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Horror List

23 Best Fantasy Horror Books

 

“Bubonic Doctor” by Tom Edwards [ArtStation link]

Horror seems like a strange thing to enjoy reading: why would you want to be terrified while mental images of grotesque bloodshed are burned into your head? What’s wrong with you?

Of course, nothing’s wrong with you. One of the jobs of fiction is to give us clues on how to survive, and seeing how characters (maybe) defeat horrific beasts gives us hope in fighting our own monsters.

 

23
House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski – 2000

This postmodern, surreal book is really two novels: one narrative occurs in the footnotes of the other. It’s a horror tour-de-force combined with sly academic satire.

Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth—musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies—the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.

“[E]ccentric and sometimes brilliant.”
—Publishers Weekly

22
Prodigal Son
by Dean Koontz – 2005
Book 1 of 5 in the Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein series

He is Deucalion, a tattooed man of mysterious origin, a sleight-of-reality artist who has traveled the centuries with a secret worse than death. He arrives in New Orleans just as a serial killer stalks the streets, a killer who carefully selects his victims for the humanity that is missing in himself. Deucalion’s path will lead him to cool, tough police detective Carson O’Connor and her devoted partner, Michael Maddison, who are tracking the slayer but will soon discover signs of something far more terrifying: an entire race of killers who are much more—and less—than human and, deadliest of all, their deranged, near-immortal maker: Victor Helios, once known as Frankenstein.

“The odd juxtaposition of a police procedural with a neo-gothic, mad scientist plot gives the novel a wickedly unusual and intriguing feel.”
—Publishers Weekly

21
Ghost Story
by Peter Straub – 1971

In the sleepy town of Milburn, New York, four old men gather to tell each other stories—some true, some made-up, all of them frightening. A simple pastime to divert themselves from their quiet lives.

But one story is coming back to haunt them and their small town. A tale of something they did long ago. A wicked mistake. A horrifying accident. And they are about to learn that no one can bury the past forever…

“The scariest book I’ve ever read…It crawls under your skin and into your dreams.”
—Chicago Sun-Times

20
Ring
by Koji Suzuki – 1991
Book 1 of 6 in the Ring Series

A mysterious videotape warns that the viewer will die in one week unless a certain, unspecified act is performed. Exactly one week after watching the tape, four teenagers die one after another of heart failure.

Asakawa, a hardworking journalist, is intrigued by his niece’s inexplicable death. His investigation leads him from a metropolitan Tokyo teeming with modern society’s fears to a rural Japan—a mountain resort, a volcanic island, and a countryside clinic—haunted by the past. His attempt to solve the tape’s mystery before it’s too late—for everyone—assumes an increasingly deadly urgency.

“Anyone curious in how the Japanese see themselves will find this book a fascinating, and ultimately highly disturbing, experience.”
—Publishers Weekly

19
The Haunting of Hill House
by Shirley Jackson – 1959

Four seekers arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

“[One of] the only two great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years.”
—Stephen King

18
This Book is Full of Spiders
by David Wong – 2012
Book 2 of 3 in the John Dies at the End series

My wife hates it when I read this book because there are actually spiders all over the cover.

As I’m writing this, my heavy metal station on Pandora is screaming, “I WANNA GET PSYCHO!” which is perfect for this book, because This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It gets seriously bizarre and creepy.

It’s also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and yes, I’m including The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in that list.

Two reluctant and generally irresponsible heroes are aware of huge invisible spiders that live in people’s heads due to their earlier ingestion of a drug called Soy Sauce. While they try to stay out of trouble (the kids, not the spiders), Armageddon finds them anyway. Hilarity and horror ensue.

“[A] phantasmagoria of horror, humor–and even insight into the nature of paranoia, perception, and identity.”
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

17
The Exorcist
by William Peter Blatty – 1971

Inspired by a story of a child’s demonic possession in the 1940s, William Peter Blatty created an iconic novel that focuses on Regan, the eleven-year-old daughter of a movie actress residing in Washington, D.C. A small group of overwhelmed yet determined individuals must rescue Regan from her unspeakable fate, and the drama that ensues is gripping and unfailingly terrifying.

“Immensely satisfying! Holds its readers in a vise-like grip worthy of Poe.”
—Los Angeles Times

16
The Elementals
by Michael McDowell – 1981

After a bizarre and disturbing incident at the funeral of matriarch Marian Savage, the McCray and Savage families look forward to a restful and relaxing summer at Beldame, on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, where three Victorian houses loom over the shimmering beach. Two of the houses are habitable, while the third is slowly and mysteriously being buried beneath an enormous dune of blindingly white sand. But though long uninhabited, the third house is not empty. Inside, something deadly lies in wait. Something that has terrified Dauphin Savage and Luker McCray since they were boys and which still haunts their nightmares. Something horrific that may be responsible for several terrible and unexplained deaths years earlier, and is now ready to kill again…

“Readers of weak constitution should beware.”
—Publishers Weekly

15
At the Mountains of Madness
by H.P. Lovecraft – 1936

H. P. Lovecraft, a racist dilettante who died in poverty at the age of 46, wrote some of the most influential horror stories of the twentieth century, and his Cthulhu Mythos remains popular to this day. Stephen King called Lovecraft “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.”

On an expedition to Antarctica, Professor William Dyer and his colleagues discover the remains of ancient half-vegetable, half-animal life-forms. The extremely early date in the geological strata is surprising because of the highly-evolved features found in these previously unknown life-forms.

Through a series of dark revelations, violent episodes, and misunderstandings, the group learns of Earth’s secret history and legacy.

14
Dracula
by Bram Stoker – 1897

Of course, this is the book that defined vampires for generations.

13
Sandman Slim
by Richard Kadrey – 2009
Book 1 of 11 in the Sandman Slim series

Life sucks and then you die. Or, if you’re James Stark, you spend eleven years in Hell as a hitman before finally escaping, only to land back in the hell-on-earth that is Los Angeles.

Now Stark’s back, and ready for revenge. And absolution, and maybe even love. But when his first stop saddles him with an abusive talking head, Stark discovers that the road to absolution and revenge is much longer than you’d expect, and both Heaven and Hell have their own ideas for his future.

Resurrection sucks. Saving the world is worse.

“The most hard-boiled piece of supernatural fiction I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading… all confident and energetic and fresh and angry. I loved this book and all its screwed-up people.”
—Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother

12
Interview with the Vampire
by Anne Rice – 1976
Book 1 of 11 in the Vampire Chronicles

This is the book that made vampires seriously sexy.

Here are the confessions of a vampire. Hypnotic, shocking, and chillingly sensual, this is a novel of mesmerizing beauty and astonishing force—a story of danger and flight, of love and loss, of suspense and resolution, and of the extraordinary power of the senses.

“A magnificent, compulsively readable thriller… Rice begins where Bram Stoker and the Hollywood versions leave off and penetrates directly to the true fascination of the myth–the education of the vampire.”
—Chicago Tribune

11
Snowblind
by Christopher Golden – 2014

The small New England town of Coventry had weathered a thousand blizzards, but never one like this. Icy figures danced in the wind and gazed through children’s windows with soul-chilling eyes. People who wandered into the whiteout were never seen again. Families were torn apart, and the town would never be the same.

Now, as a new storm approaches twelve years later, the folks of Coventry are haunted by the memories of that dreadful blizzard and those who were lost in the snow. Photographer Jake Schapiro mourns his little brother, Isaac, even as another little boy goes missing.

Mechanic and part-time thief Doug Manning’s life has been forever scarred by the mysterious death of his wife, Cherie, and now he’s starting over with another woman and more ambitious crimes.

Police detective Joe Keenan has never been the same since that night, when he failed to save the life of a young boy, and the boy’s father vanished in the storm only feet away. And all the way on the other side of the country, Miri Ristani receives a phone call from a man who died twelve years ago.

10
World War Z
by Max Brooks – 2006

This book is nothing like (and significantly better than) the movie.

We survived the zombie apocalypse, but how many of us are still haunted by that terrible time? We have (temporarily?) defeated the living dead, but at what cost? Told in the haunting and riveting voices of the men and women who witnessed the horror firsthand, World War Z is the only record of the pandemic.

The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

“Will spook you for real.”
—The New York Times Book Review

9
Written in Red
by Anne Bishop – 2013
Book 1 of 5 in The Others series

As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

“A stunningly original yarn, deeply imagined, beautifully articulated, and set forth in clean, limpid, sensual prose.”
—Kirkus Reviews

8
The Girl with All the Gifts
by M.R. Carey – 2014

The Girl with All the Gifts is a wonderful book, which is odd praise for a story about zombies. But it’s surprisingly thoughtful, and at times, even tender, all while managing to be a fast-paced thriller. Every day I looked forward to reading it.

In a post-apocalyptic England, Melanie, along with other children, is imprisoned in a windowless bunker. They are all strapped down and muzzled whenever they leave their cells. No adult is allowed to touch them under any circumstances. Given who these children are, these are reasonable precautions. Then the installation is attacked, and Melanie is freed along with several adults, some who want her alive, some who want her dead, and others who want her dissected.

“Heartfelt, remorseless and painfully human…as fresh as it is terrifying. A jewel.”
―Joss Whedon

7
Origin
by J. A. Konrath – 2009

In 1906, a crew of workers at the Panama Canal unearthed something that could not be identified or explained. Something sinister. And very much alive.

One hundred years later, a team of scientists gather at an underground facility in New Mexico to determine what this being is—the most amazing discovery in the history of mankind—and how it has managed to survive. A biologist will analyze its structure. A veterinarian will study its behavior. A linguist will translate its language. But even the greatest minds in the world cannot answer one inescapable question: Could this ancient creature, this mockery of God and nature, actually be the ancient demon known as the Beast?

“Konrath is one of the greatest thriller writers alive.”
—Blake Crouch, bestselling author of Dark Matter

6
Ninth House
by Leigh Bardugo – 2019

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. In fact, by age twenty, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Their eight windowless “tombs” are the well-known haunts of the rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street’s biggest players. But their occult activities are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living.

Ninth House is the best fantasy novel I’ve read in years, because it’s about real people. Bardugo’s imaginative reach is brilliant, and this story―full of shocks and twists―is impossible to put down.”
—Stephen King

5
The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman – 2008

Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised by ghosts, with a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead. There are adventures in the graveyard for a boy—an ancient Indigo Man, a gateway to the abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible Sleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, he will be in danger from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family.

“Wistful, witty, wise―and creepy. This needs to be read by anyone who is or has ever been a child.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

4
Something Wicked This Way Comes
by Ray Bradbury – 1962

For those who still dream and remember, for those yet to experience the hypnotic power of its dark poetry, step inside. The show is about to begin. Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. Two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends who will soon know all too well the heavy cost of wishes…and the stuff of nightmares.

3
Heart-Shaped Box
by Joe Hill – 2007

Aging death-metal rock legend Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals… a used hangman’s noose… a snuff film. But nothing he possesses is as unique or as dreadful as his latest purchase off the Internet: a one-of-a-kind curiosity that arrives at his door in a black heart-shaped box… a musty dead man’s suit still inhabited by the spirit of its late owner. And now everywhere Judas Coyne goes, the old man is there—watching, waiting, dangling a razor blade on a chain from his bony hand.

“Powerful… a fast-paced plot that crackles with expertly planted surprises and revelations… a truly memorable debut.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

2
Carrion Comfort
by Dan Simmons – 1989

Caught behind the lines of Hitler’s Final Solution, Saul Laski is one of the multitudes destined to die in the notorious Chelmno extermination camp. But then finds himself face to face with an evil far older and far greater than the Nazis themselves.

Carrion Comfort is one of the three greatest horror novels of the 20th century. Simple as that.”
—Stephen King

“A true classic.”
—Guillermo del Toro

1
The Stand
by Stephen King – 1978

A patient escapes from a biological testing facility, unknowingly carrying a deadly weapon: a mutated strain of super-flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world’s population within a few weeks.

Those who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader. Two emerge—Mother Abagail, the benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges them to build a peaceful community in Boulder, Colorado; and Randall Flagg, the nefarious “Dark Man,” who delights in chaos and violence. As the dark man and the peaceful woman gather power, the survivors will have to choose between them—and ultimately decide the fate of all humanity.

“[The Stand] has everything. Adventure. Roman. Prophecy. Allegory. Satire. Fantasy. Realism. Apocalypse. Great!”
—The New York Times Book Review

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