The Best Sentient Houses in Literature


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Kristian Wilson Colyard grew up weird in a one-caution-light town in the Appalachian foothills. She now lives in an old textile city with her husband and their clowder of cats. She’s on Twitter @kristianwriting, and you can find more of her work online at kristianwriting.com.

Imposing abodes and creepy caretakers abound in our favorite books, but what about the truly sinister houses? You know, the ones that seem to be watching you, no matter where you go. If that sounds like just the sort of literary escape you’ve been looking for, you’re in luck. I’ve compiled a list of the best sentient houses in literature for your reading pleasure here.

Now, before we get started, let’s talk about what you won’t find here. I haven’t included The Haunting of Hill House or The Shining. Gone are The Elementals and Burnt Offerings. And no, I haven’t listed House of Leaves either. My goal here is to introduce some lesser-known and under-appreciated sentient houses in literature, not tell you all about the ones you’ve already heard of.

To that end, I’ve defined “house” as loosely as possible here. Similarly, how “sentient” these houses happen to be varies from book to book. If you’re looking for thinking, breathing, talking houses, some of the novels on the list below might appeal to you — but not all. Consider yourself warned, dear reader.

Keep scrolling to read more about the eight books and stories with the best sentient houses in literature.

The Best Sentient Houses in Literature

Bitterburn by Ann Aguirre book cover

Bitterburn by Ann Aguirre

A Beauty and the Beast retelling in which the Beast’s manor wants desperately to set him up with his Beauty? Yes, please. The first in a duology of gothic fairy tales, Ann Aguirre’s Bitterburn follows Amarrah and Njål — two people reluctant to trust in others, but desperate for connection. If you like gothic fantasy and romantasy novels, you’re going to love this one.

The Lord of Stariel by A.J. Lancaster book cover

The Lord of Stariel by A.J. Lancaster

The Lord of Stariel has died, which means it’s time for the magical estate to choose its next owner. The late lord’s prodigal daughter, Hetta, has returned home for the funeral, secure in the knowledge that she won’t be the one chosen to take over Stariel in the wake of her father’s death. But Stariel Estate may have other plans…

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire book cover

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

Toby Daye is a half-fae detective whose next case — much to her eternal chagrin — involves the world of Faerie. It’s a place she’s tried to sever all ties with. Now, Toby’s headed back to Faerie — where the royal houses shift and change and take requests — to solve the murder of a prominent member of the fae court, in Rosemary and Rue.

White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi book cover

White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

The Silver House was cursed into sentience. Decades later, the granddaughter of the woman who brought it to life disappears. Suddenly, the only person who knows where Miranda Silver is…might be her childhood home.

Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara book cover

Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara

The main character’s sentient house, Helen, doesn’t play as large a role in the Elantra series as it does in other books on this list. She crops up enough that she features in myriad reviews of the series, however. Besides, I think you’d enjoy this story of magical detectives and serial killings even if it were entirely free of sentient houses.

Smart House cover

Smart House by Kate Wilhelm

A tech bro is dead. Did his hyperconnected smart house kill him? That’s the mystery Charlie and Constance set out to solve in the third installment of Kate Wilhelm’s series. It’s impossible to ignore this sinister house of tomorrow, but you’ll spend the whole book trying to decide if its AI controller is truly sentient…or a convenient scapegoat.



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