Finding good horror novels can be tricky, but one of the fastest ways I know to find a hauntingly good read (besides consulting the ghost of a librarian through a Ouija board, of course) is to look at the Bram Stoker Awards. Established in 1987, the awards highlight the best dark, macabre, suspenseful, and scary stories for readers around the world. So, whether you’re a seasoned spooky reader looking for some inspiration or someone who just loves to read the best of the best in all genres, here are eleven books sure to make your blood run cold.
2013 Nominee for Superior Achievement in a Novel
Some places just naturally feel haunted, and bayous tend to have that kind of spooky reputation. So, when nearly the entire Delongpre family goes missing near Bayou Rabineaux, no one is all that shocked. But Niquette Delongpre survives the ordeal that took her family and ends up changed—and not in a good way. A dangerous parasite has given her strange and horrifying destructive powers, and she’s not the only one. Niquette and her two best friends, Anthem and Ben, must find a way to stop a dark and unstable man from destroying everything while making sure the parasite can never again ruin anyone else’s life. Creepy, dark, and tragic, THE HEAVENS RISE is a perfect book for those looking for some southern charm in their chilling tales.
From New York Times bestselling author Christopher Rice: Three friends confront a deadly, ancient evil rising to the surface in a “masterful coming-of-age novel” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
It’s been a decade since the Delongpre family vanished, and still no one can explain the events of that dark and sweltering night. No one except Niquette Delongpre, who left behind her best friends, Ben and Anthem, to save them from her newfound capacity for destruction… She alone knows the source of her very bizarre—and very deadly—abilities: an isolated strip of swampland called Elysium.
Niquette’s father dreamed of transforming the dense acreage surrounded by murky waters into a palatial compound befitting the name his beloved wife gave to it, Elysium: “the final resting place for the heroic and virtuous.” Then, construction workers dug into a long-hidden well, one that snaked down into the deep, black waters of the Louisiana swamp and stirred something that had been there for centuries—a microscopic parasite that perverts the mind and corrupts the body.
Niquette is living proof that things done can’t be undone. Nothing will put her family back together again. But as Niquette, Ben, and Anthem uncover the truth of a devastating parasite that has the potential to alter the future of humankind, Niquette grasps the most chilling truths of all: someone else has been infected too. And unlike her, this man is not content to live in the shadows. He is intent to use his newfound powers for one reason only: revenge.
“Creepy, chilling, and almost impossible to put down” (Booklist), The Heavens Rise is an intense and atmospheric supernatural thriller about the shadowed terrors of the Louisiana bayou.
2017 Nominee for Superior Achievement in a Novel
Imagine if, out of nowhere, every woman in the world became wrapped in a cocoon the minute they fell asleep. But this is no ordinary cocoon; if anyone tries to disturb their encased sleep, they will kill their would-be waker. This nightmarish what-if is explored in harrowing and heartful depths by Stephen King, and his son, Owen King. As the men who are left behind do their best to keep the world going while protecting the women in their lives from fanatics looking to burn all the cocoons, the trapped women have a choice to make: come back to a world full of hurt and chaos, or live out their days in an otherworldly place where they can be safe and free.
2021 Winner for Superior Achievement in a Novel
Stephen Graham Jones has been in the horror game for many years, so it’s not surprising to find his works on the Bram Stoker Awards list year after year. In MY HEART IS A CHAINSAW, Jade Daniels doesn’t have a lot going for her: she’s an outcast with an abusive father and an encyclopedic knowledge of horror films. None of that knowledge has done her much good until suddenly people in her judgmental little town start dying. Equal parts heartwarming and blood-curdling, this intimate novel explores themes of isolation, loneliness, and trauma in a narrative sure to keep you hooked from start to finish.
In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for in this latest chilling novel that “will give you nightmares. The good kind, of course” (BuzzFeed) from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.
“Some girls just don’t know how to die…”
Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th in My Heart Is a Chainsaw, written by the New York Times bestselling author of The Only Good Indians Stephen Graham Jones, called “a literary master” by National Book Award winner Tananarive Due and “one of our most talented living writers” by Tommy Orange.
Alma Katsu calls My Heart Is a Chainsaw “a homage to slasher films that also manages to defy and transcend genre.” On the surface is a story of murder in small-town America. But beneath is its beating heart: a biting critique of American colonialism, Indigenous displacement, and gentrification, and a heartbreaking portrait of a broken young girl who uses horror movies to cope with the horror of her own life.
Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.
Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges…a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.
2014 Nominee for First Novel
You might be surprised to find David Cronenberg, who is best known for his films, on this list. But like many geniuses, he can do both! CONSUMED follows two parallel stories of human horrors and deceptive aesthetics. Naomi, a journalist, finds herself drawn to the gruesome murder of Marxist philosopher Célestine, who was supposedly murdered and eaten by her partner. But as Naomi delves deeper, she finds that this “It Couple” was doing much more than indulging in some light cannibalism. Meanwhile, Nathan, a photojournalist, documents the work of unlicensed surgeon Zoltán Molnár and winds up with a mysterious sexually transmitted disease that leads him on a wild ride across the globe. Visceral in the way only Cronenberg could pull off, this one is not for the faint of heart!
“An eye-opening dazzler” (Stephen King) about a pair of globetrotting, gore-obsessed journalists whose entanglement in a French philosopher’s death becomes a surreal journey into global conspiracy from legendary filmmaker David Cronenberg.
Stylish and camera-obsessed, Naomi and Nathan thrive on the yellow journalism of the social-media age. Naomi finds herself drawn to the headlines surrounding a famous couple, Célestine and Aristide, Marxist philosophers and sexual libertines. Célestine has been found dead, and Aristide has disappeared. Police suspect him of killing her and consuming parts of her body. Yet Naomi sets off to find him, and as she delves deeper into the couple’s lives, she discovers the news story may only skim the surface of the disturbing acts they performed together.
Journalist Nathan, meanwhile, is in Budapest photographing the controversial work of an unlicensed surgeon named Zoltán Molnár, once sought by Interpol for organ trafficking. After sleeping with one of Molnár’s patients, Nathan contracts a rare STD called Roiphe’s and travels to Toronto, determined to meet the man who discovered the syndrome. Dr. Barry Roiphe, Nathan learns, now studies his own adult daughter, whose bizarre behavior masks a devastating secret.
These parallel narratives become entwined in a gripping, dreamlike plot that involves geopolitics, 3-D printing, North Korea, the Cannes Film Festival, cancer, and, in an incredible number of varieties, sex. Consumed is an exuberant, provocative debut novel from one of the world’s leading film directors, a writer of “fierce sculptural intensity” (Jonathan Lethem, The New York Times Book Review) who makes it “impossible to look away” (Publishers Weekly).
1997 Nominee for Best Novel
Tananarive Due is a pillar of horror literature, blending traditional horror elements with racism and the Black experience in her stories. MY SOUL TO KEEP, the first in the African Immortals series, follows wife and mother Jessica, who finds out that her husband, David, is older than he let on. A lot older—four hundred years, to be exact. He tells Jessica that he made a pact to give up his humanity in order to live forever, and that the others who have also made this pact are coming to bring him home. But David can keep their family together if Jessica can make an impossible choice. This horror classic asks readers to question the importance of family, sacrifice, and death, and it’s a hauntingly good read. And if you’re looking for something new from this prolific author, be sure to check out THE REFORMATORY, coming out on Halloween 2023.
2022 Nominee for Superior Achievement in a First Novel
For some, a wide-open field of white snow is freedom, while for others it presents a kind of frozen nightmare. For Jonathan Morgan, a trans man who has stowed away on an Antarctic expedition, it’s a little bit of both. Jonathan finds himself finally able to live the life he has always wanted, having escaped the horrors of World War I to find peace at the ends of the earth. But when the expedition becomes lost and the men of the crew find themselves set upon by a mysterious entity, that peaceful expanse becomes little more than a frozen grave waiting to be filled. ALL THE WHITE SPACES is a chilling tale exploring the notion of self and the wild unknown, and it will have you shivering all the way down to your bones.
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.
2022 Nominee for Superior Achievement in a Novel
Do you ever read a book and think, Wow, these characters really deserved better? Then you’re going to love RELUCTANT IMMORTALS. Lucy Westenra, from DRACULA, and Bertha Rochester, from JANE EYRE, have managed to survive their original timelines and are now living in 1960s Los Angeles, out of the darkness and into the California sunshine. The only bad news is that their villains, Count Dracula and Mr. Rochester, have also lived this long. But as these women step into the new age of empowerment, there’s no going back to those old chapters. Dark yet heartwarming, this is a must-read for lit nerds and historical fiction fans alike.
For fans of Mexican Gothic, from three-time Bram Stoker Award–winning author Gwendolyn Kiste comes a novel inspired by the untold stories of forgotten women in classic literature—from Lucy Westnera, a victim of Stoker’s Dracula, and Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester’s attic-bound wife in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre—as they band together to combat the toxic men bent on destroying their lives, set against the backdrop of the Summer of Love, Haight-Ashbury, 1967.
Reluctant Immortals is a historical horror novel that looks at two men of classic literature, Dracula and Mr. Rochester, and the two women who survived them, Bertha and Lucy, who are now undead immortals residing in Los Angeles in 1967 when Dracula and Rochester make a shocking return in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.
Combining elements of historical and gothic fiction with a modern perspective, in a tale of love and betrayal and coercion, Reluctant Immortals is the lyrical and harrowing journey of two women from classic literature as they bravely claim their own destiny in a man’s world.
2014 Nominee for Superior Achievement in a Novel
Horror thrives in scenarios where unthinkable choices have to be made. Imagine this: All the children of the world die. Tragedy and grief abound, parents and family members are inconsolable, and then a miracle happens: the children return three days later, alive and well. Except it might not be such a miracle, because now these children thirst for blood. Do you feed your child blood, knowing you’ll have to kill people, or do you let your child die for a second time? That’s the impossible choice characters have to make in SUFFER THE CHILDREN, and it only gets more gruesome and heartbreaking from there. Definitely give it a read if you find kids to be the creepiest parts of horror films!
On a grand canvas reminiscent of Guillermo del Torro and Justin Cronin, acclaimed author Craig DiLouie presents "a terrifying novel filled with impossible decisions [and] a stark, brutal, and chilling vision of the end of days" (David Moody, author of Hater).
SO MANY MOUTHS TO FEED
It begins on an ordinary day: children around the world are dying. All children, everywhere—a global crisis beyond any parent’s worst nightmare. Then, a miracle beyond imagining: three days later, they return. Shattered mothers and fathers see their sons and daughters happy and whole once more, playing and laughing as before—but only when they feed. They hunger for blood…and they can’t get enough upon which to feast. Without it, they die again. How far would you go to keep someone you love alive?
2015 Winner for Superior Achievement in a Novel
The line between fiction and reality is one of those things that should be easy to find, and yet sometimes it’s harder than one might assume. When Merry was a kid, her sister became severely mentally ill, to the point where her father thought she might be possessed. Years later, as Merry comes to terms with what happened to her as a child, she explores moments when it was clear her sister’s malady was mental, and others when . . . well, it very much seems like it could have been supernatural. Gripping and chilling in all the best and most terrifying ways, A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS will have you questioning what’s real, and how something can terrify you and make you cry at the same time.
2021 Nominee for Superior Achievement in a Novel
The “final girl” is one of horror’s most famous tropes, referring to the single (and usually virginal) survivor of the villainous monster. But after the credits roll, what happens to the traumatized woman left behind? That’s the subject of Grady Hendrix’s THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP. The group is full of women who have survived horrific ordeals, but suddenly, their members are dwindling. Is something hunting these survivors? And will they be able to use their skills to escape the fate they’ve already beaten once before? Witty, heart-wrenching, and at times darkly funny, this is the perfect book for horror fans who love a good sequel.
2020 Nominee for Superior Achievement in a Novel
Horror is at its best when it challenges conventions and prejudices, and MEXICAN GOTHIC does that with fear and flair. The book follows Noemi, a fiercely independent Mexican woman who is sent by her father to check on her recently married cousin, who has sent some troubling letters. At first, all seems fine (if a bit racist) in the cousin’s new home with her English husband, but slowly, the rot that lies beneath the polished veneer of the house and the family peels away. Taking the best of Gothic and creature-feature terrors, this is the kind of book wherein the horror slowly but surely creeps up on you until you have no choice but to surrender to its dark story.
Photo credit: iStock / Nando Vidal