Is the Gormenghast series any good?

I read good things about it online, and I have an amazon gift card I could get it with.

If it helps, I like slightly dark youth horror like Coraline, A Series of Unfortunate Events, etc, as well as older gothic things like Edgar Allen Poe, Christina Rosetti, Jane Eyre, Mysteries of Udolpho, Dracula.

On the other hand, I used to read Stephen King but don’t anymore as it has more profanity and sex than I like, and a lot of modern adult horror is the same way for me. IF-wise, Shade is great, Eat Me is a little disturbing but okay, Bogeyman is pushing it, Vespers is a little over the line and Varicella made me quit playing IF for 5 years when I first played it.

Would Gormenghast be good for someone with these tastes?


I’ve only read the first book, and that about a decade ago, but I think it could fit the bill. The prose is dense in a 19th centuryish way, and the bad stuff is more grotesque than horror-y, if that makes sense. One of if not the central character is a baddie, but a generally entertaining one. The eponymous castle is marvelously conjured. I don’t recall anything especially offensive.

I’ve heard the second and especially the third books aren’t quite as good as the first, so I’ve been content to stop there.


I think the first two books are interesting and very vivid and worth reading for that reason alone. It has a kind of strange and exotic quality. The third book is pretty different and feels out of place in the trilogy.

They don’t really have likable or approachable characters which might be a downside in terms of pushing the plot along and creating motivation and sympathy, but that just isn’t the type of story it is.

There is no NSFW stuff in it other than murder and death and scheming and ugly people.


It sounds like you’d like it. Although I’ve never made it past the first few pages when I tried to reread it, make of that what you will. I wouldn’t call it horror, unless grotesque is horrible to you. The characters and plot aren’t pleasant but on a scale from 1 to Wuthering Heights it’s maybe a 7.


If I remember correctly, it’s more psychological than physically graphic. Especially the first book is filled with broken characters who do absolutely terrible things.


Thanks for the recommendation! I think I’ll try it


One thing to keep in mind is that Peake originally planned five books in the series, but only completed three due to health issues (his wife wrote a “fourth” novel riffing off of some of the fragments he left behind when he died, but it was never meant for publication and is in no sense an attempt to write the book he would have written, from my understanding). I don’t think it’s a big deal since these aren’t really books you read primarily for the plot, but figured I’d flag that since I think it’s better to have appropriately-set expectations from the start!


I don’t remember much sex or profanity. It’s got a kind of wacky sensibility. Very cartoonish. Gothic in a theatrical way, but not scary. Closer to A Series of Unfortunate Events than anything by Stephen King.

And yeah, it may have three books, but it’s not a trilogy. The series is very unfinished. But the first two books still work fairly well as a package. They follow the same characters. A lot of subplots that begin in the first book are wrapped up in the second. Those two books are really what people are talking about when they’re talking about Gormenghast. I think the second book is the best one, myself, with the first book being essentially a gigantic prologue.

Peake’s health was failing when he wrote the third book, and it feels scattered. It has almost nothing to do with the first two, has a totally different flavor, and is not even the same genre. It’s like a weird footnote to the whole Gormenghast concept, pointing toward what the series might have become with more development.

I think the books have kinda weak plots, but the plots are secondary to the ambiance, and the characters are great. Steerpike especially. He’s one of my favorite villains.



De gustibus non disputandum est, but I wonder why Brian consider Varicella an “adult horror”… albeit I fully understand that drives him out of the scene for a lustrum (true, is extremely difficult, even for one whose has the privilege of reading Machiavelli in its original language, but as noted, I classify its genre as “intrigue”)

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

ps. IMVHO sex and (adult) horror allows for a formidable narrative justapoxing the moment of pleasure followed by the moment of terror (ok, how to examplify without bringing nightmares ? uh, let’s say “zombies storming a bedroom”), so asking for adult horror without sex isn’t asking for good horror, IMVHO.

Yes, it’s great, and I bet you’ll love it. :slight_smile:

The first two books, anyway, which make a reasonably complete story. The third, as others have said, is rushed and odd and shows signs of the brain fever he was dying from.

But the first two are classics.


I absolutely love the 1st 2 books, ‘Titus Groan’ and ‘Gormenghast’. They’re in my all-time top 10 fiction. Apparently Peake was surprised when people commented to him about how macabre they are; he thought they were just whimsical! (There is a lot of whimsy, amid the gruesome goings on!) It includes The Saddest Event In All Fiction IMHO.
The 3rd book, ‘Titus Alone’ is disappointing. The story of the book is tragic: Peake submitted a 1st draft, the editor thought it needed lots of rewrites, but by then Peake’s dementia had progressed too far :cry:
There’s a BBC TV series, too. I watched the 1st episode and thought it was a travesty!.. but then I had to watch the 2nd episode to see how the plot change in the 1st played out! (Still a travesty. Gave up.)