5 Horror Books That Bring the Fear
It many not be the best selling genre around, but f you look back over the decades, you can see that the best horror books stand the test of time (we’re still reading Dracula and Frankenstein, a century or more later). But what makes a good horror story? Most indie-published horror novels fail to make an impact because the genre is small and competitive, and the books on offer have a tough time differentiating themselves from others in the category. It doesn’t have to be this way, though! We checked the downloads, reviews, and rankings for the horror novels shared with Hidden Gems subscribers this quarter, and identified the five which resonated with our readers the most. If you’re looking to write horror well – or just want a scary read – you’d be well off starting with these.
What Preys Within by Brett Gurda
The first novel by author Brett Gurda, What Preys Within is the tale of a tough kid from the Bronx, Eric, whose career as a prizefighter evolves into fighting the forces of darkness when he becomes a demon-hunting exorcist. Dark and truly despicable forces lurk in the darkness, and Eric and those who stand against them have to battle not just the creatures of hell itself, but their own quandaries as they’re challenged with the fact that they’re the forces of ‘good’ and yet are deeply morally troubled themselves.
I think this book succeeds because it takes so much of what’s familiar – the religious narrative, demons and demon hunters – and puts a new, contemporary spin on it. The writing is very taut and fast-paced as well, and the characterization stands apart because it has the moral complexity too often missing in books about black and white definitions of good and evil.
“A wonderful summer read,” wrote Darron Clark in his 5-star review. “An awesome fable concerning demons and those who kill them. Be warned of dark and disturbing satire, but a fast-paced action book. Fans of the Exorcist and Lord of the Rings will love this book.”
“Exciting read!” Joe Quartararo wrote in his own 5-star review. “This action-packed fantasy kept me on the edge of my seat. The author grabs your interest from the start and doesn’t let go until the surprising end.”
Pauper King by E. Stuart Marlowe
The super creepy cover of this horror book is enough to grab anybody’s attention, and I think that’s one of the reasons it appealed so strongly with Hidden Gems subscribers. The concept is also vividly unique – a twisted fairy tale in which Snow White has been murdered, and other characters from timeless tales face a similar, gruesome fate. This is the kind of book that struggles to find mainstream appeal in the mold of romance or thrillers, but digs its claws into fans of the horror genre and never lets go.
“What an unexpected gem!” writes s_bg in her 5-star review. “I think I’ve found my desert island book for the year. Pauper King is a head-spinning fairy tale which floats between horror and magical realism. There’s a little fantasy in the mix, but it’s the FAIRY sort, as opposed to the more, shall we say, whimsical FAIRIE kind. The outpouring of ideas can’t be beat. Marlowe has borrowed a lot from tradition, and then spun the material into a new coat – or a rug – or even a really nice tea cozy.”
“A dark fantasy page-turner,” writes Susan T. Cox-Moser in her own 5-star review. “Pauper King hits the ground running and then never stops. We’re introduced to familiar fairy book characters, but this isn’t the world of Disney. This is a gritty medieval land which these characters just happen to inhabit. Magic collides with real events, whether it’s the Black Plague (called the Grim Doom here) or the inquisition. This is all backdrop for a father distraught over the murder of his estranged daughter, Snow White, and his determination to track down her killer. In fact, despite everything going on here, it’s the murder mystery which drives the story, as we travel from one murder scene to the next, each fairy tale character meeting a gruesome but fitting death. There’s a lot to recommend here, from the humor to the memorable characters. Pauper King is a fun, thought provoking fantasy.”
The Last Disciple by James Holmes
James Holmes is a 25-year veteran journalist and his succinct use of prose and ability to instantly find the ‘hook’ is what makes this terrific, apocalyptic novel stand out from others in the horror genre. Ostensibly it’s the tale of Gods, and Demons, and the sinister truth that could lead to the end of the world – but, in reality, Holmes keeps us enthralled because this is actually the tale of former Special Forces soldier John Sunday, and how he deals with discovering everything he’d thought he’d known about the world was a lie.
“An intense read worth your time,” writes Rebecca Hamilton in her 5-star review. “I commend the author for taking on such a bold set of topics, especially since it is his first book. As I read through I never felt deceived by the information he provided. It is apparent that all the addressed topics (both contemporary and historical) were well researched. I deal with PTSD (non-military) on a daily basis and I was particularly impressed with how many times I read a passage that just “hit the nail on the head”. There were many times I said to myself “he’s getting it” or “yes, this is exactly what I feel sometimes”. It was refreshing after having recently read another book which tied up in mental illness in a pretty bow after two therapy sessions for the character. I often found myself able envision myself as a part of the scenes, this sometimes led to necessary breaks from reading due to the graphic nature of parts the story line, but I persevered through, and I am glad I did. The ending provided an intriguing set up for the next book, which I am excitedly anticipating.”
“Don’t think about it, just get the book!” writes mateo bachini in another 5-star review. “This book is fantastic! Full of action, suspense, drama. I couldn’t put the book down! I don’t read a lot but I’m glad I read this one. Easy to read, quick chapters so the story never slows down. Tons of historical facts woven into this great fiction novel. When I finished I was upset the second book of the series isn’t available yet. Come on James Holmes I need the next book (The Last Testament) now!”
Chivalry Among Vampires by Elizabeth Guizzetti
I mentioned earlier that people are still reading Dracula, even 123 years after it was published – and maybe that’s why Elizabeth Guizzetti‘s book appealed to me, because it has a very Victorian-esque cover just like the version of Dracula I’d taken from my parents bookshelf as a child. Elizabeth is a prolific author, and Chivalry Among Vampires follows on from Honor Among Vampires, which some reviewers recommend reading first. It’s a richly detailed historical tale that weaves horror, history, and storytelling into one deliciously unexpected package and once you dig in, you’ll instantly see why this book resonated with our readers.
“Moral conundrums, and discovery of honor and chivalry,” writes Leslie in her 5-star review. “I recommend reading Honor Among Vampires before reading this book; it doesn’t have the same effect without it. While this is a shorter book, a lot happens. The main characters have realistic, dynamic development and ultimately we like them – and I think the author toes the line of good versus evil excellently. There are explanations and rationale in every chapter that lead to a better understanding of the reality the characters live in. Overall I would highly recommend this book.”
Debra liked how we learn about the practical challenges of surviving as a vampire, writing in her 5-star review: “A vampire has to do what a vampire has to do to survive, adapt and fit in. This tale is about how our vampiric duo try to make a life for themselves in the 1500’s. I liked how Jakub and Agata saved the ladies who are as misunderstood as they themselves are.”
Nightshade’s Requiem by Anthony Hains
I haven’t saved the best for last, but I’ve certainly kept the most chilling of these horror books for the final place. Nightshade’s Requiem is a truly disquieting tale of foster kid Cole, who has his own literal demons to face. For years, he’d kept them contained thanks to the wisdom of his grandmother – but when he’s placed in a twisted, haunted insane asylum, who knows what the trauma, horror, and history of the place will release? Really, a terrific book – and it earned Anthony Hains a new fan when I read it. I don’t think there’s much confusion about why this book appealed to fans of the horror genre so much.
“Intense and engrossing,” writes Mallory A. Haws of The Haunted Reading Room Reviews in a 5-star review. “Insane asylums have always fascinated me, both asylum-in-action and asylum’s aftermath: dessication, decay, ghosts. This supernatural horror nearly interweaves both; events of September 1962, and the “asylum-under-renovation for tours” in a contemporary timeset. I venture to think that author Anthony Hains has most definitely done his research, as the inclusion of “techniques” of 1962 and also in earlier eras, and the conditions when the Asylum was formerly utilized as a tuberculosis sanitorium seem very accurate.”
“From the outset, we are given lots of extremely creepy situations, some horrifying inside-the-asylum imagery, and the illusion that this story will be a purely supernatural affair,” writes reviewer Brennan LaFaro. “There is plenty of that, but rest assured there’s a whole other depth to this tale. This depth makes it a tough read at times, especially as a parent, but is rewarding.”