Stephen King is truly a legend of the horror genre. He has been publishing horror novels steadily since the release of Carrie in 1974, alongside countless shorts stores and novellas, and at this point it is impossible to imagine the modern horror genre with out him. He has been the inspiration for, and in many ways a mentor to, dozens of horror authors. Even with his prolific output, however, sooner or later the devoted reader is going to run out of Stephen King novels they haven’t read. So if you’re stuck in between last month’s The Institute and King’s next release (If it Bleeds, May 2020), now might be the perfect time to branch out and try something new. Now, putting together a list of authors like Stephen King will always going be a subjective exercise, if only because everyone has something different that draws them to his book. But what is exciting to me about all the authors on this list is that while their work will appeal to King fans, each is still doing their own thing and making their own mark on the genre.
Okay, so putting Katsu on this list is a bit of a cheat, as she is one of the authors on this list that King himself has actually recommended on his social media. But with good reason! Her novel The Hunger shares a folkloric heart with much of his oeuvre. Whereas King’s novels often evoke the spirit (and sometimes the actual figures) of American folklore, Katsu’s novel is actual set in the midst of a bloody incident in American history that has taken on the proportions of a terrifying folktale. Everyone knows about the Donner party, and whether what we know is historically accurate no longer matters when it comes to telling the tale. In Katsu’s The Hunger, the party of ninetysome pioneers headed west are not only confronted by the horrors of a long journey through treacherous landscapes; they are also being hunted by some terrible evil that might just be the work of one of their own. Big fan of King’s works exploring the horrors of isolation, like 1999’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon? Katsu’s telling of the dire fate of the Donner Party should be on your list. And get hyped, because she’s coming back with another historical take next spring with The Deep, about the Titanic and her sister ship the Britannic.
Scooby Doo, Stranger Things, and Stephen King’s IT are in many ways all ancestors of Edgar Cantero’s delightful, eldritch Meddling Kids. Thirteen years ago the Blyton Summer Detective Club encountered a nightmarish case that ended their amateur sleuthing careers. They scattered to the winds, their bright futures dashed. But now it’s 1990, and time for them all to return to their little mining town in the Zoinx River Valley (Zoinx!) Cantero’s novel is set explicitly in Lovecraft’s Massachusetts, with references to Arkham and the promise of terrifying, eldritch horrors. It’s a literary DNA he shares with a number of King’s books that implicitly pay homage to the creations of legendary writer (and terrible human being) to whom we owe much of our modern Cosmic Horror fiction. Definitely a read-alike for It, but also for fans of “The Mist” (in the collection Skeleton Crew). Yay tentacles. If Meddling Kids scratches your itch for more, make sure that you check out Cantero’s other books. He has great range when it comes to subject matter, and his books have a dark humor which Kings fans will be familiar.
Did I mention I love any of King’s works where abnormal circumstances turn seemingly good, ordinary people feral, exposing their dark secrets? Because I do. So when someone pointed me towards DeMeester’s Beneath and said the words “snake-handling Appalachian cult” I didn’t ask follow up questions. I just added it to my list. Cora Maybun is a reporter in over her head. The last thing she wanted was to be sent up the mountain back to the fundamentalist world that she’d once escaped, and now she’s stumbled onto something much darker than a rogue sect. There are old secrets buried under this little town, and they are waking up. All ready read In the Tall Grass and twitched your way through the Netflix film? The evil in Beneath may not be big black rock shaped, but this book will definitely give you more of that “inexplicable underground eldritch monster” fun. And if DeMeester’s nature-saturated horror creeps under your skin, also consider picking up her collection Everything That’s Underneath, in which she develops similar themes.
One of the most remarkable things about Stephen King is his incredible range of subjects. Evil cars, crazed “number one” fans, eldritch clown monsters, aliens, undead children; and that’s just skimming the surface. And you might say “Jessica, that’s just writing. You can’t have a writing career if you just write the same book over and over” but listen, I’m pretty sure that’s what a lot of authors have gotten away with for years. But it takes a really creative, curious spirit to dream up with such a vast quantity of original standalone novels. Which is why Lukavics is on this list. Her debut novel Daughters Unto Devils was published in 2015, so she’s only been published for four years. But in that time she’s published four uniquely sinister novels. Like King, she clearly takes inspiration from some the great fears that have always driven horror: ghosts, secrets, puritanical religious beliefs, isolation, imprisonment, and the terrible cost of grief. You can start with Daughters Unto Devils for a delightful dose of American folk horror, or if you’re feeling nostalgic for the undead child part of King’s oeuvre, read Lukavics’ The Ravenous, about a pack of sisters trying to keep their family together even though one of them is technically dead. And hungry.
Not only is Beuke’s much loved The Shining Girls an excellent read-a-like for King fans, Beukes is also one of the other authors on this list that comes recommended by King himself. Beukes’s Depression-era science fiction horror follows serial killer Harper Curtis as he travels through time to murder the “shining girls.” But when one of these special young women gets the better of him in 1989, she turns the tables and starts stalking Curtis instead. In short, it’s a book about a time traveling serial killer, and the girl who goes “Hard Candy” on him. Many of King’s books have had strong, science fiction elements, so if some of your favorite King works are The Langoliers, 11/22/63, or Under the Dome, then you should consider making The Shining Girls your next read and taking a look at Lauren Beukes’s other works.
At this point most readers, even if they don’t frequent the horror genre, have at least heard of Josh Malerman in passing because of the Netflix adaptation of his book Bird Box. I also recently saw his contribution to Shudder’s reboot of Creepshow, “The House of the Head.” Thank you, Josh Malerman, I will never be able to look at a doll house the same way again. Or even look at a doll house, for that matter. Malerman has been drawing comparisons with King since Bird Box was published and started garnering critical attention, and when it comes to his capacity for truly chilling storytelling, it’s not hard to see why. Obviously Bird Box would be a great starting point for new Malerman readers, but I personally am more excited to read his most recent book Inspection, about two students in two very strange schools deep, deep in the woods.
Do you like harrowing psychological horrors about secrets, obsession, and/or revenge? Well if you’re a King fan, and here looking for more authors like Stephen King, I’m going to guess that’s a yes. So you definitely want to put Kanae Minato on your radar. Only two of her novels have been translated thus far, including her debut novel Confessions, but it seems likely more will follow. If some of your favorite King reads are Misery or Gerald’s Game (Scarred. I have been scarred for life.), then you need to pick up a copy of Confessions. Middle school teacher Yuko Moriguchi lost everything when her 4-year-old daughter Manami died on the school playground. Now she has one last lesson for those responsible for Manami’s death. Seriously, hold on to your pants. Because this book is one dark, twisty read.
If you find yourself standing in a big old house in rural Kansas, beware, you may be in a Scott Thomas novel. Thomas is a fairly recent edition to the horror genre. His debut novel Kill Creek was published in 2017, and his sophomore novel Violet was just released this September. Like King, whom he cites as one of his biggest influences, Thomas’s novels are as much about people as they are about inhuman or undead terrors. Kill Creek is a great place to start, introducing its readers to a whole cast of horror authors who have agreed to spend Halloween night in an infamous haunted house. Talk about a PR stunt that goes horribly, horribly wrong. Thomas’ second novel, Violet, is actually on its way to my TBR right now, though how I’ll ever survive reading it, I do not know. Ever since I watched Lights Out, the idea of an adult confronting their sinister childhood “imaginary” friend is enough to send me running.
Jessica, did you put Gillian French on this list just because she writes books set in Maine? No (mostly no). I actually included Gillian French on this list because she writes suspenseful, psychological YA thrillers set in Maine that are in open discussion with the less attractive parts of Maine life: classism, rural poverty, alcoholism, and the bigotry that often comes with small town life. A life where everyone knows everyone else’s secrets, and yet there are still things that no one in town will talk about. French’s work is uniquely Maine. You could not pick up one of her plots and locate it in any other state without diminishing its impact. All the details, the dangers, and the monsters belong to Maine. It’s an argument you can make about King’s work as well. True, not all of his books are set in Maine, but those that are are steeped in the culture, good and bad, of this place. French’s most recent novel, The Missing Season, is about a series of annual child disappearances tied to a marsh monster that the local kids in Pender call the Mumbler.
Ah, New England. The most spooky. Well, we like to think so anyway. And Jennifer McMahon definitely thinks so. Like King, McMahon loves to introduce her readers to the horrors of rural New England (and I don’t just mean the spotty wifi), setting her novels deep in the Vermont countryside. As with several of the authors on this list, McMahon’s novels also examine the dangers and effects of extreme isolation. In The Winter People, 19-year-old Ruthie, her sister, and her mother Alice all live off the grid far outside the tiny town of West Hall, Vermont. It is Alice who has always insisted that they live this way, but it leaves the girls vulnerable when they wake up one morning to find their mother gone. Pet Sematary fans, in particular, will want to add this one to their lists. You’ll know why once you read it.
Go find a copy of Hye-young Pyun’s brutal and terrifying The Hole. Because if you’re looking for authors like Stephen King, you want Pyun. And fans of Misery will find The Hole a perfect complement to King’s novel of madness and isolation. (Still working on the song). Ogi has woken from a coma caused by a car accident that killed his wife. An accident that he cause, which left him disfigured, paralyzed, and reliant only on his grieving mother-in-law for care. Care she does not deign to give him. And then she starts digging holes in the garden; larger and larger holes. There is something so unnerving about a person just digging holes, and you having no idea why but knowing that there’s always a reason why. Usually a bad reason.
When I was a voracious bookworm, constantly out-reading my budget, my Mom tried to get me interested in Stephen King. I knew who he was, of course. And like any Maine bookworm with a love of the macabre, I adored him as sort of local hero. But I couldn’t get into his books. But in college one of my professors introduced me to his short fiction and it was love at first page. Because since I came to King’s oeuvre by way of his short fiction collections, not his novels, I wanted to make sure I saved room on this list for some excellent collections that readers looking for authors like Stephen King are bound to love.
Christa Carmen got married at the Stanley Hotel, aka the inspiration for King’s The Shining. For that epic bit of horror cred alone you should be reading her work (joking, but still. So. Cool). But you should also be reading Carmen’s short fiction because her work is the perfect blend of psychological and unearthly horror to appeal to reads look for more authors like Stephen King. Her debut collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked has an extremely creepy cover, and is comprised of 13 tales of the ordinary made horrifyingly extraordinary. It’s a chilling transformation that King’s fans should be familiar with, since the man has actually managed to make a classic muscle car and the neighbor’s dog into things of horror.
Another author who excels at conjuring evil in unexpected places is Linda Addison. The first African American to receive the Bram Stoker Award, her collection of short fiction and poetry, How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend, looks for demons in all the places you’d expect them to be, and many that you wouldn’t. It’s a smallish volume, only 114 pages, but it packs a beautiful punch for lovers of science fiction and horror. There’s also a playfulness to some of Addison’s poems and stories that should appeal to King’s fans, as he often adopts a similar dark humor.
54 flash fiction pieces for the 54 cards in the Lotería, a Mexican board game of chance. 54 dark little fairy tales based on Latin American folklore and full of creatures, monsters, and murderers. I’ve already mentioned King’s affinity for folklore in this list, but many would argue that he is also a deft hand at weaving terrible fairy tales. (And really, aren’t the best fairy tales the terrible ones?) An obvious example would be The Eyes of the Dragon, which is a secondary world fantasy with notable fairy tale elements. Though Alison Littlewood points out in a piece for Nightmare Magazine that even King’s less overtly fantastic tales take the form of fairytales. Like The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, which Littlewood suggests is “essentially a take on Little Red Riding Hood.” Pelayo’s collection of small fairy tales, twice as grim as the Brothers Grimm, is a must read for those looking for authors like Stephen King who share his love of fairytale-esque horror fiction.
Am I ever going to stop talking about Caitlín R. Kiernan’s collection? Probably not. The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan came along just as I was making the slide from dark fantasy in to outright horror, and I could not have wished for a better guide. Like King, Kiernan’s short fiction covers a broad range of subjects and genres, from science fiction to fantasy to the cosmic horror that she’s become so well known for with her novella Agents of Dreamland. Her stories are strange, beautiful, and full of emotion. They have the sort of staying power that makes them linger with you for months. She also shares King’s appreciation for the work of H.P. Lovecraft, and his mythos informs a number of Kiernan’s short stories. So if you’re a King fan and a Lovecraft fan, The Very Best of Caitlín Kiernan is definitely a collection for you.
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Want to read more books recommended by King himself? Start with this list!
Or maybe you ended up on this post because of one of the authors above, and want to get more familiar with Stephen King’s massive body of work. What you need is The Ultimate Stephen King Reading Guide (From a Constant Reader)!