Dark times often call for some kind of escape, and for many people (myself included), that escape comes in the form of reading the most terrifying book you can get your hands on. Scary Stories is a space where you can practice being brave and learn how to deal with internal and external worries and fears.
Every once in a while you might come across a book that’s too scary and you need to put it in the freezer like Joey Tribbiani does with his copy of the brilliant in this episode of Friends (my freezer book is A head full of ghosts by Paul Tremblay), but horror can also be fun! Shouting “silly” or “oh no” or “absolutely not” out loud while reading a book can be cathartic.
To encourage everyone to read scarier books, I’ve compiled a list of horror novels, novels, and graphic novels that I think are well worth the scares.
People don’t often consider horror and romance to go together. With Our women under the sea, Julia Armfield has crafted a modern fairy tale that is as deeply heartfelt as it is unsettling and bizarre.
After her mission on the high seas takes a disastrous turn, Leah returns to dry land a changed woman. She wanders aimlessly around her apartment, neither eats nor drinks, and runs the bathroom faucet for hours on end. It’s up to Miri, Leah’s wife, to search for answers. What happened to Léa at the bottom of the ocean? Why didn’t the company Leah worked for answer Miri’s phone calls? And most importantly – is the woman who returned to Miri the same woman she fell in love with all those years ago?
Space is, undeniably, terrifying. Even scarier is the thought of being trapped in a haunted spaceship filled with horribly mutilated corpses that have been missing for decades. If you’re like me, you chased the top of aliens and Event horizon since the first time you looked at them, and dead silence by SA Barnes could be exactly what you are looking for.
The Aurora, a luxury liner, has been missing for 20 years, so naturally it’s the last thing Claire and her rambling and instantly adorable crew expect to find after picking up an emergency signal deep in the ocean. ‘space. Once aboard the Aurora, it becomes clear that something profoundly sinister has happened to the ship and its passengers, and a lucrative business quickly turns into a struggle for survival. I dare you not to hold your breath as Claire and her companions navigate the haunted corridors of the Aurora. dead silence will have you questioning every bump of the night you hear.
In the America of P. Djèlí Clark, the demons wear white hoods. Literally. Hell opened and spat out the Ku Klux who for years had sown fear and violence across the country. Standing in their way is a black woman named Maryse Boudreaux, a magic sword, and a tough-as-nails resistance band that you’ll support from page one to the very last. ring shout is a nonstop action thriller that pulls no punches; it’s fun as hell and filled with truly gruesome body horror (this one’s not for the faint-hearted), and Clark doesn’t shy away from the history and terrifying nature of racism.
This is definitely one of my favorite horror novels I’ve read. years, and I hope more people will seek it out and enjoy it as much as I do.
bog body by Declan Shalvey, Gavin Fullerton
Located in the secluded mountains just outside of Dublin, bog body by Declan Shalvey and Gavin Fullerton is a brutal and beautifully illustrated survival story that will have you biting your nails. When a young Irish mobster – badly injured, unarmed and on the run from a job gone wrong – encounters a woman who has become lost in the woods, they are forced to band together to survive in the desolate bog that separates them and safety.
bog body thoroughly pushes the boundaries of its genre. It’s an unrelenting story of violence, regret, and ghosts that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it. It’s only a matter of time until A24 discovers this comic and adapts it to the big screen.
If you’re a fan of stories that feature cult-like religion, examinations of race and misogyny, and – you guessed it – terrifying and immensely powerful witches, then The year of witchcraft by Alexis Henderson is the perfect book for you.
Set in a Puritan society, Immanuelle Moore’s mere existence brought shame to her family. For years, Immanuel has kept her head down and followed the rules, but when the spirits of neighboring Darkwood give her an unexpected gift, she quickly discovers that complacency is no longer an option. Henderson has crafted a terrifying, heart-pounding, and surprisingly romantic feminist fantasy that you’ll tear through in a day.
What do you get when you cross paths with a passing anarchist, a bloodthirsty demon, and hypocritical cult-like ideologues? The answer is Margaret Killjoy’s totally crazy short story, The lamb will slaughter the lion.
Following the suicide of an old friend, Danielle Cain – a queer traveler and punk – sets her sights on Freedom, the town of utopian squatters he called home, in search of answers and, perhaps, hope. ‘a closing. What Danielle finds instead is a three-wooded, blood-red spirit who has been summoned by the townspeople to serve as judge, jury, and executioner. Nothing good ever comes from inviting a terrifying demon into your home, no matter how punk rock it is, and Danielle soon finds herself in a fight for her life when it backfires on the people of Freedom.
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but The grip of it by Jac Jemc has, by far, one of the most unsettling covers I have ever come across. A picture alone doesn’t do the terrifying, half-hidden faces enough justice, so you’ll just have to trust me here and grab a copy to see it (and them) for yourself.
When James and Julie move into their new home, strange and monstrous images (resembling those on the cover) begin to appear on the walls, and hidden pieces within rooms appear and disappear during the night. Stranger and more alarming still are the bruises that appear on Julie’s body and the way they seem to mirror the stains on the walls of their house.
Like all good horror stories, the closer they get to the truth about what’s going on, the more disjointed and dangerous James and Julie’s lives become.
The nest by Kenneth Oppel
Don’t be fooled by the fact that you’ll find this book in the children’s section of your local independent bookstore. Kenneth Oppel’s terrifying novel The nest might be one of the best horror stories ever written. It’s a perfect examination of what poorly treated, or entirely untreated, anxiety and trauma can do to a person, with a healthy dose of the weird and supernatural thrown into the mix.
That of the Nest the young protagonist, Steve, can count his worries on both hands. Most of all, he worries about his newborn baby brother, who is too small and too weak to fight off the devastating disease he has. Steve also worries about his parents, who are understandably struggling to cope with the thought of losing their youngest family member. When a mysterious and beautiful (and, to readers, instantly sinister) angel appears to Steve in his dreams and offers to “fix” his baby brother, he begins to think his nightly prayers have been answered. All Steve has to say is yes, a powerful and dangerous word that cannot be easily taken back, and all his worries will go away.
As in all great Gothics, the magnificent and remote estate which lies at the heart of The Hacienda of Isabel Cañas harbors a malevolent presence. Set in the wake of the Mexican War of Independence, The Hacienda is as much a work of historical fiction as it is a ghost story. After Beatriz’s father is brutally executed and her home is destroyed, she finds some solace in the marriage proposal of the handsome and charming Don Rodolfo Solórzano. She ignores the rumors of her first wife’s sudden death and chooses the safety of her estate instead. Things quickly take a turn when Beatriz is plagued by violent nightmares upon her arrival. Desperate for answers, she turns to a (hot) local priest who keeps his own secrets close.
The Hacienda is a beautiful and gruesome tale that touches on folklore and religion, and will leave you with a huge hangover. If Isabel Cañas’ debut book is this gripping and terrifying, then I can’t wait to see what’s to come next.
I didn’t think it was possible to make “The Fall of House Usher” weirder or more twisted than it already is, but T. Kingfisher did it (and did it extremely well) . What moves the dead is an expert reimagining of a disturbing horror classic that will give you goosebumps.
When Alex Easton, a retired soldier, learns that a childhood friend is dying, they go up and make way for the Usher estate to be with her in her final moments. What Alex discovers upon arrival is a rapidly falling house, nightmarish fungal growths (fans of Mexican Gothic, another spectacular horror novel, will love this book), a nightmarish lake and dead bunnies that don’t always stay dead. Kingfisher’s writing is deeply unnerving and incredibly clever. You’ll never look at mushrooms the same way again.