome baskets. As Jess digs into Ben’s disappearance, she uncovers layers of secrets among the residents.

Each door in this apartment block doesn’t just lead to someone’s home; it’s a gateway to mysteries and maybe a few skeletons (figurative, we hope).

The Paris Apartment serves up suspense with a side of “what the heck is going on in this building?” It’s like a puzzle where every piece you place reveals another corner of intrigue you hadn’t noticed before. Foley doesn’t just invite you into a mystery; she locks the door behind you and tosses the key into the Seine.

Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery by Brom

Witchcraft and Folklore, Survival Against Odds, Nature and Supernatural

Slewfoot A Tale of Bewitchery by Brom - dark historical ficiton novel

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Publication Date: September 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction, Horror, Fantasy

Synopsis:

Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery flings you back to 17th-century New England, but forget the pilgrim hats and Thanksgiving postcards. Here, we’ve got Abitha, a young widow dodging more than just side-eye from the puritanical peanut gallery—there’s a whole lot of forest-based spookiness going on.

Then there’s Slewfoot, a sort of forest spirit or maybe a demon (depends on who you ask), stirring up a cocktail of old magic and new world drama.

RELATED: New Books About Witches & Magic

Think of it as a mash-up between a sinister fairy tale and a history lesson you’d actually want to stay awake for. Brom isn’t just spinning a yarn; he’s drawing you into a beautifully nightmarish world where the trees might just talk back. 

So, if you’re up for a dive into a world where every shadow could be friend or foe and where the real horror might just be your next-door neighbor, Slewfoot has got you covered. It’s like a historical hike through haunted woods—breathtaking views, questionable company.

The House of Whispers by Laura Purcell

Gothic Atmosphere, Mystery and Suspense, Supernatural Elements

The House of Whispers by Laura Purcell - twisty historical fiction

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Publication Date: September 2019
Genres: Gothic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Horror

Synopsis:

The House of Whispers? Buckle in for a ghost story with a twist. Laura Purcell’s not just dishing out your garden-variety haunts; she’s serving a full-course meal of chills. Hester’s gig as a companion lands her in a mansion that’s got more secrets than a diary with a missing key.

The lady of the house? She’s wrapped up in mysteries like a cat in yarn, and the walls? They don’t talk—they whisper.

This book’s like that one house in the neighborhood everyone avoids on Halloween. Except, you’ve got a front-row ticket inside, and trust me, it’s not for the faint of heart. Hester starts digging, and oh boy, does she find the dirt—except it’s the kind that might just bury her back.

If you’re up for a story that plays hopscotch with the past and present, making your skin crawl in the best way, The House of Whispers is your jam. Purcell’s got this way of making the shadows dance and the silence scream. So, fancy a walk through a house where the whispers might just answer back? Let’s go. Just, maybe keep the lights on, yeah?

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

Survival Horror, Historical Mystery, Supernatural Elements

The Hunger by Alma Katsu - darkest historical ficiton books

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Publication Date: March 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction, Horror, Supernatural Thriller

Synopsis:

The Hunger isn’t your average historical retelling. Nope, Alma Katsu decided history needed a bit more…bite.

Picture the infamous Donner Party, those pioneers who got a tad stuck and famously peckish in 1846. Now, sprinkle in a generous helping of supernatural horror, because why not? The result? A story that’s part wild west, part nightmare fuel, and entirely captivating.

Imagine setting off for California, dreams of a better life in your eyes, only to find yourself part of a buffet menu for…well, I won’t spoil the surprise. Katsu takes this grim slice of history and asks, “But what if there were monsters?” Not just the “we ran out of food” kind, but the actual, lurking-in-the-shadows kind.

This book is like if Oregon Trail met Stranger Things—a journey fraught with danger, despair, and the kind of dread that makes you wonder why anyone thought crossing the country in a covered wagon was a good idea. Katsu’s storytelling will have you on edge, peering over your shoulder, and maybe stocking up on snacks—just in case.

The Terror by Dan Simmons

Man vs. Nature, Historical Adventure, Supernatural Menace

The Terror by Dan Simmons - classic dark historical fiction novel

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Publication Date: Januar 2007
Genres: Historical Fiction, Horror, Supernatural Thriller

Synopsis:

The Terror: is cold. Like, really cold. Simmons takes us on a frosty ride with the 1845 Franklin Expedition, tasked with navigating the Northwest Passage. Only, things go south real quick—except literally, they’re stuck in the ice, north of everything comfortable.

Enter a mix of historical fact, nautical expertise, and a creature that makes being stuck in the ice seem like the least of your worries. The crew’s fight for survival against the elements, scurvy, and starvation is just the tip of the iceberg (pun absolutely intended).

RELATED: Most Captivating Monster Books Ever Written

There’s something out there on the ice with them, and it’s not just the crushing existential dread of a 19th-century sailor.

Simmons doesn’t just tell you a story; he grabs you by the collar and drags you into the depths of human endurance, madness, and the terrifying unknown. This book has it all: historical intrigue, a survival saga, and supernatural horror that’ll have you eyeing the snow suspiciously come winter.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Mystery of the Past, Power of Storytelling, Gothic Atmosphere

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - modern dark historical fiction book

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Publication Date: September 2006
Genres: Gothic Fiction, Mystery, Psychological Thriller

Synopsis:

Imagine strolling into the murky depths of The Thirteenth Tale, where Diane Setterfield plays the ultimate game of “Whose life is it anyway?” with her characters. We’ve got Vida Winter, a writer who’s made a career out of being an enigma, spinning more tales about her life than a spider does webs.

Then there’s Margaret Lea, a bookworm with a detective’s hat, tasked with unraveling the true story of Vida’s past.

Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale isn’t just spinning a yarn; it’s knitting a whole sweater, complex patterns and all.

If you’re up for a mystery that’s as cozy as it is cunning, this book is like that old, haunted mansion at the end of the street—creepy, captivating, and you can’t help but want to explore every dark corner. So, grab your flashlight; we’re going ghost hunting in the library.

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann

War and Desperation, Forbidden Love, Identity and Redemption

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann - classic dark historical fiction book

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Publication Date: January 2001
Genres: Historical Fiction, LGBTQ+ Literature, Psychological Drama

Synopsis:

Diving into As Meat Loves Salt, think of it as a tinderbox waiting for a spark in the middle of the 17th century. Here’s Jacob Cullen, a powder keg of a man with a knack for making bad decisions, like accidentally committing murder.

So, he does what any reasonable person would do: runs off to join the army. Because nothing says laying low like cannon fire and sword fights, right?

Enter Christopher Ferris, the kind of bloke who can find the only patch of sunlight in a battlefield. When these two meet, it’s less meet-cute, more like a fuse lit on both ends. Their relationship? Think of it as a passionate dance on a powder keg.

So, if you’re in for a tale that’s as fiery as a musket shot and as tender as battlefield surgery, strap in. As Meat Loves Salt isn’t your grandma’s psychological historical fiction. It’s a wild ride through the muck and mire of human hearts in times of turmoil. Get ready for a story that grabs you by the scruff and doesn’t let go.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

Obsession with Perfection, The Power of Scent, The Nature of Solitude and Alienation

Perfume The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind - dark historical fiction book

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Publication Date: February 1985
Genres:  Historical Fiction, Psychological Thriller, Horror

Synopsis:

Imagine you’re wandering through the grimy, scent-saturated streets of 18th-century France with Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Here’s the scoop: Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, our man of the hour, is a freak of nature—no personal stink but with a sniffer that could win gold if smelling were an Olympic sport.

His dream? To create a perfume that doesn’t just smell good but captures the essence of life itself. But, oh boy, does he go about it in the creepiest way possible—murder.

Now, Perfume isn’t your grandma’s historical novel. Nope, it’s like diving headfirst into the dark side of obsession. Grenouille doesn’t see people as, well, people. They’re more like walking, talking scent bottles to him. And he’s not above popping a few open to get what he wants.

RELATED: Best Horror Audiobooks Of All Time

What makes Perfume such a standout? It’s this wild mix of history, horror, and a psychological thriller all rolled into one. Süskind drags you down the dark alleys of human desire and lets you sniff out the grotesque lengths to which someone might go to capture beauty.

It’s weird, it’s wonderful, and it’s downright wicked. So, if you’re up for a stroll through the darker corridors of the human psyche, doused in a bit of historical intrigue, Perfume is your ticket.

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