Vampires, werewolves, zombies — everyone knows the archetypes. It takes some effort to make them scary anymore.
Especially after the horror that is Twilight.
Fortunately, there are plenty of novels from the past few years with fresh takes on otherwise tired horror tropes. Here are some of the best of these books that will give you a scare — and make you think — this Halloween.
The Girl With All the Gifts
By M. R. Carey
We had slow zombies for decades, and when they stopped being scary, everybody switched to fast zombies. Regardless, they were still mindless, horrors driven only by hunger. In Carey’s stunning The Girl with All the Gifts, the zombies are intelligent. Well, some of them are. The novel follows Melanie, a girl with a genius-level IQ who is kept in a secure English military base as the zombie apocalypse rages. Strapped into her chair and not permitted any human contact during school, she is studied by scientists trying to determine why she and her “hungry” classmates have not lost their minds like the other zombies. It’s a deeply profound and unsettling take on the zombie novel that was made into an equally excellent, and unfortunately ignored, film in 2016.
By Mira Grant
It’s not the source material for the award-winning 2019 Korean film, but in Parasite, Grant (the horror alter-ego of award-winning fantasy author Seanan McGuire) offers another fresh take on the zombie genre with this tale of miracle cures gone awry. A pharmaceutical company has engineered a symbiotic tapeworm that provides miraculous health to its hosts, virtually eliminating disease. The problems begin when the tapeworms start exerting control over their hosts.
The Witches of Lychford
By Paul Cornell
The longtime boogie-women of fairytales, what with the gingerbread houses and turning people into newts, witches have enjoyed rehabilitation of late and aren’t particularly scary anymore. And neither are the titular trio in this recent tale from Doctor Who author Paul Cornell. The English village of Lychford sits at the intersection of supernatural worlds and is facing a powerful threat. Judith, the local curmudgeon, recruits Lizzie, the new town vicar, and Autumn, the owner of a New Age shop, to form a coven and defend their hamlet from this ultimate evil, a chain supermarket looking to move into the village.
By Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Or maybe witches aren’t so rehabilitated after all. This award-winning Dutch author’s American debut offers a terrifying look at a small town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a 400-year-old ghost whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. The townspeople live in fear of her being caught by her — and of her being discovered by outsiders. They are also trapped in the town by her curse. Originally published in the Netherlands in 2013, the novel was rewritten for English audiences and published stateside in 2016.
By Justin Cronin
Cronin’s vampires aren’t the sexy, sparkly kind. They’re not even the gothic romantics of previous generations. The product of government supersoldier experiments, the immortal creatures of Cronin’s acclaimed trilogy reign over a post-apocalyptic America, a nuclear wasteland with dwindling groups of human survivors. One of the original test subjects, an orphan named Amy who was infected as a child, becomes an unlikely savior to the human race as she leads them against the original 13 test subjects.
By Indra Das
Werewolves are always supposed to be English, right? That’s why you have to stay off the moors. In his debut novel, however, Das takes this British horror creature and transplants him into India. He even jokes about his creature’s heritage. The Devourers follows Alok, a young history professor in modern Kolkata, who is enlisted by a stranger claiming to be half-werewolf to transcribe his life story. The result is a brutal and thought-provoking examination of colonialism, race, and gender roles.
We Are All Completely Fine
By Daryl Gregory
What’s more terrifying than facing an Eldritch Abomination? According to Gregory, attending a support group with others who have survived encounters with Eldritch Abominations. Daryl Gregory’s award-winning We Are All Completely Fine documents one such group. Organized by Dr. Jane Sayer, a therapist who may be hiding secrets of her own, the quintet of survivors face their metaphorical demons, and in doing so unlock the real horrors behind their respective nightmares, which could be interrelated. Gregory also wrote a YA prequel, featuring the novel’s broken monster hunter, Harrison Harrison. Harrison Squared follows the protagonist as a high school student attending a new school that owes a lot to Lovecraft’s mythos, and is considerably more light-hearted.
(This article appeared in 2017 and has been updated.)