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.