My Favorite Horror and Dark Fantasy Novels

As a writer, it’s not uncommon for me to be asked what my favorite books are. Do you have a favorite book? some ask. Do you like Stephen King? Have you read anything by Anne Rice? Dean Koontz.

The answer is: No, I don’t have one favorite horror novel, I have several. Yes, I like Stephen King. Love him, actually, and am eternally greatful for his undeniable influence on my writing. I’ve also read Dean Koontz and Anne Rice’s work. I like Poe, could never get into Lovecraft. Closer-to-home fiction scares the shit out of me, as does the idea of monsters you can’t see or don’t expect. Years of reading within the horror and dark fantasy genre have allowed me the luxury of escaping into worlds so terrifying, so engrossing and so atmospheric that I’ve been unable to pry myself from their pages. Some of the following might be familiar. Others may surprise you. Some you might not have even heard of. So, without further ado, here is my list of my favorite horror and dark fantasy novels.

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Bag of Bones is undoubtedly my favorite novel by Stephen King, and my absolute favorite ghost story. Beginning with the pristine narrative of a novelist recounting his wife’s death, then subsequent decision to get away to a lake house in order to find peace and inspiration, we follow the story of one man’s quest for solace and then his need for a fallen ghost’s redemption, all the while dealing with the human aspect of newfound love and the entanglement that comes with it.

Lisey’s Story by Stephen King

Another King tale, and one many consider a mixed bag. Though ripe with inner turmoil, character development and complex backstory within the first hundred pages, Lisey’s Story is a gripping story about a woman living in the shadow of her dead husband–and upon delving into the labyrinth of undiscovered work, finds a world unlike anything she, and even her husband, have ever experienced. The ending is gut-wrenching and absolutely tear-jerking, as within the scope of a few dozen pages the story comes full circle, and how a tortured conscience can ultimately hide a past that would better be left behind.

Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite

Under the name Poppy Z. Brite, Billy Martin was known for his gruesome imagery and ability to treat horrific occurrences as if they were no more than everyday events. Lauded as one of the most disturbing novels ever written, his novel Exquisite Corpse takes elements of the Dahmer murders and recreates them in the most unsettling ways imaginable. Drawing Blood is no different. Beginning with the graphic murder of a family, the story follows our main character as grows up to be a successful artist whose one great disappointment was never returning to the home in which he watched his father murder his mother, and how his subsequent decision to return opens a doorway to a world that threatens to drive him insane.

The Hollower by Mary SanGiovani

We all have things we regret. Things we are scared of. Things we would rather not admit to anybody. In Lakehaven, New Jersey, there exists a monster who knows everything. Who latches on to certain people and stops at nothing until they’re destroyed. The Hollower, by Mary SanGiovani, takes us into a world where the monster is something you can only see when it wants you to see it, and who uses everything we hate and fear to drive us insane. It is a novel that slowly creeps up on you with its ability to bring minor discomfort to a place of flat-out distortion–where, just when you think you’ve started to figure it out, turns everything around and throws it right back at you.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

There’s a place where everything normal is shadowed by the darkness beyond the wall. On one side exists the modern world–where technology has dominated the scope of human existence. But on the other side of the wall lies something entirely different–an ancient world, barred from humanity to hold back the encroaching dead and the magic that sustains them. Though written as a young adult novel, Sabriel follows the journey of a young woman whose encounter with a dark entity thrusts her into her birthright. As the Abhorsen–whose duty, unlike the Necromancers, is to lay down the dead–her journey will take her beyond the wall and into the depoths of the Old Kingdom: where she must not only find the spirit of her father who she knows has been murdered, but slay the creature that has ended his life.

Dead Spots by Rhiannon Frater

We’re all afraid of the doorways that could be opened, that might be there, lying in the darkness, in places we can’t see because they’ve long been abandoned. In Dead Spots by Rhiannon Frater, a grieving mother is sent into the depths of insanity when she unwillingly stumbles across a portal into an alternate universe. With little hope of escape, she must depend upon a man who claims to have repeated the exact same action–decades ago–and fight to free herself from an ever-changing world whose only purpose is to kill her. Capitalizing on everyone’s darkest fears, Dead Spots is chilling–not only in the horror that lies beyond the real world, but the horror within it.

Bad Wolf by Tim McGregor

Lara Mendes believes all her hard work has paid off when she is allowed the opportunity to join homicide detail, but what she doesn’t know is that she has unknowingly walked into what may be the most disturbing case she could ever imagine. No sooner has she joined is she called into the field. Human remains are found. And the suspect? He thinks he’s a werewolf. The only problem? Lara believes him. Bad Wolf is a police procedural unlike anything you have ever read. Crossing horror with crime and thriller fiction, it is undoubtedly the best werewolf novel I’ve ever read.

Jenny Pox by J.L. Bryan

Jenny Morton is the girl nobody likes. She’s the girl that always wears mittens, who’s father is a hopeless alcoholic, who’s mother died during childbirth. She’s also the girl they used to call Jenny Pox after Ashleigh Goodling got a particularly nasty case of sores during a playground spat with Jenny in elementary school. But what they don’t know is that Jenny’s pox is a disease–a curse gifted to her upon birth. And what they don’t understand is how far it can go once Jenny’s pushed. Like its predecessor Carrie, but offering the destruction the novel did not, Jenny Pox goes beyond what King did in his first-published novel, and does so to an absolutely-terrifying degree.

The Seven Habits of Highly-Infective People by William Todd Rose

Most people wouldn’t expect to listen to the ramblings of a madman. But what if it could save the world, and prevent the collapse of humanity? In The Seven Habits of Highly-Infective People, William Todd Rose offers a glimpse of a tale told from two different sides of the fence–and points of time. Hinging on part apocalyptic survival tale, part paranoid prediction, The Seven Habits is a science fiction story that catches you off-guard early on, and latches onto you for a ride you won’t ever expect.

The Seance by Joan Lowery Nixon

You think it’s just a game. Play with an ouija board, try to contact the dead. Then a friend goes missing, and after that, nothing is ever the same. The Seance, by Joan Lowery Nixon, is a childhood memory, and one that is still fondly thought of. Almost ten years later, I still shudder at the monstrosities that can easily be found in Nixon’s fiction.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

A plane carrying a group of British schoolboys crash-lands on a desert island. Everyone survives–excepts the pilot. The boys are alone. The radio is busted. They are, beyond a doubt, trapped. The ultimate social experiment, the commentary that comes in William Golding’s classic is unsettling beyond all measures. Given I read it three times back-to-back in three different school years and always enjoyed it–and always felt that same sense of despair when a monster that may not just be supernatural rears its head–I can honestly mark it as one of my favorite, and most disturbing, horror novels.

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum

 There’s a reason truth is usually stranger than fiction, and while The Girl Next Door may seem like a nightmare unlike anything we could ever imagine happening, it isn’t far from the truth. Loosely inspired by actual events, it tells the story of a group of adolescents who become mad with power after a deranged socialite becomes obsessed with the power of discipline. It’s one of the most gruesome depictions of human cruelty I’ve ever read. Stephen King called Jack Ketchum a real master for a reason. This book proves it.

Nine books that stayed with me

Over the past few days, I’ve been seeing a meme going around on Facebook in which writers (or readers) list the ten books that have stayed with them long after they’ve been returned to the shelf. I think everyone can relate to a book in same way. The time you read it, the conditions you were in, the purpose that was driving you, the suffering you endured–I make it no secret that certain novels have touched me tremendously throughout my life. Here are ten, numbered by the age at which I read them, that have stayed with me.


Naya Nuki by Kenneth Thomasma (age 7)

As a child and well into my mid-teens, I was subjected to an abject and cruel amount of bullying. Most of this had to do with my person (or what they felt I lacked,) but a particular point many chose to center on was my love of reading. Literature became a staple in my daily, conscious escape from reality. At the age of seven, I started progressing past the usual fare and ventured into realms that I’d no basic concept of. One of these books was Naya Nuki, told from the perspective of a Shoshoni Native girl who escapes slavery after being taken prisoner by foreigners. Her plight, while completely unlike my own, resonated with me. I identified with the feeling of wanting to be free and away from the claustrophobic isolation imposed upon you by someone else. To this day, I have fond memories of the book. I found a signed copy of the novel in Jackson, Wyoming on a family trip and consider it to be one of my prized possessions.


First Test by Tamora Pierce (age 12)

Around the sixth or seventh grade, I began to develop and experience great feelings of depression and hopelessness. This was mainly due to my situation. Still entrenched within the ruthless battlegrounds of public schooling, I endured relentless bullying and acquired accusations of deviant sexuality from my peers. Such frustrations eventually led me into the realms of fantasy. One of my later, but undoubtedly golden, discoveries was Tamora Pierce’s Tortal universe, to which I was first introduced through First Test. As a girl wishing to protect her family and kingdom, Keladry is hard-pressed in her aspirations to become a knight when the country has only recently begun to allow noblewomen to train within the military. Her plight from peers, as well as those whose purpose was to encourage and shape her into the warrior she would one day be, perfectly surmised my existence within the public school system, and continues to do so to this day.

9780684853505.OL.0.mBag of Bones by Stephen King (age 13)

My first (and absolute favorite) King book, which not only inspired me to branch out into reading horror fiction (thereby securing my unyielding love,) but also made me aspire to write something people might genuinely feel was terriying. Little can be said about King’s mastery of the setup. As life foretells, things happen unexpectedly–and when they do, they often result in heartbreaking, terrying, and even life-threatening situations. Bag of Bones is the best ghost story I’ve ever read, and undoubtedly one of the most haunting portrayals of loss I’ve ever had the honor of reading.

lord_of_the_flies_by_william_goldingLord of the Flies by William Golding (ages 13 – 16)

It isn’t often that circumstance leads you to read the same book three years in a row. In the 8th, 9th, and 10th grade that I completed via online, I was thrust into the unfortunate circumstance experienced by a group of English schoolboys when their plane goes down and they are forced to survive on an island without adult guidance. Heralded as a modern classic, it reeks of metaphor of human nature, symbolism on good and evil, parable on moral judgment and the undeniable cataclysm of self-destruction. It is, genuinely, terrifying, without even speaking true of supposed supernatural elements. Instead, it relies simply on the reader’s judgment to decide just what is real and what isn’t.


A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice (age 14)

I realized I was different at the age of eleven. With a penchant for the same sex I found unfathomably alienating in very-Mormon, Southeastern-Idaho, I struggled with my blossoming sexuality for years until I came across a book written by Christopher Rice. In his novel A Density of Souls, we are introduced to the main character of Stephen–who, not unlike a lot of young gay men, battle with the torment of knowing they are different while trying to understand if it’s acceptable for them to be so. I purchased the book on a whim from Amazon right before my fifteenth birthday. It was on an all-day field trip with my Freshmen drama class that I realized, halfway through reading the novel, that I was gay, and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. After years of trying to rationalize my sexuality away, I finally had concrete proof that I was normal.

24675Kornwolf by Tristan Egolf (age 15)

At the end of my first (and only) year of high school, I was the target of a merciless practical joke that left me the subject of an FBI investigation. After a call was made by an ‘anonymous individual’ stating that I’d ‘left a death threat’ against my high school on MySpace, my computer was taken away on grounds that could not be validated even after being directly in contact with the social networking site beforehand. For two weeks I lived in complete and utter terror. Of them ‘finding something’ that would incriminate and then somehow make me responsible; of losing the writing they claimed they had ‘no physical responsibility for’ during their investigation; of the things being said about me within my community, which were related to me through two separate individuals who heard first-hand the supposedly ‘private matter’ that ‘no one knew about’ being spread around the school. During that time, Kornwolf by Tristan Egolf gave me solace. A complete and utter disconnect from my life in frame, reference and culture, I devoured the story of a town plagued by a monster, the nature of which I sadly believe caused the author to end his own life right before finishing this book.

2731276The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (age 16)

Some call it Hamlet with dogs. I call it my beautiful distraction. After suffering a series of vertigo attacks that a doctor determined should be examined by a neurologist, I was given the completely devastating (and completely-incorrect) news that a ‘lesion’ on my brain might be a brain tumor. Over the series of two weeks that I had to wait to see a world-reknowned neurosurgeon for a second opinion, I was tormented by the throes of panic and anxiety. My belief that I would not be able to write after a surgery to take a ‘tumor’ from the language-processing center of my brain led me to write an artistic will. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle was the book I read throughout that time, which not only served as a buffer for the anxiety I experienced from my ‘diagnosis,’ but also from my grandfather’s battle with cancer, and serves as a reminder that while sometimes tragedy does strike, sometimes good things (like hearing that my ‘lesion’ was not a tumor) happen as well.


Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh (age 17)

The telltale signs of my mental illness began to show themselves en force the year I turned seventeen. Subjected to anxiety attacks caused by nothing, tormented by nightmares that had no bearing on my life, paranoid about my existence, my career, where it would (or wouldn’t) take me–I found Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh due to the fact that I’d purchased another book of hers from a book club magazine. Telling the story of three different women, all of which are questioning their existences and whether or not they are ‘really who they are’ because of a man that connects them all, I sympathized and in a way understood their schizophrenic concept of identity. It served as one of several grounding points that allowed me to remain open-minded about treatment.

siegeSiege by Rhiannon Frater (age 18)

At the height of my inner turmoil–when I was literally on the break of a ride-or-die mental breakdown–I was offered asylum in Texas by one of the most amazing people and one of my best friends in the entire world. Hand-in-hand with a book whose symbolism in some ways reflected with mine, I boarded an airplane for a thirteen-hour trip from Idaho to Texas. Through a massive anxiety attack which resulted not only from leaving home, but also being on my first airplane, being far away from anyone I knew, as well as venturing into the unknown, I bulldozed through half of the novel and later finished it in the days after I arrived in Texas. Knowing there was an ‘other side’ to my horrendous home life helped conquer the underlying fear of the unknown, and the primary theme of hope within Siege only confirms that life does eventually get better.