I’m not gonna lie. The entirety of 2023 felt — to me — like one giant book slump.
I think a large part of it, on a personal level, was about the state of both the world and my personal life. With everything falling apart around me, my brain couldn’t handle Serious Literature or heavy cultural critiques. As the year ground on, I found myself DNFing books left and right. By the end of the year, I full-on retreated into a fluffy world of light-hearted romantasy. I had never even read romantasy before. Who was I??
But horror has always been a refuge for me. In fact, while many found the early 2020s to be too dystopian for dystopian fiction, I found comfort in it. So, obviously, if nothing else, horror was there for me in 2023, too.
And not just horror that was adequately entertaining. I’m talking true diamonds in the rough.
The list below contains a fun mix of horror tales: genre-blending standouts, new releases from old standbys, new-to-me authors who have apparently been churning out awesomeness right beneath my nose for years. Debut authors, too.
If you’re also a lover of horror, there’s sure to be something on this list for you, too, whether you’re into deep sea terrors, haunted dolls, or Satanic cults. Here’s hoping 2024’s horror titles come in just as strong.
Lone Women by Victor LaValle
In this Wild West historical horror, a woman makes her way to Montana all alone with the intent of being a homesteader. With her, she carries an enormous steamer trunk, in which she’s hiding something monstrous. Can she survive on her own in a desolate land while also keeping her terrible secret? To be quite honest, I didn’t give a damn what this book was about when I picked it up. At this point, whatever Victor LaValle writes, I know it’s gonna be good.
A House with Good Bones by T. Kingfisher
Kingfisher is another author I’ll read no matter what and, lucky me, she’s prolific as heck. In fact, she had three whole-ass books come out in 2023, of which this one was my fave. In this horror novel, the protagonist is staying with her aging mother, who seems to have transformed overnight into a meek woman who is frightened in her own home. What’s at the root of her fear? You might think you know, but I promise that the full story is even wilder than you expect.
Don’t Fear the Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones
The second in a series, this horror superstar’s latest continues to showcase his love for the slasher genre. In the first book (My Heart Is a Chainsaw), a young woman who feels like an outcast in her own town quickly comes of age against the backdrop of a series of violent murders. In the second installment of this trilogy, she is released from prison but, upon her return home, is forced to contend with yet another serial killer.
How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
This was a fantastic year for, well, all of my favorite horror authors, and Hendrix is among them. In his latest — a horror novel in which siblings are forced to work together to sell their childhood home after the death of their parents, only to be bedeviled by a haunted puppet collection — I ended up punched in the emotional gut by a larger, deeper story about sibling estrangement. Hendrix always hits it out of the park with his campy, comedic horror, but this one, for me, tops them all.
The Reformatory by Tananarive Due
Due always knocks it out of the park, and in her latest, she’s at the top of her form. One of the main protagonists in this novel is sent to a segregated reform school after he kicks a white boy in the leg in a misguided attempt to protect his older sister. Reform schools are terrible places that typically hide even more terrible abuse. But this particular school takes things up a notch, and it’s apparently haunted by the boys who died there. This particular book was inspired by Due’s own family history, as her great uncle died at a similar institution.
Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison
Harrison’s horror stories always have a delightful sense of humor, making them lighter than a lot of the other horror I enjoy while still delivering on the supernatural fireworks. In this 2023 release, the main protagonist leaves home (a staunchly religious community) at the age of 18 and finds herself stuck in a series of dead-end jobs. Years later, she’s surprised when she receives a wedding invitation from her childhood best friend, who happens to be marrying her childhood sweetheart. WTH. Heartbreak aside, she didn’t think she was welcome back at the family farm. She attends out of morbid curiosity and gets much more than she bargained for.
The September House by Carissa Orlando
I enjoyed this debut novel so much that it inspired an entire Book Riot post about haunted house stories. In this book (as in most good horror), the hauntings are a metaphor for something much darker. I don’t want to give too much away. You can read my previous post if you’re into spoilers. What I can say is that when we meet our protagonist, she’s been living in her haunted house (whose hauntings ramp up every September) for several years, and her husband has recently gone missing.
Rouge by Mona Awad
In Awad’s most recent book, she takes on the beauty industry more directly than she ever has before. In this novel, a young woman shackled to her skincare routine and clearly suffering from colorism returns home when her mother is found dead after what appears to be a tragic accident. When she begins frequenting the high-end spa at which her mother was a regular, she finds the key to her beauty dreams…but it seems she must also lose herself in the process.
Whalefall by Daniel Kraus
My god, how did I not know about Daniel Kraus before this stunner of a book? After hurtling through it in just 24 hours, I immediately read two more books by him. In this fast-paced sci-fi/thriller/horror (I don’t know; genres are hard), a young man undertakes a dangerous solo dive in the Pacific Ocean in search of his late father’s remains…and perhaps redemption. Things take a horrifying turn when he’s swallowed by a sperm whale, and the rest of the book focuses unflinchingly on him as he fights for his life.
Here’s hoping 2024 delivers just as many top-notch bookish scares as 2023 did. In the meantime, if you’re open to other types of speculative fiction, here are the most anticipated sci-fi and fantasy titles of 2024, according to Goodreads. Chris has spotlighted nine new sci-fi and fantasy titles out this month. And Liberty has the lowdown on some other exciting new releases in 2024.