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Spooky Design Trends in 2021 Horror Fiction

By Beccy Fish, Giulia Caparrelli, Juliette Tulloch and Maisie Jane Garvin


As soon as the calendar switches to October and the leaves turn their golden autumnal colours, we know that Spooky Season is upon us, and what better way to submerge yourself in Halloween than with a warm drink and a horror novel? This year, especially, has offered us an exciting, new, wide variety of the genre to explore, many of which involve some very enticing covers that every horror fanatic must add to their list! But what elements of these designs are most common in this category of fiction? This issue, we are exploring some of the artwork that is synonymous with this time of year: ghouls, hands and tarot cards galore!


Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw


A mansion in Japan that was built atop the bones of a bride, where the walls are fortified by the bones of further sacrifices, wouldn’t be at the top of many engaged couples’ wedding venue lists... until now. Promised to surprise, this novella (only 128 pages) will be released on 19 October 2021.


A key element in horror designs is of course establishing the ghoul that will be terrorising our characters. We can assume that the faceless creature here dressed in white is none other than the bride who haunts the Japanese mansion. The movement of her hands and hair brings her closer to life; the artist truly captured her spirit-like nature as well as the brutality she promises to inflict, conveyed by her red mouth that unsettlingly resembles the blood of her potential victims. The red used in the typography is also strong, pulling the impact closer towards the audience, emphasising the "blackened" typography with a matching tone. The slim serif font is also a common device across horror covers, as it is more, almost unexplainably, chilling. The author’s name cascading down the left side is also an interesting choice, representative of a cobweb in the corner, or blood slowly dripping down. Such a simple colour palette, with the striking power of the phantom’s photo, creates one of the most effective methods to draw us into the story.


The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling


Described as “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell meets Mexican Gothic meets Crimson Peak” by Book Riot, The Death of Jane Lawrence is the latest horror novel by American author Caitlin Starling. Set in a fictional post-war England, the story follows the eponymous protagonist Jane as she starts to unravel an unsettling dark secret lurking in her husband’s family mansion – a trope that never gets old in the Gothic genre.


The book cover, illustrated by Colin Verdi, exemplifies this unravelling of a riddle through multiple red strings attached to what we assume are Jane’s hands, hanging creepily in the air. Portraying limbs on horror book covers is a common trend most often used to evoke ideas of physical deformity, zombie-like existence and gore symbolism. This example is particularly interesting as the red thread can take on different meanings. It can signify blood spilling from wounds in the hands, stitches sewn by surgeons (Jane’s husband is indeed a surgeon) or cunning strings moving a puppet. The book design is clever, haunting and already poses questions in the reader’s mind: is Jane a reliable protagonist? Or are her movements being orchestrated by a hidden, dark force? The colours used are also typical of this genre. Red is a dominating element and is in stark contrast with the pitch-black background. Eerily, the hands have a corpse-like hue, which does not bode well for our protagonist. The overall composition is symmetrical, simple and very effective in drawing the curious eye into this mystery.


A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson


Illustrator Marlowe Lune brings to life S.T. Gibson’s A Dowry of Blood with this cover inspired by tarot cards. Published by Nyx Publishing in January of this year, Gibson’s horror story is described as a “lyrical and dreamy reimagining of Dracula’s brides,” with an emphasis on queerness and betrayal. Main character Constanta must leave her medieval peasant life behind to become Dracula’s bride, but rival consorts seek to undermine what the undying King can offer her and his true horrors will come to light.


Marlowe Lune is an illustrator based in Ohio who captures the Gothic atmosphere of the novel perfectly in the encapsulating dancing skeletons and the subtle gold finishes. Around the edges of the tarot card structure are spooky hands, roses, eyes and daggers, all suggesting a horror that is entwined with romance. You can view more of Lune’s work here. Many other covers are following this evolving book trend, such as Moon Child, written by Gaby Triana and illustrated by Lynne Hanson.

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