6 Historical Horror Reads for a Frightfully Fun Time

Sara Roncero-Menendez
March 18 2022
Share 6 Historical Horror Reads for a Frightfully Fun Time

Some things just go together: peanut butter and jelly, eggs and toast, horror and historical fiction. Stories taking place in a world without convenient communication technologies, GPS, or even speedy transportation. The slow buildup of tension, darkened hallways lit by candlelight, never sure what monster is waiting in the walls or around corners. If you’re looking for frights of days gone by, you can’t go wrong with any of these horror-filled historical novels.

All the White Spaces
by Ally Wilkes

In the wake of World War I, Jonathan Morgan finds the courage to stow away on a boat headed for Antarctica to get away from society and live his true life as a man. But being accepted by the cis-men on board is not the only challenge Jonathan will have to face. The crew is forced to leave the ship and winter on land, an eerie place they have yet to map, that carries dark and unforeseen dangers. Part of the terror of ALL THE WHITE SPACES is how little was known about Antarctica, giving the narrative a sense of wonder and dread as the crew has to fight with what little tools they have to survive. Plus, with the emerging news of the Endurance shipwreck found in Antarctica, this historic misadventure is more relevant now than ever!

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All the White Spaces
Ally Wilkes

Something deadly and mysterious stalks the members of an isolated polar expedition in this haunting and spellbinding historical horror novel, perfect for fans of Dan Simmons’s The Terror and Alma Katsu’s The Hunger.

In the wake of the First World War, Jonathan Morgan stows away on an Antarctic expedition, determined to find his rightful place in the world of men. Aboard the expeditionary ship of his hero, the world-famous explorer James “Australis” Randall, Jonathan may live as his true self—and true gender—and have the adventures he has always been denied. But not all is smooth sailing: the war casts its long shadow over them all, and grief, guilt, and mistrust skulk among the explorers.

When disaster strikes in Antarctica’s frozen Weddell Sea, the men must take to the land and overwinter somewhere which immediately seems both eerie and wrong; a place not marked on any of their part-drawn maps of the vast white continent. Now completely isolated, Randall’s expedition has no ability to contact the outside world. And no one is coming to rescue them.

In the freezing darkness of the Polar night, where the aurora creeps across the sky, something terrible has been waiting to lure them out into its deadly landscape…

As the harsh Antarctic winter descends, this supernatural force will prey on their deepest desires and deepest fears to pick them off one by one. It is up to Jonathan to overcome his own ghosts before he and the expedition are utterly destroyed.

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The Residence
by Andrew Pyper

The Spiritualist movement of the nineteenth century brought the séance into the popular consciousness, with mediums going to people’s homes to communicate with spirits. THE RESIDENCE adds an interesting new twist to this by involving the president of the United States. Franklin Pierce lost his son Bennie in a terrible train accident just before he took office, and he’s not sure if the voices he hears and the dread he feels in the White House are his grief or something supernatural. His wife brings in the Fox Sisters, the most famous Spiritualists of their day, to try to remedy the situation, but it only makes it worse. Amidst a web of lies, secrets, and sorrow, the Pierces must come to terms with what they’ve lost as they try to keep the country stable.

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The Residence
Andrew Pyper

In this “chilling, profound” (Josh Malerman, New York Times bestselling author of Bird Box and Malorie) horror story based on true events, the President’s late son haunts the White House, breaking the spirit of what remains of the First Family and the divided America beyond the residence’s walls.

The year is 1853. President-elect Franklin Pierce is traveling with his family to Washington, DC, when tragedy strikes. In an instant, their train runs off the rails, violently flinging passengers about the cabin. But when the great iron machine finally comes to rest, the only casualty is the President-elect’s beloved son, Bennie, which casts Franklin’s presidency in a pal of sorrow and grief.

As Franklin moves into the White House, he begins to notice that something bizarre is happening. Strange sounds coming from the walls and ceiling, creepy voices that seem to echo out of time itself, and visions of spirits crushed under the weight of American history.

But when First Lady Jane Pierce brings in the most noted Spiritualists of the day, the Fox sisters, for a séance, the barrier between this world and the next is torn asunder. Something horrible comes through and takes up residence alongside Franklin and Jane in the walls of the very mansion itself.

Only by overcoming their grief and confronting their darkest secrets can Jane and Franklin hope to rid themselves—and America—from the entity that seeks to make the White House its permanent home.

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The Wolf and the Watchman
by Niklas Natt och Dag

Nothing says dark and atmospheric like a brutal murder mystery that takes place in eighteenth-century Sweden. Watchman Mikel Cardell is awakened to the gruesome discovery of a body floating in the Larder, and that lawyer Cecil Winge has taken responsibility for finding out who did it. But there’s something rotten brewing in the streets and there are more sinister actors in this play than Cardell and Winge could have imagined. A tale of a city’s seedy underbelly and the depths of human cruelty, THE WOLF AND THE WATCHMAN will take you back in time to experience the horrors of a world in chaos.

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The Wolf and the Watchman
Niklas Natt och Dag

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The Poisoned Island
by Lloyd Shepherd

You reap what you sow, as the old saying goes, but it’s never been truer than for the characters in THE POISONED ISLAND. The Solander, a ship full to the brim with delightful and exotic plants from Tahiti, docks in London in 1812. But that wonder turns to woe as, one by one, the crew of the Solander begin to die. And not just any deaths; the bodies are found strangled but with a blissful look on their faces. It’s up to Police Chief Charles Horton to figure out why these men are dying, and what ties them to these mysterious plants, before it’s too late. A slowly winding mystery in Georgian England, this tale is sure to keep you up long into the night.

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The Poisoned Island
Lloyd Shepherd

A brilliant young police officer discovers a series of bizarre deaths are connected to the cargo of a research vessel bound for Kew Gardens in this fantasy-tinged historical thriller set in early nineteenth-century London.

Tahiti 1769. English sailors arrive on the shores of the Polynesian paradise— a place of staggering beauty where magic and ancient myths still hold sway. But they soon devastate the island with disease, war, and death, planting deadly seeds that will be carried back to England forty years later.

London 1812. On a gray June morning, the Solander docks, her hold containing hundreds of exotic plants from Tahiti for the King’s Gardens at Kew. The apparently successful expedition soon takes a horrifying— and inexplicable—turn: The crew of the Solander starts dying one by one. Thames River Police Chief Charles Horton can find no signs of murder or suicide to explain the deaths, and the ship’s surviving crew seems intent on hampering his investigation. When one of the plants begins to show frightening changes, it is up to Charles Horton to determine how it might be stopped.

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MENTIONED IN:

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Close
Slade House
by David Mitchell

Why go with one historical era when you can have all of them? Well, not all of them, but what SLADE HOUSE brings to this list is a narrative that takes place over several decades. The story begins in 1979, when a boy and his mother go to visit the titular Slade House, only to find themselves ensnared in a vicious hallucination that ends with them trapped and devoured. Each chapter revisits the home nine years later, with new victims, new visions, and a slowly unraveling plot about the sinister forces behind the house. A journey through time and terror, this short but impactful read will have you howling for more.

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Slade House
David Mitchell

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Lovecraft Country
by Matt Ruff

The best horror manages to combine the horror of the supernatural and that of the everyday. In LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, the monsters of H. P. Lovecraft’s dark tales are famous for the racism that the 1950s—and Lovecraft himself—was infamous for. The book follows Atticus Turner and his family and friends as they seek to uncover the truth behind a mysterious cult tapping into dark forces. Along the journey, they confront issues of police brutality, housing discrimination and redlining, the segregation of hotels and academic institutions, and more. The stories in this book see the characters fighting on multiple fronts just to stay alive, and the real horror has nothing to do with eldritch gods.

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Lovecraft Country
Matt Ruff

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Photo credit: iStock / AnSyvanych

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