Updated: Oct 21, 2022
It’s a Saturday night and you’re home alone, with only the flickering screen of the television for comfort. Darkness settled not long ago; long shadows curl against the walls, seeking out and swallowing the faint remnants of light. You try to ignore the growing sensation that someone’s watching you, but it’s hard. Every time you turn your head you catch a glimpse of movement through the crack in the closed curtains, hear the faintest ghost of laughter from somewhere within your home. Your feet twitch to go investigate but you keep still, fingers hooked into the arms of the sofa as though it’s your lifeline. You don’t dare look in the mirror on the wall, fearing what twisted face will mock your own, and so you keep your eyes firmly fixated on the television screen. In the gathering shadows of the ceiling, your brain concocts the image of a being, hanging upside down. You don’t glance to see if it’s just a trick. There's a chilling, mounting sense of dread that makes you think if you do look, it'll drop down onto you.
The shadow creature coils on the ceiling like a mass of snakes. Once. Twice.
Then it falls.
What is horror fiction?
Horror novels have long been defined as a story with the focus on creating a feeling of fear within the reader, as I hope the above paragraph did. It has deep ancient origins, with roots in religious traditions and folklore centring on death, evil, the demonic, and the afterlife, to name a few. Horror is sometimes divided into the following:
Psychological horror. This has a focus on mental, emotional, and psychological states to frighten or disturb the reader.
Supernatural horror. Supernatural occurrences in these novels include ghosts and demons, and may or may not have elements of religion.
As we are now well into the midst of spooky season, I thought I would craft a list of the best classic and new horror novels to satisfy your thirst for the dark, the mysterious, and the deadly. The horror novel that never fails to leave a chill down your spine could have terrifying clowns or flesh-eating plagues, haunting psychological mind games or the classic demonic possession – whatever may be your favourite flavour of fear, I’m sure you will find a novel that you had forgotten and now wish to read again, or a new suggestion on this list that will petrify you just as much as the ones you already love.
I have to start off the list with what was my first horror novel read. In fact, the film adaption is what made me read Susan Hill's novel, as I was so creeped out by the tale of the central character I just had to read the original tale.
The Woman in Black is a classic gothic eighties novel with a very Victorian feel. Featuring a mysterious ghost who haunts a secluded house on the foggy moors and foreshadows the deaths of children, it is perfect for anyone who loves understated British ghost stories and the stark despair of tragedy.
Perfect for those who would love:
A British ghost story
Dark, tragic ending
Although Let the Right One In was published this century, it takes place in the decade the previously mentioned novel was published – the eighties. It centres around the relationship between a deadly vampire, Eli, who appears to be a twelve-year-old girl, and an actual twelve-year-old boy named Oskar. Gruesomely packed to the brim with disturbing topics – including pedophilia, self-harm and murder – it is an atmospheric read unfit for the fainthearted.
Perfect for those who want to read about:
Early eighties references
This novel is perfect for those who love YA and want to read what is essentially a homage to classic slasher horror movies such as Scream. It is filled with teen romance and so would be best suggested for those who want to read a cheesy slasher novel rather than the traditional horror. However, I can highly recommend the Netflix adaption if you want a gory, action-packed movie to watch.
Perfect for those looking for:
Rosemary’s Baby is viewed as the cause of a ‘horror boom’ in the sixties, and is why horror fiction has gone on to receive such commercial success. As such, it is perfectly possible you have already read it, but it never hurts to revisit the novel that gave the genre its well-deserved nudge into the spotlight.
Rosemary’s Baby tells the story of Rosemary Woodhouse, a young woman who has moved into an apartment building with her husband, and her meddlesome neighbours who may be the leaders of a Satanic coven. As strange happenings occur, including an encounter with an inhuman creature, a sudden pregnancy and a craving for raw meat, Rosemary starts to believe her baby is wanted by the coven for something extremely sinister.
Great for those who like:
Tales about the Antichrist
Now, this one is not an easy read. House of Leaves is told in a multitude of ways, including footnotes, upside down text, and chapters hidden within passages of writing. It focuses on the story of a family who move into a house and discover it is much bigger than they originally thought. The reader is kept off-balance and unsure by how the atmosphere in House of Leaves slowly builds alongside the vast amounts of foreshadowing, before both are abruptly cut off. On a single reading, it is possible to miss so many features about this book. That is as much as I can say about the novel without delving into a thousand-word review for this book that I wouldn’t even know how to finish.
Great for those who:
Want a challenge
Like unconventional writing
I know what you may be thinking - another vampire novel? However, it's just not possible to list ten recommendations for horror and not include this classic. Although Dracula is not the grandfather of fictional vampire novels, it did pave the way for books such as Let the Right One In, as mentioned above, and the Twilight series. Told through letters, newspaper articles and diary entries, Dracula depicts the story of a Transylvanian vampiric nobleman who travels to England to terrorise a seaside town. I know it’s incredibly likely you already read Dracula during your GCSE years, but it still needed an honorary mention as one of the most famous pieces of English literature.
Perhaps give it a read (or another one) if you like:
Themes of sexuality and seduction
The first novel in the Southern Reach Trilogy, Annihilation is for those who enjoy their science-fiction and their weird fiction. It follows the journey a team of four women take into an abandoned area known as Area X. The story is creepy and mysterious and full of dreamy, introspective prose. Plus, the Netflix adaption is thought-provoking and different enough to the novel to get you hooked if you fancy starting with that.
Perfect for those who like:
Speculative and weird fiction
Futuristic, science-fiction horror
Published this year, Hide is best described as a combination between Squid Game, The Hunger Games and The Cabin in the Woods. Fourteen competitors are selected to play hide and seek in an abandoned amusement park over seven days. The one left wins fifty thousand dollars. Hide follows the protagonist, Mack, as she realises it’s not just a game of hiding, but a game of survival. It is a perfect representation of supernatural horror with a cast of developed characters you find yourself rooting for, no matter if they are despicable or loveable. The novel also refers to multiple social issues such as violence, domestic abuse, and racism. It is an entertaining and terrifying read and at the top of my list for books published this year.
Great if you like:
Horror novels where the supernatural elements aren't immediately obvious
Of course, it wouldn’t be a list of horror story recommendations if I didn’t include one by Stephen King. However, instead of choosing the obvious Carrie, Pet Sematary, or It, I thought I would shine a light on one of King’s less popular stories – Rose Madder. This novel has reality as the true horror, with the fantasy elements interweaved with Greek mythology references. The prologue is certainly not for the fainthearted, and the rest of the novel contains many scenes featuring domestic and sexual abuse described quite graphically. It follows Rose Daniels, a housewife who has been married to her husband for eighteen years and beaten by him for just as long, realising she needs to leave him before he kills her. She goes on a journey of finding herself again. The antagonist of the novel, Norman Daniels, is the true monster; passages written from his point of view made me feel quite disturbed when I read it. Of course, there are still fantastical horror elements to it – such as rescuing a baby from an underground labyrinth guarded by a monster that the protagonist reached through stepping into a painting – that give Rose Madder its edge. There are also some tie-ins to other King novels, making it a great Easter egg read for those who have read his other books.
A must read for those who like or want to read about:
Elements of Greek mythology
Antagonists you love to hate
The horrors of real life intermingled with fantasy
And last but not least, that brings us to the tenth book in my recommendations of horror books to read this October.
This novel is set to be released on the 17th of this month, written by our very own Tracy M Carvill. Inspired by the tale of Peter Pan, Children of the Tithe focuses on young Heidi who awakens in a strange new world with a horde of other children. She must keep her wits about herself and figure out how many of the strange creatures they meet are friends... or foes.
If you're a reader of YA and feeling brave this October, or you found the Gone series a thrilling read, then you would absolutely love Children of the Tithe. You can pre-order the novel here.