Shorter Works of Horror Pack a Punch | Readers Shelf

The novella is a perfect length for horror. By keeping the story brief authors can intensify the effect, leaving readers little relief from the terror they create. Here are five fear-full examples.

The novella is a perfect length for horror. By keeping the story brief authors can intensify the effect, leaving readers little relief from the terror they create. Here are five fear-full examples.

Priya Sharma’s Ormeshadow ( Oct. 2019. ISBN 9781250241443) provides a bridge between mythical fantasy and horror. Set in the Great Orme, named for the Norse word for “dragon,” it is a farming family drama filled with estrangements, violence, secrets, and resentments. It is also a story of how family makes and breaks us, told through the eyes of Gideon, as he comes of age. The land is Gideon’s home, but it is also a place of strong myths, a land that resembles a sleeping dragon said to be dreaming dark and violent thoughts, and if those myths are true, this land could also lead to Gideon’s undoing. Read-alike: For another mythical fantasy featuring a menacing sense of place and a strong coming-of-age theme try Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

Rudolfo A. Serna provides a mesmerizing tale blending horror, apocalyptic fantasy, and science fiction in Snow Over Utopia (Apex Book Co. Jul. 2019. ISBN 9781937009755). In a future world of science gone horribly wrong a young enslaved girl has lost her eyes and carries them in a jar. She escapes with a murderer and together they flee to the woods where they are sheltered by a librarian and his daughter. So begins a dark, psychedelic quest through time and space that involves a battle with a computer program, mutant priests, and the horrors of life in the city of Utopia. It’s a wild, thought-provoking, and lyrical ride. Read-alike: The modern classic Blindness by Jose Saramago is a speculative, literary story with a harrowing tone and a cast of well-developed characters who are thrown together in a disorienting apocalyptic world.

Speaking of wild rides, Wesley Southard takes heavy metal band Rot in Hell, and the reader, on quite a horrific trip in One for the Road (Eraserhead. Jun. 2019. ISBN 9781621053033). The story is told through the eyes of guitarist Spencer, who can’t wait to quit the toxic band as soon as they get home. But they don’t get home; instead, the band is stranded in an abandoned town, a terrifying place where the trees are murderous and monstrous creatures come out of the walls. There is no escaping the madness, violence, fear, and death. The collection of monsters are original and compelling, but what makes this story special is how Spencer carries the tale. There are clues throughout that he may not be the most reliable narrator. Read-alike: Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman is a bizarre and compelling tale of a band stuck in a parallel universe with a strongly voiced, possibly unreliable, narrator and creative monsters.

Rachel Autumn Deering contemplates still another unreliable narrator in Husk (Tiny Behemoth. 2016. ISBN 9780692661598). Kevin returns from Afghanistan to his small Kentucky town a broken and addicted man; one who has lost his grandparents and best friend and who is suffering from PTSD. Quitting drugs, he tries to get reacclimated to whatever life he has left, but something is stalking him. Is it the effects of PTSD or an actual monster? The terrors in this psychological story are very real and the oppressive dread is palpable. The ambiguity keeps readers turning pages while the lyrical prose (and an ending that will have fans screaming for another book by Deering) rachet up the pleasures. Read-alike: For another character-centered, thought-provoking, lyrical, and haunting look at how trauma can create disturbing terrors, try Beloved by Toni Morrison.

One of the most hotly anticipated horror books of the year is A Lush and Seething Hell: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror by John Hornor Jacobs (Harper Voyager. Oct. 2019. ISBN 9780062880826). While the novellas are different in plot, they are united by their ability to mine the dark secrets and fears everyone holds in the depths of their brains, the disorienting and disquieting thoughts that, if they came to light, could lead to our undoing. “The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky” is a Lovercraft-inspired tale featuring a poet living in a South American dictatorship while “My Heart Struck Sorrow” posits that a librarian has discovered a recording of the Devil playing music. Using techniques from across the entire landscape of the horror genre, Jacobs creates a captivating volume marked by beauty and terror. Read-alike: John Langan’s Bram Stoker Award–winning novel The Fisherman offers a thought-provoking tale of cosmic horror that contemplates the consequences of our darkest secrets.


Becky Spratford is a Readers’ Advisory Specialist in northern, IL. She runs the popular and critically acclaimed RA training site RA for All [] and its evil twin, RA for All: Horror []. Becky is currently writing the third edition of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror (ALA Editions) and is the Secretary of the Horror Writers Association. You can connect with Becky on Twitter @RAforAll.


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