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Historical Fiction

8 Creepy and Compelling Historical Horror Novels

K.W. Colyard

Contributor

Kristian Wilson Colyard grew up weird in a one-caution-light town in the Appalachian foothills. She now lives in an old textile city with her husband and their clowder of cats. She’s on Twitter @kristianwriting, and you can find more of her work online at kristianwriting.com.

Flatiron Books, publisher of The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo

Set in the Spanish Golden Age, during a time of high‑stakes political intrigue and glittering wealth, The Familiar follows Luzia, a servant in the household of an impoverished Spanish nobleman who reveals a talent for little miracles. Her social‑climbing mistress demands Luzia use her gifts to win over Madrid’s most powerful players but what begins as simple amusement takes a dangerous turn. Luzia will need to use every bit of her wit and will to survive—even the help of Guillén Santángel, an immortal familiar whose own secrets could prove deadly for them both. The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo is on sale now.

We love a good genre-blender of a book, but they can be really hard to come by. Good news for you, though, because I have picked out eight amazing historical horror novels for your reading pleasure. These books combine the historical fiction’s whimsical thrills with contemporary horror’s gritty gut-punches — to fascinating and terrifying results.

The last decade or so has seen a rise in historical horror novels. Gothic horror set in the Romantic and Victorian periods has been a perennial favorite of publishers and readers alike. Creepy historical fiction hasn’t branched out much until fairly recently, however. Today, novels like Between Two Fires and His Black Tongue transport readers to plague-torn Europe, while Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic and Silver Nitrate cover much of the latter 20th century. Put simply, there’s a whole lot more variety at historical horror readers’ fingertips now than ever before.

The eight books on the list below span roughly 650 years of human history, from the 14th to 20th centuries. Forgive any prominent gaps, such as the 318-year span of uncharted territory between the events of Between Two Fires and Slewfoot; there’s only so much ground I can cover with just eight titles.

Below are eight historical horror novels you owe it to yourself to read this year.

Historical Horror Novels

Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman book cover

Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman (1348)

Against the backdrop of the Black Plague, Christopher Buehlman’s Between Two Fires follows Thomas and Delphine — a knight and his young charge — as they make their way to Avignon across a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Slewfoot by Brom book cover

Slewfoot by Brom (1666)

Brom’s “tale of bewitchery” transports readers to 1666 Connecticut, where a widowed Puritan woman must risk everything to seek help from a wild spirit — one the other colonists believe to be Satanic in origin.

Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon book cover

Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon (1699)

This historical horror novel from Swan Song author Robert McCammon takes place in colonial South Carolina. After a young woman is tried and convicted of witchcraft, the lovestruck young law clerk assisting the case’s judge begins a quest to save her from execution.

Hotel Transylvania by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro book cover

Hôtel Transylvania by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (1743)

The first in Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Saint-Germain series, Hôtel Transylvania follows gentleman-vampire Le Comte de Saint-Germain as he works to save the woman who loves him from execution at the hands of an evil, sorcerous cult.

Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Canas book cover

Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas (1846)

A star-crossed couple — one a healer, the other a killer — reunite on the cusp of the Mexican-American war, with a blood-drinking threat looming on the horizon, in this historical horror novel from the author of The Hacienda.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu book cover

The Hunger by Alma Katsu (1846)

What if more than bad luck and an inability to trust were responsible for the Donner Party tragedy? That’s the question that drives Alma Katsu’s The Hunger, which imagines a supernatural cause for the grisly events.

Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark book cover

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark (1915)

In another historical horror novel based on actual events, P. Djèlí Clark reimagines D.W. Griffith’s racist magnum opus, Birth of a Nation, as a spell cast over the U.S. With Lovecraftian horrors tapped to re-enslave Black Americans, it is up to a small cadre of heroes to stop the KKK wizards before it’s too late.

Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia book cover

Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (1990s)

Set in Mexico City in the 1990s, Silver Nitrate follows Montserrat and Tristán, a sound editor and former soap star, respectively, as they investigate the mystery behind one cult director’s sudden career decline.


Want more historical horror? Be sure to check out these horror books about witches and this list of gothic romance novels.