There were a ton of amazing horror books published in 2023, and as a genre, horror delivered so much — from fresh takes on vampire stories to historical works that looked at racism and misogyny. That made selecting just 10 titles for this list a formidable task. So consider this a personal pantheon of favorites from 2023.
Some of the books on this list are easy reads and some will challenge you. Some are long and multilayered while others have a great sense of humor or unfurl at breakneck speed. Some adhere to a classic understanding of horror and others aim to redefine it. The important thing is that they are all outstanding.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is known for her ability to stylishly jump from genre to genre, and in SILVER NITRATE (Del Rey, 318 pp., $28), she goes full-blown horror. The book follows Montse, a sound editor navigating the macho culture of the film industry in Mexico City in the ’90s, and her best friend, Tristán, a soap opera star whose career is withering, as they help a horror director shoot a scene that’s really a ritual to break an awful curse. It’s a creepy, fast-paced tale filled with Nazis on the run and more. The novel is also Mexican to the core — it celebrates the country’s history, culture and films. This book pulls you in with its lovable, deeply flawed characters and gripping plot, and wows you with its eerie atmosphere and deft blend of historical fiction, horror and black magic.
In Victor LaValle’s LONE WOMEN (One World, 281 pp., $27), a Black woman, Adelaide Henry, flees from California to Montana after the murder of her parents. Alone, haunted by her past and dragging a heavy steamer trunk that holds a deadly secret, Adelaide tries to rebuild her life as a homesteader while navigating her new surroundings. The story is elegantly written, unexpectedly gory, and tackles issues of racism and misogyny in 1915, but it’s LaValle’s empathy and pitch-perfect characterization that tattoo Adelaide’s story into your memory.
To crack open María Fernanda Ampuero’s HUMAN SACRIFICES (The Feminist Press, 130 pp., paperback, $15.95), translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle, is to confront a harrowing and profoundly unsettling onslaught. Blood, strange voices, fear of men, vicious dogs, corpse-eating flowers and the constant threats that come from being undocumented in a strange country fill the pages of this wonderful collection. And that’s only the first story. Fast, fierce and relentlessly brutal, these 12 stories are the literary equivalent of a feminist death metal album. “See me, see me,” one narrator begs. That turns out to be an easy request for the reader because it’s impossible to look away from this book.
Cassandra Khaw’s THE SALT GROWS HEAVY (Tor Nightfire, 106 pp., $21.99) is a bizarre fairy tale that follows a mermaid on the run after her daughters killed her husband, and a mysterious plague doctor who joins her in her roving. While wandering, they accidentally discover a village full of ageless children ruled by three “saints” who speak as one and perform bloody medical rituals. As the mermaid and the doctor discover the evil hidden in the village, they must also confront their own darkness and fight to stay alive. Fair warning, this is a gruesome story that makes even the worst narratives in the Grimm canon look tame, but Khaw’s poetic prose and stylish approach to gore make it a blood-soaked, unforgettable gem.
Part mystery and part horror, THE SANCTUARY (Schaffner, 186 pp., paperback, $16.95), by the Argentine author Gustavo Eduardo Abrevaya and translated by Andrea G. Labinger, is a short, sharp, claustrophobic novel about a man looking for his missing wife in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Unremitting existential dread drips from the pages, but the emotional turmoil of its main character keeps you glued to the story and rooting for a happy ending. “The Sanctuary” is a slice of cosmic horror noir that deserves a spot on your shelf alongside the greats like Thomas Ligotti, John Langan and Laird Barron.
Grief is the biggest monster in Clay McLeod Chapman’s WHAT KIND OF MOTHER (Quirk Books, 295 pp., $21.99), but there are also real monsters on land and in the water that are just as haunting. The novel follows a struggling tarot reader who tries to help her old flame locate his son. Unfortunately, the child died when he was a baby, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be found. This is a Southern Gothic that slowly morphs into a tale of body horror and desperation. The story is packed with profoundly unsettling scenes that’ll slither under your skin and stay there long after you turn the last page.
Some books not only make you question what you thought you knew but also channel a mysterious, melodious voice from the dark to make you doubt reality itself. THE INSATIABLE VOLT SISTERS (MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 451 pp., paperback, $18), by Rachel Eve Moulton, is that kind of book. Beatrice and Henrietta are sisters who reunite on the small island where they grew up after their enigmatic father’s death. This simple premise is the first layer of many in a novel full of disappearing women, disturbing monsters, a haunted house and a lot of guilt. Complex and beautifully written, this mesmerizing novel constantly reminds readers that we often have no clue what’s really going on.
Premee Mohamed’s NO ONE WILL COME BACK FOR US: And Other Stories (Undertow Publications, 286 pp., paperback, $20) is an impressive collection of 17 stories that shows a talented writer at the top of her game. Undead children, Lovecraftian entities, a humorous but endlessly dark look at the evils of bureaucracy, a descent into madness, a journalist who finds nameless horrors while researching the life of an explorer — Mohamed delivers it all. And she does it while using cosmic horror elements in new and exciting ways. The result is nothing short of spectacular.
Imagine one of those comedies in which a wedding goes horribly wrong. Now add Satanism, a ton of snark, and a plot about a young woman trying to navigate both the wounds of a shattered relationship with her mother and the memories of a father who abandoned her, and you’ll get Rachel Harrison’s love letter to horror, BLACK SHEEP (Berkley, 289 pp., $27). This novel is irreverent and hilarious but also spine-chilling and dark. It plays with familiar tropes while also delivering plenty of scares and some devastating emotional writing. It all comes together to form a fun and heartfelt novel about coming home.
OUR SHARE OF NIGHT (Hogarth, 588 pp., $28.99), by Mariana Enriquez and translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, is an epic, intricate, intense 600-page novel that jumps back and forth in time to tell the story of a haunted man trying to protect his son from an evil cult. The story Enriquez crafts is strange and wonderfully dark, with superb atmosphere and stellar writing. Shocking cruelty, grisly rituals, an elaborate magic system, and the brutality of Argentina’s military dictatorship and its aftermath all share center stage here, and the mix is intoxicating.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, editor, literary critic and professor. He is the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award-winning author of “The Devil Takes You Home.”