For a minute there, literary vampires became better known for attending high school than sucking blood, and werewolves started spending more pages peeking at pretty girls through the trees than terrorizing the townspeople. With paranormal romantic activity at an all-time high, it was easy to forget paranormal fiction is weird—like, by definition. If you love your supernatural romance, but also like your creatures plenty weird, here are 5 takes on fantasy beings that are sometimes sexy, but always wonderfully, unsettlingly strange.
Inland, by Kat Rosenfield
The creature: Mermaids
The story: After she became the sole witness to her mother’s mysterious drowning death, Callie’s father took her far away from the sea. Inland, she suffers from an undiagnosed condition that leaves her gasping for breath, and shrinks her life into a series of hospital visits. When her father’s work takes them back to the shore, the condition miraculously clears—but something more menacing arises, a dark shape in the murky waters around their Florida home. Callie’s growing strength and dangerous longing for the sea threaten to deliver her to the same fate as her mother, even as she falls in love with an earthbound boy and imagines, for the first time, a normal life. At the risk of revealing too much, I’ll just say that nowhere in these pages is there any creature remotely resembling Ariel.
Moonshine, by Alaya Johnson
The creature: Vampires
The story: This isn’t just paranormal, it’s a gorgeously evoked alternate history set in 1920s America, where flappers and feminists brush elbows with things that go bump in the night. When heroine Zephyr Hollis—a suffragette and demon hunter’s daughter with a fateful immunity to vampires—is enlisted by a sexy supernatural to help him take down a vamp crime boss, her life gets a lot more complicated. Johnson throws vampire drug addiction, a hot genie, and fun 1920s archetypes—like tough girl reporter Lily Harding—into the mix, creating a Jazz Age cocktail that’s nigh irresistible.
Half Bad, by Sally Green
The creatures: Witches
The story: Nathan is the son of a dead White Witch mother and a fugitive Black Witch father—Marcus, the last of his deadly kind. Raised by his grandmother, he grew up on the fringes of society, and as a young teen is kidnapped by the White Witch Council, kept in brutal captivity, and forced into training as a weapon against his father. But Nathan knows he’s a time bomb: if he reaches his 17th birthday without a coming of age ceremony in which he claims his three magical gifts, he’ll die. Green imagines a bloody world of witches that exists alongside our own, and a darkly original magic system that’s at its most interesting when she’s exploring Nathan’s abilities, as the only “Half Code” in his world.
Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake
The creatures: Ghosts
The story: Teenaged ghost hunter Cas Lowood knows his line of work is dangerous—his father was killed in the line of duty, and now Cas has taken up his dagger. But he’s never encountered anything like Anna before. Known as “Anna Dressed in Blood” (SO GOOD, TELL ME MORE), she’s the ghost of a girl killed on her way to a dance, who violently slaughters anyone who dares step foot into the old Victorian home she haunts. But for some reason, she doesn’t kill Cas. This moment of mercy leads to a budding friendship, in which she helps him track down the creature that killed his father, and he untangles her heartbreaking backstory. Blake never lets up, introducing creepy twists right up until the final page.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente
The creatures: Fairies
The story: A little girl named September (this title skews middle grade), grown bored with her midwestern life, lets the tricky Green Wind carry her away to Fairyland one night, and there she encounters an evil marquess, a friendly wyvern, a fey cinema I’d kill to go to, and all other manner of supernatural creatures and strange places on her journey to retrieve a witch’s spoon. Valente mashes the perfectly logical nonsense of Lewis Carroll with a fairy-tale sensibility that makes her books feel like the final authority on faeriekind. This endlessly creative, genuinely enchanting tale, the first in a series, reads like something you might’ve dug up from the back shelf of an eccentric bookshop that appeared one day on a side street, then disappeared the next.