A new year means a whole new year of fresh and creepy horror novels!
As a horror fan, it’s for me easy to focus on horror movies. Horror movies are relatively quick to consume instead of a horror novel, just as a movie is sometimes more immediately entertaining than a novel.
But there is a great deal of original, well-made horror fiction out there, crafted by authors from diverse backgrounds, points of view, and traditions. Stephen King may still rule horror fiction, but there’s plenty of room for all of the unique and unsettling tales offered by authors like Ania Ahlborn, Alma Katsu, Josh Malerman, and Paul Tremblay (King has a book out this year too, don’t worry!).
So, in keeping with my goals to raise awareness of exciting new horror fiction, I’ve put together a list of fifteen horror novels to be published in 2018. I can’t wait to read them, which is good for my New Year’s resolution to read more, but really bad for my book buying addiction. (If you’re interested in last year’s list of horror, check that out here.
The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley (January 16, 2018)
Synopsis: “In a brisk 208 pages, Whiteley (The Arrival of Missives, 2016, etc.) spins the tale of Nathan, the resident bard of a post-apocalyptic tribe afflicted by a bacterial disease that has taken the lives of its women. Overwhelmed by the notion that they are the last generation of humans on Earth, the men of the tribe grow despondent. That is, until the women they’ve lost return, reincarnated as “walking mushrooms” who invert the gender dynamics of the heterosexual relationships the men of the tribe profess to miss so much. As these dynamics become increasingly graphic and extreme, so do the tensions between the men, some of whom view their new lovers as saviors while others consider them captors. “
Adam Nevill, whose book Under a Watchful Eye I profiled last year, loved the book, declaring: “What a refreshing gust of tiny spores this novella explodes into, and I inhaled them all with glee.” This synopsis teases a rich, atmospheric novella that uses body horror to explore gender roles, societal expectations, and a vengeful environment. Aliya Whiteley has already received recognition for The Beauty by earning nominations for the Shirley Jackson and Saboteur awards, and now we Americans get to enjoy her disturbing, elegant work.
Apart in the Dark by Ania Ahlborn (January 16, 2018)
Synopsis: “Now available for the first time in a print edition—two terrifying novellas from bestselling author Ania Ahlborn:
THE PRETTY ONES
New York, 1977. The sweltering height of the Summer of Sam. The entire city is gripped with fear, but all Nell Sullivan worries about is whether or not she’ll ever make a friend. The self-proclaimed “Plain Jane” does her best to fit in with the girls at work, but Nell’s brother, Barrett, assures her that she’ll never be like them. When Nell manages to finally garner some much-yearned-for attention, the unthinkable happens to her newfound friend. The office pool blames Son of Sam, but Nell knows the awful truth…because doing the devil’s work is easy when there’s already a serial killer on the loose.
I CALL UPON THEE
Maggie Olsen had a pretty ordinary childhood—swimming and sleepovers, movie nights and dad jokes. And then there were the other things…the darker things…the shadow that followed her home from the cemetery and settled into the corners of her home, refusing to let her grow up in peace. Now, after three years away from the place she’s convinced she inadvertently haunted, and after yet another family tragedy strikes, Maggie is forced to return to the sweltering heat of a Savannah summer to come to terms with her past. All along, she’s been telling herself, it was just in your head, and she nearly convinces herself that she’d imagined it all. But the moment Maggie steps into the foyer of her family home, she knows. The darkness is still here. And it’s been waiting for Maggie’s return….”
Ania Ahlborn is a busy lady! Last year, she published The Devil Crept In, where the mysterious disappearance of a young boy mimics the disappearance of another child years before and rocks a small, decaying town. Now, she serves up two novellas that continue her overarching dedication to stories about the evil that seeps into our dreary, less-than-happy lives. In The Devil Crept In, Ahlborn created a world crawling with compelling characters, and I can’t wait to see what these novellas are like.
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (January 23, 2018)
Synopsis: “From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi—a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café—collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them a proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realizes he’s created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive—first from the guilty, and then from anyone in its path. A prize-winning novel by “Baghdad’s new literary star” (The New York Times), Frankenstein in Baghdad captures with white-knuckle horror and black humor the surreal reality of contemporary Iraq.”
Holy crap. This sounds awesome. I already admire Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein way more than is probably healthy, and this reimagining of that classic horror novel seems like an insightful and provocative reaction to the War in Iraq. The New York Times published its review recently, saying, “You get the sense, throughout “Frankenstein in Baghdad,” that Saadawi’s creature, alive with malevolent intelligence, is feeding off its own destructive energy. The reader feeds off it as well. What happened in Iraq was a spiritual disaster, and this brave and ingenious novel takes that idea and uncorks all its possible meanings.” Sounds amazing!
The Ghost Notebooks by Ben Dolnick (February 13, 2018)
Synopsis: “Newly engaged, Nick Beron and Hannah Rampe leave Queens for the remote upstate village of Hibernia. Hannah embraces her role as the live-in director of the Edmund Wright Historic House, which celebrates an obscure 19th-century philosopher, and Nick refocuses on his music career. Then they learn that the house has been the site of several mysteries since the gruesome death of Wright’s young son deepened Wright’s obsession with the unseen. As Hannah withdraws, battles insomnia, and begins to hear voices at night, Nick struggles to support her. Then he awakens to find her gone. When the search for her fails to yield clear answers, his effort to discover what haunted her leads through local stories and long-hidden documents that only entangle him in Hannah’s fears, Wright’s anguish, and forces neither could control.”
I love a good haunted house story, especially one rooted in a couple with a far-from-perfect relationship. Hopefully this book is the gothic and atmospheric ghost tale it should be.
The Clarity by Keith Thomas (February 20, 2018)
Synopsis: “Dr. Matilda Deacon is a psychologist researching how memories are made and stored when she meets a strange eleven-year-old girl named Ashanique. Ashanique claims to harbor the memories of the last soldier killed in World War I and Matilda is at first very interested but skeptical. However, when Ashanique starts talking about being chased by the Night Doctors—a term also used by an unstable patient who was later found dead—Matilda can’t deny that the girl might be telling the truth. Matilda learns that Ashanique and her mother have been on the run their whole lives from a monstrous assassin named Rade. Rade is after a secret contained solely in memories and has left a bloody trail throughout the world in search of it. Matilda soon realizes Ashanique is in unimaginable danger and that her unique ability comes with a deadly price. Fast-paced, suspenseful, and a chilling blend of science and danger, The Clarity is a compelling take on the possibilities of reincarnation and life after death.”
If you like Black Mirror and True Detective, you’ll enjoy The Clarity, a thriller with a healthy serving of supernatural nightmares. It’s full of fast-paced action and non-stop tension from start to finish.
The Hunger by Alma Katsu (March 6, 2018)
Synopsis: “Tamsen Donner must be a witch. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the pioneers to the brink of madness. They cannot escape the feeling that someone–or something–is stalking them. Whether it was a curse from the beautiful Tamsen, the choice to follow a disastrous experimental route West, or just plain bad luck–the 90 men, women, and children of the Donner Party are at the brink of one of the deadliest and most disastrous western adventures in American history. While the ill-fated group struggles to survive in the treacherous mountain conditions–searing heat that turns the sand into bubbling stew; snows that freeze the oxen where they stand–evil begins to grow around them and within them. As members of the party begin to disappear, they must ask themselves “What if there is something waiting in the mountains? Something disturbing and diseased…and very hungry?”
I love historical horror, especially when the story is about an event as horrific as the Donner Party. Just when you thought the Donner Party was so nightmarish that it doesn’t need anything more as a story, here is Alma Katsu to make things even more terrifying. Fans of horror and historical fiction, this one is for you!
The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg (March 13, 2018)
Synopsis: “From Mallory Ortberg comes a collection of darkly mischievous stories based on classic fairy tales. Adapted from her beloved “Children’s Stories Made Horrific” series, “The Merry Spinster” takes up the trademark wit that endeared Ortberg to readers of both The Toast and her best-selling debut Texts From Jane Eyre…Sinister and inviting, familiar and alien all at the same time, The Merry Spinster updates traditional children’s stories and fairy tales with elements of psychological horror, emotional clarity, and a keen sense of feminist mischief. Unfalteringly faithful to its beloved source material, The Merry Spinster also illuminates the unsuspected, and frequently, alarming emotional complexities at play in the stories we tell ourselves, and each other, as we tuck ourselves in for the night.”
Reconstructed and reimagined fairy tales are an excellent way to explore the darkness and scariness that hides beneath a cheery, bright surface. From a monstrous Little Mermaid to a deeply horrific version of The Velveteen Rabbit, you’ll be scarred for life and never look at children’s stories the same.
The Hollow Tree by James Brodgen (Mar 13, 2018)
Synopsis: “After her hand is amputated following a tragic accident, Rachel Cooper suffers vivid nightmares of a woman imprisoned in the trunk of a hollow tree, screaming for help. When she begins to experience phantom sensations of leaves and earth with her missing limb, Rachel is terrified she is going mad… but then another hand takes hers, and the trapped woman is pulled into our world. This woman has no idea who she is, but Rachel can’t help but think of the mystery of Oak Mary, a female corpse found in a hollow tree, and who was never identified. Three urban legends have grown up around the case; was Mary a Nazi spy, a prostitute or a gypsy witch? Rachel is desperate to learn the truth, but darker forces are at work. For a rule has been broken, and Mary is in a world where she doesn’t belong…”
*Shudder* Was anyone else reminded of the unsolved mystery of the “Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?” where the corpse of an unidentified young woman was found in a tree outside of Worcestershire, England? Being buried alive (or entombed in a tree) is a huge fear of mine, so this book is already pushing my buttons. I love the idea of breaking the rules of the death, and the consequences protagonist Rachel will face.
Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman (April 10, 2018)
Synopsis: “Only a few people aside from Carol’s shifty husband, Dwight, know that she suffers from a condition that periodically sends her spiraling into a coma resembling death and a place she calls Howltown. “Unable to shoulder the burden of caring for a woman who died so often,” Moxie disappeared from her life 20 years ago. Her close friend John Bowie, in whom she also confided, has just died. Fearing that should Dwight die when she’s in a coma, no one will know not to bury her, she entrusts her secret to a young maid. But it’s Dwight who proves to be her greatest threat. Having had it with her freakish condition and wanting to freely lay hands on her money, he decides to make her latest “death” permanent by burying her alive. To get to her first, Moxie, who is drawn back into Carol’s life by an odd funeral announcement dispatched by the maid, must elude a ruthless killer with tin legs named Smoke—a man “as monstrous as anything local folklore had invented.” Other evil forces, as well as good, abound.”
Josh Malerman is having a busy year! The Netflix adaptation of his book Bird Box comes out later this year, and he’s published a new novel! You might remember him from last year when he published Black Mad Wheel. He’s constantly spinning tales with inventive, creative premises, and Unbury Carol promises a “surreal, Wild West take on Sleeping Beauty.” Who doesn’t want to read that? I do!
The Plague by Kevin Chong (April 17, 2018)
Synopsis: “At first it’s the dead rats. They start dying in cataclysmic numbers, followed by other city creatures. Then people begin experiencing flu-like symptoms as well as swellings in their lymph nodes. The citizenry reacts in disbelief when the diagnosis comes in and later, when a quarantine is imposed on the increasingly terrified city. Inspired by Albert Camus’ classic 1947 novel, Kevin Chong’s The Plague follows Dr. Bernard Rieux’s attempts to fight the treatment-resistant disease and find meaning in suffering. His efforts are aided by Megan Tso, an American writer who is trapped in the city while on a book tour, and Raymond Siddhu, a city hall reporter at a daily newspaper on its last legs from the latest round of job cuts. Told with dark humor and an eye trained on the frailties of human behavior, Chong’s novel explores themes in keeping with Camus’ original vision—heroism in the face of futility, the psychological strain of quarantine—but fraught with the political and cultural anxieties of our times.”
Damn, any horror author who fearlessly uses French absurdist philosopher Albert Camus as inspiration deserves my coins sight unseen.
Obscura by Joe Hart (May 8, 2018)
Synopsis: “In the near future, an aggressive and terrifying new form of dementia is affecting victims of all ages. The cause is unknown, and the symptoms are disturbing. Dr. Gillian Ryan is on the cutting edge of research and desperately determined to find a cure. She’s already lost her husband to the disease, and now her young daughter is slowly succumbing as well. After losing her funding, she is given the unique opportunity to expand her research. She will travel with a NASA team to a space station where the crew has been stricken with symptoms of a similarly inexplicable psychosis—memory loss, trances, and violent, uncontrollable impulses. Crippled by a secret addiction and suffering from creeping paranoia, Gillian finds her journey becoming a nightmare as unexplainable and violent events plague the mission. With her grip weakening on reality, she starts to doubt her own innocence. And she’s beginning to question so much more—like the true nature of the mission, the motivations of the crew, and every deadly new secret space has to offer.”
Yes! Sci-fi-horror and psychological suspense in space, and a quest to cure a devastating and widespread disease. I love this premise, and while I’ve never read Joe Hart before, I just might have to pick up this book.
The Outsider by Stephen King (May 22, 2018)
Synopsis: “An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad. As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.”
Prolific Stephen King is at it again, crafting a story with his tried-and-true themes, like the vulnerability of children, the fallibility of adults, and the sinister forces lurking underneath the polished veneer of suburban life. To be honest, I haven’t been excited about a Stephen King book in a while, but I am very intrigued by The Outsider.
Providence by Caroline Kepnes (June 19, 2018)
Synopsis: “In 2008, 13-year-old Jon Bronson disappears on his morning walk to school. After even his parents give him up for dead, only his best friend, Chloe, remains certain that he would come back. Four years later, Jon returns with no memory of anything after the day he disappeared. But something’s different about him. His presence seems to cause spontaneous nose-bleeds in those around him. When he hugs his father, the older man passes out. The family dog disappears. Jon’s only clue to his missing four years is the battered book left behind by the man he believes abducted him. And he and Chloe are determined to figure out what happened to Jon… before his presence does more than cause a couple of bloody noses. They’re sure they can solve the mystery and save Jon.”
I don’t know much about Caroline Kepnes, but I saw that a bunch of horror writers really like her work. Paul Tremblay said that “Caroline Kepnes’s Providence is an inventive, dark fairy tale/love story for the twenty-first century, a compulsively readable novel about the complexity of love, relationships, and the monsters we allow ourselves to become.” And Stephen King spoke of her latest novel, You, with high praise, saying her work was, “Hypnotic and scary. A little Ira Levin, a little Patricia Highsmith, and plenty of serious snark. Cool stuff.” I think it’s safe to say Kepnes is a writer to watch.
The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay, June 26th
Synopsis: “Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road. One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault.” Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.” Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.”
Paul Tremblay established himself as a force to be reckoned with his last novel, A Head Full of Ghosts, which combined the horrors of both demonic possession and reality television. For his efforts, he won a Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel in 2015. This guy writes excellent horror fiction, and I hope that The Cabin at the End of the World continues his streak of excellent horror literature.
Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach (August 7, 2018)
Synopsis: “Eric disappeared when he was three years old. Ben looked away for only a second at the grocery store, but that was all it took. His brother was gone. Vanished right into the sticky air of the Florida Panhandle. They say you’ve got only a couple days to find a missing person. Forty-eight hours to conduct searches, knock on doors, and talk to witnesses. Two days to tear the world apart if there’s any chance of putting yours back together. That’s your window. That window closed five years ago, leaving Ben’s life in ruins. He still looks for his brother. Still searches, while his stepmother sits and waits and whispers for Eric, refusing to leave the house that Ben’s father can no longer afford. Now twenty and desperate for work, Ben takes a night stock job at the only place that will have him: the store that blinked Eric out of existence. Ben can feel that there’s something wrong there. With the people. With his boss. With the graffitied baler that shudders and moans and beckons. There’s something wrong with the air itself. He knows he’s in the right place now. That the store has much to tell him. So he keeps searching. Keeps looking for his baby brother, while missing the most important message of all. That he should have stopped looking.”
Did you ever read “Footsteps,” the classic creepypasta from the subreddit r/NoSleep? Well, that poster, Dathan Auerbach, went on to self-publish his horror fiction debut, Penpal. Now he’s back with a novel that sounds even creepier than Penpal. I can’t wait to see how Auerbach explores themes of grief, pain, and obsession.
Any books that catch your eye? Any books that you think I should have included? Leave me your notes in the comments!