What makes a fantasy novel “Gothic”?

Author and blogger Paul Semel (PaulSemel.com) recently interviewed Uproar Books author Jamie Thomas and asked what makes her novel ASPERFELL—or any novel, for that matter—a “Gothic” fantasy. Here’s what she had to say…

First, let’s separate Gothic fantasy as a genre from Gothic fantasy as a writing style. The genre of Asperfell is Gothic fantasy, but I could just as easily have written it in contemporary English. While it’s true that many of the novels we consider to be Gothic masterpieces were written in the Victorian era (Jane EyreThe Mysteries Of UdolphoFrankensteinThe Fall Of The House of Usher, etc.), what made them Gothic wasn’t necessarily their writing style, but the elements that they included — a checklist, if you will, of tropes that any piece of self-respecting Gothic fiction had to have to earn the title.

First, and perhaps most important, Gothic fiction must have an incredibly atmospheric, foreboding, and probably haunted setting. This is traditionally a house or a mansion or, in the case of Asperfell, a Mage-prison, but it is always a place that is so wholly realized through descriptive writing that the reader feels utterly transported. If a Gothic novelist has done their job, the setting should feel like a character in itself, tangible and real.

Most Gothic novels have an innocent heroine, an ingenue, if you will, and an anti-hero, also known as the Byronic Hero, who is tortured by his dark past. There is usually romance between them, though whether it ends well is not always certain. There is usually something sinister, possibly supernatural in nature, lurking at all times, a pervasive sense of foreboding and doom. The use of metaphor is heavy handed, particularly in relation to the mysterious and secret. This sometimes ties to omens or visions of doom, perhaps a prophecy of some sort tied to the setting or the characters. And, finally, emotions always run high in Gothic fiction. Drama abounds, and there is a great deal of wailing and swooning over it.

You know, this is really good stuff. Maybe I should write a manual. Should I write a manual? I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna write a manual.

Because Asperfell is a Gothic fantasy, it also has elements essential to that genre as well, which, I think, is what keeps it from being too dark. Fantasy, to me, is so much about hope and courage and adventure, and Briony certainly embodies all of those things and more. Inexperienced she may be, but damsel in distress she most certainly is not.

As an English teacher and a lover of Victorian and Gothic novels and poetry you are probably expecting to hear that I planned to use a more classical, romantic style all along, but I must sadly disappoint — Asperfell‘s style is only a slightly more formal and loquacious deviation from my regular writing style, which is why I am terrible at business communications. Brevity is not my forte! Really, the comedy of manners aspect of the story influenced the writing style more than anything, and once Briony’s voice was established, the writing flowed naturally.

Check out Paul Semel’s full interview with Jamie right here!

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