I’m the first to say I don’t particularly enjoy horror books. I don’t naturally gravitate towards them. But sometimes you do read a book that stays with you, and horror novels do tend to stay with me. So I thought I’d make a little list with my favourites. I know it’s nowhere near halloween and all that, but I rarely end up reading horror books in October anyway, and just grab them whenever I’m in the right mood.
The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling
I picked this up from the library back in 2020 and I had no clue what to expect. I thought the cover was… a crashed car? underwater? Like I said, no clue.
In a scifi/dystopian universe, where poor people just have to wage their life to go spelunking in search of precious metal in order to earn their way off planet, our heroine tricks her way into a contract, only to find out she’s in much deeper than she thought, and with none of the supports she thought she’d be getting.
I’ve recently gone to visit a natural cave and it made me think back to that book. Do you have any idea just how dark it is in there? It’s the perfect setting for a huis-clos of sorts, this character all alone and maybe seeing things that are not there? or maybe there are things in here with her? and she has only the company of her supervisor – in her head – that she doesn’t know if she can trust? Yeah, it was prettty creepy! And at the same time it was also a great story about cooperation, and learning to trust? I’ve still got loads of feelings about this book 2 years later, and I keep telling myself I should try the audiobook, because I’m sure it’s an experience!
Into the Drowning Deep, by Mira Grant
I’m rather a fan of Seanan McGuire, but I’m not really a fan of horror, so I tried this as my first look into her work as Mira Grant, not knowing if I’d like it at all. On the other hand, I do enjoy mermaid stories. Creepy mermaid stories? hell yeah!
A whole ship disappeared at sea, with suspicious videos of the event that everyone thinks is a hoax… but not the sister of one of the deceased/lost at sea. And the film studio that put them on the ship in the first place is launching an expedition to find out what happened… what could possibly go wrong?
I really enjoyed this book, not only because of how unusual the mermaids were, but the reliance on science, and notably that Grant thought “oh yeah, underwater creatures! Sign language could help!” and actually wrote Deaf characters, signing. And an autistic heroine with a very public-facing role, and queer characters, and a lot more! It’s creepy, it’s dark, but it’s also very cheerful in a way, because there’s a diversity of competent people in charge (and some less competent and more bigoted people getting their comeuppance). Also, did I mention creepy mermaids?
The Hollow Places, by T. Kingfisher
What’s a list of favourites without a T. Kingfisher novel on it? It hits that sweet spot between hilarious and creepy as fuck. Have you ever been to a taxidermist’s? A natural history museum? Now take that setting and add a portal to a creepy, creepy world full of unknowable creatures that may or may not kill you (and you wish they would because the alternative is worse).
It was so realistic it gives me the shivers just thinking back on it. And at the same time the heroine was very no-nonsense, genre-savvy, hilarious and very relatable. Another thing I love with T. Kingfisher: older heroines who’ve already been Through Some Shit in life. In this case, Kara’s just gone through a divorce and trying to rebuild her life from scratch with all the anxieties this itself brings. She’s an absolute nerd, you can put yourself in her shoes very easily. Which to me made this all the more freaky to read. There’s something to be said for horror set in the real world…
The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin
Look, I’m not fully sure if this counts as horror, but it’s a middle finger to all the racism of Lovecraft, with a diverse cast of people trying to save their city from both horrible white monsters (literally) and neo-nazis (a less literal kind of white monster) and it was brilliant throughout. Not the same horror vibes as the others but definitely up there, and a brilliant urban fantasy if nothing else. It’s just hard to categorize, and look, “the city is being taken over by weird shit trying to destroy it and kill millions” is pretty horror to me. This book was an experience that’s honestly pretty hard to describe, except that I 100% recommend it.