13 Essential Horror Novels From the Last Five Years

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Despite the absence of a dedicated section at many brick-and-mortar bookstores, horror is a vast and increasingly diverse literary genre. The standard canon is as reliable as ever—you can never go wrong with Shelley, Poe, Jackson, or King—but the last five years have been especially exciting for readers who like their fiction on the dark side. From allegorical monster tales to a gonzo death-cult space opera, here are 13 recent books that might make you want to keep your lights on long after you’ve finished reading.

1. The Cabin at the End of the World // Paul Tremblay; $13

William Morrow Paperbacks/Amazon

Andrew and Eric just want to take their young daughter on a family vacation, but when a quartet of strangers wielding bizarre farming implements invade their rental cabin and tell the young family that one of them must die at the hands of the other two to ward off an apocalypse, their getaway turns into a grueling nightmare. Are the invaders deranged conspiracy theorists, or have they truly received visions from God? When it’s over, don’t expect easy answers—or a good night’s sleep.

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2. The Last House on Needless Street // Catriona Ward; $22

Tor Nightfire/Amazon

Catriona Ward’s third novel is one of the most buzzed-about books of the year, and not just because it was blurbed by Stephen King (though that didn’t hurt). Ward’s tale of a missing child, a man who might be a serial killer, and a woman determined to uncover the connection between them is alternately frightening, moving, funny, and downright harrowing. It’s so much more than its head-spinning twist, but a pox on anyone who spoils it for you. And did we mention large swaths of the book are narrated by a Bible-thumping gay cat?

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3. The Hunger // Alma Katsu; $13

G.P. Putnam's Sons/Amazon

Author Alma Katsu is one of the genre’s new stars, and her reimagining of the Donner Party tragedy is one reason why. Chilling, gruesome, and intensely atmospheric, The Hunger begins when rescuers find “human vertebra, cleaned of skin” and “a scattering of teeth,” and things only get grimmer in flashbacks that recount the doomed journey. The Hunger is a remarkably vivid account of the horrors of westward migration, with one notable addition: As the party ventures farther into the wilderness, they become convinced that ravenous creatures are stalking them.

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4. The Loop // Jeremy Robert Johnson; $20

Titan Books/Amazon

Turner Falls, Oregon, seems like an idyllic mountain town, but its long-simmering class tensions are about to boil over even before a parasitic outbreak turns its teen residents into sadistic murderers. Part coming-of-age story and part Cronenbergian body horror, The Loop puts a pair of sympathetic young outcasts through the worst night you can imagine as they try to find a way out of town before their infected peers can hunt them down. Don’t be fooled by the Stranger Things comparisons; Johnson’s buzzsaw of a novel is not for the faint of heart (or stomach).

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5. The Return // Rachel Harrison; $13

Hodder Paperbacks/Amazon

In author Rachel Harrison’s auspicious debut, a woman disappears in the forest for two years, only to return one day with no memory of what might have happened to her. Her three best friends take her on a girls’ trip to a remote hotel in an attempt to reconnect, only to find that whoever (or whatever) returned from the forest is not the woman they all remember. If the mounting dread that permeates every page somehow doesn’t scratch your horror itch, the energetic, grisly climax should do the trick.

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6. Plain Bad Heroines // Emily M. Danforth; $24

The Borough Press/Amazon

Drawing inspiration from sources as varied as the racy 1902 memoir The Story of Mary MacLane and The Blair Witch Project, Plain Bad Heroines weaves together the stories of a cursed boarding school in the early 1900s and a film crew that shows up more than a hundred years later to make a movie about it. Author Emily M. Danforth puts a century-spanning cast of queer women at the center of her wildly entertaining yarn. If you’ve ever wished Shirley Jackson had written satirical queer metafiction, this is the novel for you.

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7. The Final Girl Support Group // Grady Hendrix; $16


Unstoppable slashers have made a surprisingly nimble leap from the screen to the page, inspiring a small but lively spate of horror novels that deploy—and sometimes interrogate—cinematic horror tropes. Grady Hendrix’s latest novel is one of the best of the batch, featuring an indomitable group of heroines inspired by filmdom’s best-known final girls and a brutal conspiracy to kill them all.

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8. The Only Good Indians // Stephen Graham Jones; $12

Gallery/Saga Press/Amazon

No survey of contemporary horror literature is complete without at least one nod to Stephen Graham Jones. Both a thoughtful meditation on Indigenous identity and a cracking good monster story, The Only Good Indians centers on four friends, all Native American, who suffer the consequences of killing the wrong elk on a hunting trip. Sometimes reflective, always affecting, and punctuated by bouts of gruesome violence, this is one of Jones’s best.

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9. A Cosmology of Monsters // Shaun Hamill; $9


Fans of creepy coming-of-age epics such as Stephen King’s It and Joe Hill’s N0S4ATU should connect with Shaun Hamill’s tale of a horror-loving Texas family beset by monsters that might be of their own making. Equal parts family drama and phantasmagoric horror, A Cosmology of Monsters is a valentine to the genre and a must-read for any fan.

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10. Gideon the Ninth // Tamsyn Muir; $13


“In the myriadic year of our Lord—the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death!—Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.” If that glorious first line doesn’t convince you to read Tamsyn Muir’s gothic horror-cum-lesbian space opera series launch, perhaps nothing can. Except, maybe, this: Gideon the Ninth is bloody, raunchy, weird, and wonderful, and it won such an enthusiastic fanbase that the trilogy will be expanded into a longer series.

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11. Her Body and Other Parties // Carmen Maria Machado; $14

Graywolf Press/Amazon

Carmen Maria Machado’s outstanding debut collection features eight stories that turn the horror genre inside-out in ways that are shocking, unsettling, darkly funny, and endlessly inventive. The centerpiece of the volume is “Especially Heinous,” an alternate-history episode guide to the first 12 seasons of Law & Order: SVU, but the story most likely to leave you haunted is “The Husband Stitch,” a devastating reimagining of “The Green Ribbon.” No wonder Machado’s tour de force collection was a National Book Award finalist.

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12. Home Before Dark // Riley Sager; $17


Riley Sager’s Amityville Horror-inspired supernatural thriller is a book within a book. Maggie Holt’s father made a name for himself with a bestselling account of the family’s experiences in the supposedly haunted Victorian mansion they fled when Maggie was a child. Twenty-five years later, Maggie inherits the house and moves back in, desperate to figure out what really happened all those years ago. In alternating chapters, we get both Maggie’s story and her father’s book. The result is everything you want from a haunted-house story, and never quite what you expect.

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13. The Changeling // Victor LaValle; $14

One World/Amazon

The Changeling is a stunning creative feat that defies easy categorization. It’s a fairy tale, for sure, and an epic fantasy novel populated by trolls, witches, and assorted gods and monsters from world folklore. But it’s also a horror tale (especially if you’re a parent) that centers on Apollo Kagwa, a Black bookseller and new father who takes a terrifying journey through a fantastical version of New York City to reassemble a family fractured by an unimaginable act of violence.

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