It’s spooky season! Time to curl up with a cozy blanket, something warm to drink, and a good book. This October has an embarrassment of riches as far as horror goes, and we have recommendations for whatever poison you’d like to pick. Gothic, slasher, futuristic, slow dread…the list does go on, so take a look and then take a seat, although hopefully you’ll only need the edge of it.
The Locked Tomb
Trilogy QUARTET (Tamsyn Muir) – Necromancers and Necro-romancers will recognize the familiar mingling of tragic loss and giddy excitement that accompanies this reminder: Alecto the Ninth has been delayed, but it’s because Muir has written an entire extra book, entitled Nona the Ninth and due out next year. Yes, that’s delay (boo) because new book (yay!) which is also a year away (boo), although it does mean there’s time to re-read/catch up on Gideon and Harrow (yay!). It’s a haunted corn maze of emotion, and this is the perfect time for it.
Star Eater (Kerstin Hall) – If you liked necromancer nuns in a haunted space palace, then get ready for…cannibal nuns on a floating island, with zombies! Elfreda lives on an island that floats above zombie-infested wastes, sustained by magic and governed by those who wield it. She participates reluctantly in rituals of flesh-eating and forced reproduction that are more and more damaging to her sanity, all to keep her community afloat, but even that may not be enough. Crops are failing, someone is killing Sisters, and the voices Elfreda hears may not just be in her head after all…
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke (Eric LaRocca) – A dark tale of queer desire that goes badly out of control, all told in quintessentially 90’s-speak, which is to say, over IM and email and on message boards. This is a dark hymn to the corners of the internet where people could find themselves and also lose themselves just as easily. You’ll never take your eyes–or an apple peeler–for granted again.
Revelator (Daryl Gregory) – I don’t think “Southern Gothic” quite gets at what Gregory is exemplifying here–call it “Appalachia Gothic” instead, and put it with T. Kingfisher’s Hollow Places and Alex Bledsoe’s Tufa novels. Whatever you do, put it in a place of honor, since this eerie story of a strange god in a mountain has some serious chills to offer. A schism in a secret pagan cult divides Stella from her family, and horrors start reaching out from between the cracks, ready to devour the newest Revelator–and maybe Stella too, unless she can stop the strange god under the mountain.
Nothing But Blackened Teeth (Cassandra Khaw) – Five frenemies meet for a last hurrah in a haunted Heian-era mansion in Japan to celebrate two of their number getting married. What could go wrong? Well, everything. Even the wallpaper begins to grin at their disastrous bickering as Cat and her “friends” get drunk and high, and the walls of propriety start giving out. They have so many secrets and resentments. So does the house, it turns out. And its mistress, the ghost with the ohaguro smile, wants to show them what real devotion looks like, not till death do they part but far, far beyond that.
Horseman (Christina Henry) – I’ve never much cared for the Sleepy Hollow mythos, but I might have known that Christina Henry could find new life in it and persuade me to enjoy it. Well, for some version of “enjoy.” There’s terror and dead children and horrible secrets here, but I never did want to raise my eyes from the page once I started. It’s a wild ride, and as ever, I finished it far too quickly. I always leave Henry’s books wanting more. Fortunately…
Near the Bone (Christina Henry) – Yes, there are two Christina Henry books on here, because when you put out two books in a year it’s the least I can do. This is a very dark story of trauma and survival, two topics that Henry excels at writing. She doesn’t overdramatize suffering; instead, she’s only ruthlessly honest about its terrors, and chooses instead to draw her drama from the defiance and endurance of the victims. A young woman under the domination of a religious fanatic begins to suspect that there really are supernatural things happening in her remote forest cabin, but those things have less to do with her husband’s faith and more to do with the cryptid that some local students are hunting. Whether she can escape monsters both human and creaturely is the question she has to ask herself as she begins a terrifying trek down the mountain.
A Certain Hunger (Chelsea G. Summers) – Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, this is a vicious banquet macabre for the rest of us—or festa macabra, since this is primarily about Italian food. The main character, named alliteratively Dorothy Daniels like a comic character, is a larger-than-life villain from the very first pages. But she’s the hero of her own story and she’ll make no apologies for her appetites. She loves eating, she loves sex, and she loves men, and it turns out that she finds a way to combine all three passions when she starts adding violence to the mix. This book is for anyone who likes slashers or gore; all others, proceed with caution.
Last House on Needless Street (Catriona Ward) – Ward has been established in the UK for a little bit now, but her US debut is cementing her as a major force in horror writing. She likes subtle magics and unreliable narrators, setting up twists that I would be hard-pressed to explain without ruining, so I won’t. Just read her books, and whatever you do, don’t read ahead. Let Ward show you wonders wrapped in horrors and vice versa, and then just sit back and be amazed.
The Death of Jane Lawrence (Caitlin Starling) – A very pure Gothic novel despite its slightly alternate-history setting, this features a very different sort of desperate maiden in a haunted house. Jane is an eminently sensible young women, and she plans to marry for security and convenience over love. She plans to barter her accounting and mathematical skills as a dowry in the hopes that an equally practical man might find an alliance attractive. She plans ahead quite carefully for Dr. Augustine Lawrence–but she doesn’t plan to actually fall for him. Nor does she plan to become embroiled in his past, which haunts him from every corner and reflection in his dilapidated mansion. Eerie and very Victorian, this also manages to have enough modern gore and feminism to keep it fresh.
Wendy, Darling (A. C. Wise) – This book takes the seemingly straightforward question “what happens when Wendy grows up?” and turns it into a dark meditation on memory, responsibility, and authority. What, indeed, happens when a young Victorian woman refuses to let go of a world in which she could fly and fight? Nothing good, she finds out. Wendy has always refused to forget Peter, and it turns out that Peter hasn’t forgotten her either. Except that Peter has no use for the woman she’s made herself into, and steals her daughter Jane away in her place. Wendy follows, only to find that Neverland really isn’t a place for adults–or for children. It’s a nightmare, and she’ll finally have to learn how to dream better dreams if she wants to get Jane out alive.
And What We Can Offer You Tonight (Preemee Mohamed) – Welcome to the world inside Bicchieri, the brothel where a courtesan is killed by a customer, only to…get better. Winfield may be a miracle, but she’s a dangerous one that Jewel will have to keep secret if they want to go on living…or whatever it is they do in the strange, terrible future. I think Mohamed wrote this after gorging herself on Caitlin R. Kiernan, since the prose is that specific kind of elegantly disjointed. Which is fine, because it’s a great little novella, punching far above its 76-page weight.