Another year is coming to an end, though if I’m honest 2020 has felt like a whole decade rolled into one. Still, there are some things to celebrate this year, and as December looms large, it’s time for critics and reviewers to start putting together our “best of” lists.
Honestly, this has been an incredible year for horror books. Authors have thrived in an environment that has tested film at every turn. You don’t need large crowds and “butts in seats” for book launches. You only need avid readers with access to online bookstores.
This does, however, make my job especially hard this year because there have been so many incredible books, many from independent and small presses that have just knocked my socks off. Terrifying, gorgeous storytelling that kept me turning pages and looking over my shoulder was the name of the publishing game in 2020. Check out my list below and let me know what you read this year in the comments!
#10 The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus
George A. Romero began writing this book long before his death, but it sadly remained unfinished until his widow contacted author Daniel Kraus and asked if he would be willing to complete the novel. What emerged was a brilliant, epic story of the onset of the zombie apocalypse in a way that Romero was never able to conjure onscreen. If The Stand had been about zombies, it would have been The Living Dead which is about the best compliment a novel of this type can receive. If you haven’t read it, you simply don’t know what you’re missing.
#9 The Malan Witch by Catherine Cavendish
If horror tales and ghost stories steeped in folklore of the British Isles with a twist or two along the way is your jam, then The Malan Witch is exactly the book for you. Cavendish has a knack for description and atmosphere that will keep you turning pages and guessing what is truly going on at an isolated seaside cottage until the final word. Buy it; turn down the lights, and immerse yourself in her world. You won’t be disappointed.
#8 If it Bleeds by Stephen King
Stephen King never fails to deliver, and this year was no different. If it Bleeds is a collection of four stories that are a good mixture of classic and new Stephen King with something for every kind of King fan. The collection is good, though somewhat uneven, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the title story/novella. You should definitely check this one out!
#7 The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
I only just recently read The Only Good Indians. It is one of those novels that is almost impossible to discuss without giving something away. I’ll only say that Jones continues to be one of my favorite authors, and this tale of identity, revenge, and despair is as heartbreaking as it is unnerving. It’s not essentially traditional horror, but that’s exactly what works for it. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
#6 Monstre: Volume One by Duncan Swan
This epic horror novel begins when an unexplained phenomena occurs at the CERN labs in Switzerland. An unexpected explosion sears the world around it and unleashes a terrifying cloud that blocks out the sun. The cloud quickly begins to grow. The darkness is terrifying enough, but there are deadly creatures living inside that darkness and soon all of Europe will fall.
What’s most interesting about this novel is that it takes place in two time periods. It begins on Day 0, then flashes forward to the United States on Day 89. The cloud will soon reach the Eastern Seaboard and lawlessness and mass suicides have become commonplace. As we flash forward and back, Swan gives us the story of how this all began and the long-term fallout simultaneously in a way that is intense from start to finish.
#5 True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik
Way back in January, I predicted you’d be seeing this book on “Best of” lists at the end of the year. That kind of statement has a way of coming back to haunt a writer, but I’m so glad that isn’t the case in 2020. Samantha Kolesnik’s debut novella True Crime is a gut-punch of a story with passages that cannot be unread. It is brutal, raw fiction that will fill you with dread to the point of turning your stomach, but you will keep turning those pages to find out what happens next. In short it’s what horror books are supposed to be.
#4 The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher
The Hollow Places is a quirky novel as hilarious as it is dread-inducing, something that was much needed in 2020. It revolves around a young woman, newly divorced, who accepts an offer to stay with her uncle at his curiosity museum. After he has to undergo emergency surgery, she’s left to mind the museum on her own. No big deal, right? It wouldn’t be except that she discovers an opening to a terrifying world that lies just on the other side of one of the walls and it’s trying to make its way farther into our own. I could not put this book down once I picked it up, and you won’t either. It’s easily one of the best horror books of the year.
#3 The Worm and His Kings by Hailey Piper
This cosmic horror book reads like opera in the best way possible. A young homeless woman finds herself drawn into a terrifying underground mystery after her partner goes missing. Desperate to find her, she follows a monstrous being into the dark depths of night and finds herself in the middle of a world-ending mystery that could cost her everything. I’ve not read anything as gorgeous and unsettling as the final 15 pages of this novella in a long time. If you’re looking for cosmic horror done right, look no further than The Worm and His Kings.
#2 The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
Simone St. James crafts a haunting story that will stay with you long after you close its cover. Something just isn’t right about The Sun Down. A young woman named Carly is determined to find out what. Her Aunt Viv disappeared at the motel years decades before, and Carly simply can’t let the mystery go. After she travels to the location in Upstate New York and applies for a job at the motel, she soon finds herself involved in the same mysteries that plagued Viv with terrifying consequences. Some evils aren’t so simply defeated. This page-turner is compelling and mystifying and will keep you guessing to the very end.
#1 The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
Alexis Henderson crafted a dark, dystopian fantasy that centers on a young woman named Immanuelle Moore. Born in disgrace, Immanuelle does everything she can to conform to the puritanical law of the Prophet, but after an accident leads her into the Darkwood where four powerful witches were once slaughtered, the young woman’s eyes are opened to a new reality that will force her to move against convention in ways she never dreamed. Powerful, moving, and often downright scary, this book is one that will make you think long and hard about who you are, where you fit, and what you would do to right generational wrongs. For all of these reasons, The Year of the Witching earned my top spot for the best horror books of 2020.