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Survival Horror Novels: 5 Books Full of Existential Dread

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K.W. Colyard


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

Social distancing has lots of people embracing the great outdoors these days, but plenty of hidden dangers lurk in the woods. When you take your next camping trip, be sure to pack one of the survival horror novels on the list below. You never know when you might need a scary story to read around the campfire. Start your own Midnight Society with one of the great books on the short list below.

Survival horror wears a lot of different faces. Whether you’re looking for a gruesome, supernatural foe your heroes must outmaneuver, or you just want a creepy tale of humanity vs. the natural world, there’s something you’ll enjoy in this brief list of survival horror novels.

Below, you’ll find a historical horror novel, three tales of modern-day dread, and a claustrophobic sci-fi novel about a caver who isn’t alone in the dark. Pull out your TBR list and start taking notes. Here are five survival horror novels you need to pick up and read as soon as possible:

survival horror novels

5 Survival Horror Novels That Will Fill You with Existential Dread

The Hunger book cover

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

Set in the midst of the ill-fated Donner Party, Alma Katsu’s The Hunger follows a wagon train westward. The pioneers are all looking to start new and better lives elsewhere, but there’s an evil lurking just over the horizon. Not everyone will make it out alive, and those who do die aren’t likely to be buried by the trail. In this survival horror novel, early Americans quickly learn that dysentery and the wild landscape aren’t the only lethal things awaiting them in the west.

The Last One book cover

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

Contestants on a reality TV show about wilderness survival find themselves plunged into an unknown landscape in The Last One. They thought the bodies were set pieces. They thought the lack of communication was a test. But something has happened to the outside world as the cameras rolled. Now one woman must push through pain and fear if she means to survive her television contract.

The Luminous Dead book cover

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

A woman desperate for money accepts a dangerous caving mission from someone who can see right through her in Caitlin Starling’s The Luminous Dead. Gyre didn’t know the job would be way over her head. She didn’t know she’d be working for Em, an ever-awake disembodied voice who administers drug cocktails from afar. Deep inside the dark caves, Gyre begins to realize she is not alone in this lauded sci-fi horror story.

One by One book cover

One by One by Ruth Ware

A work retreat goes sideways in this new novel from The Death of Mrs. Westaway author Ruth Ware. Getting snowed in at the chalet wasn’t too bad, what with the warm fireplace and fully stocked bar. When an avalanche takes out their home away from home, however, a group of agitated coworkers lose more than they bargained for. Members of the company are going missing in the snow. At a time when everyone has an ulterior motive, no one can be trusted.

Zone One book cover

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Finishing off our list of survival horror novels is Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. This literary novel about a zombie apocalypse centers Mark, a civilian trying to take New York City back from the horde. It’s mostly easy work, now that the violent zombies have been cleared out, leaving only the frozen husks in their place. The cleanup crews still have their work cut out for them, however. Something is about to go horribly wrong, and Mark’s team may not be able to fix it before it’s too late.