Rise of the Monsters: Top Horror Titles and Trends Coming This Season

Horror and dark fiction are trending in a big way. Here are the titles and trends to keep an eye on in the coming months, including a downloadable list of every book mentioned.

Horror surrounds us this year, both on the page and, in so many gut-wrenching ways, in the real world. While life amid a pandemic has wreaked havoc, it has also been a boon for the genre. Readers often crave stories about situations and monsters worse than the world outside their doors. As David Pomerico, editorial director for Harper Voyager U.S., notes, “The biggest trend in horror is that horror is trending. Ten years ago, while there was certainly horror being published, it was nowhere like the landscape we have today. Authors like Paul Tremblay, Josh Malerman, Caitlin Starling, Victor LaValle, James S. Murray, Stephen Graham Jones, and so many others are building new fan bases that had been dominated by writers like [Stephen] King and [Joe] Hill. What we’re seeing is that there’s desire for more stories, and room on the shelves for them, too.”

Tremblay is a perfect example. Riding high on awards, accolades, and rising sales, the author will soon release Survivor Song (Morrow, Jul.), a prescient novel about two friends racing to safety during an outbreak of a virulent and fast-acting form of rabies, that is one of the season’s most anticipated releases in any genre. “At its best, horror confronts or exposes difficult truths,” says Tremblay. “I’m sure many of you are sick of the litany of television commercials that now begin with ‘In these uncertain times....’ While, of course, what we’re struggling with right now is extraordinary...this horror reader/fan/writer wants to scream at the TV: ‘When have we ever lived in certain times?’ I find hope and value in the shared recognition of that truth just as I find hope and value in horror.”

The genre is also becoming richer and more inclusive; OwnVoices authors and their stories are thriving. As Joe Monti, the editorial director of Saga Press, comments, “What is most exciting for me is [seeing] booksellers and readers embrace underrepresented cultures and voices. Stephen Graham Jones’s forthcoming novel, The Only Good Indians (Jul.), is Saga’s major release this summer, and it’s being received not only as a great horror novel, but a great novel about the American Indian experience.”

Receiving multiple starred reviews and placement on many of the top summer reading lists, Jones’s tale of friendship, regret, and revenge will ensnare readers with its lyricism. Jones leads a growing list of OwnVoices writers currently revitalizing the genre, as seen in many of the titles profiled in this piece. (Click here for a downloadable list of every title.)

 

DOUBLING DOWN ON FEAR

The increased popularity of horror is evidenced by the number of established authors, well known in other genres, who are proudly exploring the darker side of fiction. Chuck Palahniuk (Invention of Sound; Grand Central, Sept.), Sam Miller (The Blade Between; Ecco, Dec.), Christina Henry (The Ghost Tree; Berkley, Sept.), Kevin J. Anderson (Stake; Severn House, Aug.), and Andrew Shaffer (Secret Santa: A Horror for the Holidays Novel; Quirk, Nov.) are flexing their horror muscles this season, bringing their legions of fans to the genre.

There are also some standout midlist horror authors, who have been collecting accolades for years and are now treating fans to bone-chilling tales. The strongest example is Jeremy Robert Johnson’s The Loop (Gallery: Saga, Sept.), a timely take on the effects of a bioengineered virus. Other notable midlist titles include Nina Allan’s Ruby (Titan, Sept.) and Craig DiLouie’s The Children of Red Peak (Redhook, Nov.).

 

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

One of the new trends in horror sees authors and publishers releasing fresh editions of older or classic titles paired with commentary by today’s best practitioners. Garrett Boatman’s Stage Fright (Valancourt, Aug.) is a zombie tale originally published in 1988, now getting new life from Grady Hendrix’s “Paperbacks from Hell” series, which rereleases forgotten gems from the 1970s and 1980s. Poisoned Pen Press has partnered with the Horror Writers Association and series editors Les Klinger and Eric Guignard to bring back even older titles from the vast vault of horror’s past. One of their 2020 novels, Vathek by William Beckford (Aug.), is a gothic tale of greed and damnation and includes an introduction by multiple Bram Stoker Award–winning author and screenwriter Joe R. Lansdale. Klinger also teams up with editor Lisa Morton to highlight Weird Women: Classic Supernatural Fiction by Groundbreaking Female Writers: 1852–1923 (Pegasus, Aug.), illuminating the influence of women on the genre’s evolution.

Writers are also experimenting in smart and surprising ways with familiar horror tropes. Titles such as Robert Masello’s The Haunting of H.G. Wells (47North, Oct.), Steven Hopstaken and Melissa Prusi’s Stoker’s Wilde West (Flame Tree, Aug.), and J.S. Barnes’s Dracula’s Child (Titan, Sept.) reimagine the worlds first created by the long-dead authors name-checked in their titles. The best-selling duo of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (The Fall; The Night Eternal) are jumping on this bandwagon, using the progenitor of the occult thriller, Algernon Blackwood, as the inspiration for their new series opener, The Hollow Ones (Grand Central, Aug.). These thought-provoking reads pay homage to their inspirations while embodying a thoroughly 21st-century worldview.

Horror films are also being mined for modern scares in fiction. Two new titles, Adam Cesare’s Clown in a Cornfield (HarperTeen, Aug.) and Stephen Graham Jones’s Night of the Mannequins (Tor.com, Sept.) are inspired by teen slasher flicks. Daniel Kraus recently teamed up with George A. Romero’s estate to complete The Living Dead (Tor, Aug.), Romero’s unfinished novel that brings closure to the zombie-filled narrative he created in his six cult-classic films.


Read also: Author Adam Cesare On Reading with Horror Movies


Several new titles set their scares in the past while using 21st-century storytelling styles. The best example is Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s recently published novel, Mexican Gothic (Del Rey, Jun.). Set in 1950s Mexico, this inspiring and original homage to Gothic stories of yore introduces readers to an evil family whose grip on power relies upon their ability to trap others in their venomous web. It features a whip-smart protagonist, exquisite supernatural details, and an escalating sense of dread with each page turn. Readers looking for more thrills set in the past will also want to check out The Nesting by C.J. Cooke (Berkley, Sept.), The Orphan of Cemetery Hill by Hester Fox (Graydon House, Sept.), Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang (Lake Union, Jul.), and The Residence by Andrew Pyper (Skybound, Sept.).

The strength of horror’s pull on the imagination is, for many readers, connected to childhood memories. As Daphne Durham, MCD/FSG executive editor, explains, “Part of my love of horror is nostalgia—getting back to that little-kid-hiding-under-the-covers feeling. But thinking about it now, I realize that fear often comes with laughter on its heels. The burst of laughter that comes after I’m startled. That nervous giggle that bubbles up when I’m in the theater and things are getting really scary. Maybe that’s what makes horror so appealing in strange times like these—that promise of the relief that comes after being utterly terrified. It’s not like we have much to laugh about right now.”

 

THE NEXT GENERATION

Debut author John Fram is no stranger to horror nostalgia himself. His novel, The Bright Lands (Hanover Square, Jul.), is set in the fictional town of Bentley, TX, a nod to Bentley Little, a prolific and influential horror writer whose fans include Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Fram brings a real-world perspective to his love of horror, noting, “When I began work on The Bright Lands, I only knew...it would feature a queer hero returning to a hometown that terrified him.... I didn’t even realize I was writing a horror novel until a monster started whispering in people’s dreams and a strange pit loomed at the limits of everyone’s perception.” According to Fram, horror is experiencing a renaissance, with some of the most mind-bending and diverse stories coming out over the last five years. “It’s a trend I don’t see stopping anytime soon,” Fram says. “We live in a gaslit era, a time when straight, white society is finally being visited by the fears and uncertainties that the rest of us have been battling all our lives. Horror seems ready to tell us that yes, things really are more terrifying than you could have imagined.... What a time to be alive.”

Fram leads a promising group of new voices who are bringing their perspectives and varied experiences into the genre. Jasper DeWitt plays off of the traditional psych ward thriller by adding a sinister supernatural twist in The Patient (Houghton Harcourt, Jul.), while Kathleen Jennings presents Flyaway (Tor.com, Jul.), a compelling supernatural mystery that reads like a collage of dark fairy tales. Evie Green’s We Hear Voices (Berkley, Oct.) is auspiciously timed, featuring a boy recovering from a pandemic flu with his newly acquired and violent imaginary friend. Matthew Lyons follows up his work in 2018’s Best American Short Stories with his first novel, The Night Will Find Us (Turner, Oct.), a story about a race for survival through New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.

Why are so many new authors drawn to horror? It is more than simply writers cashing in on a trend. Alexis Henderson, debut author of The Year of the Witching (Ace, Jul.), a feminist, dark fantasy–horror hybrid set in a closed society, says that “there’s a special kind of comfort to be found in fiction that explores and even validates our most fundamental fears, instead of simply attempting to assuage them.” Horror soothes even as it scares.

After wowing readers with stunning debuts and garnering numerous award nominations, Zoje Stage (Wonderland; Mulholland, Jul.) and Gwendolyn Kiste (Boneset & Feathers; Broken Eye, Nov.), two of horror’s most interesting authors to watch, are back this season with strong sophomore novels. Horror’s resurgence also means that American audiences are being introduced to critically acclaimed translated works such as the stellar You Will Love What You Have Killed (Biblioasis, Aug.) by Kevin Lambert, translated by Donald Winkler. Josh Malerman, author of one of the most popular horror novels in recent memory, Bird Box, is back with its hotly anticipated sequel, Malorie (Del Rey, Jul.), a timely look at how the next generation will live in a world that has a “new normal.” Later in the year, Malerman rereleases A House at the Bottom of a Lake (Del Rey, Dec.), previously available only from a small press.

 

THE EVOLUTION OF SF HORROR

A notable evolution is also happening in the space where sf and horror meet. Until recently, many genre purists refused to count as horror any book in which a scientific explanation, as opposed to a supernatural one, was used to explain the plot. Thankfully for readers everywhere, that rigid rule has relaxed dramatically. The zombie virus story is the most well-known example, but there are also authors like Christopher Golden (Red Hands; St. Martin’s, Dec.), Jonathan Maberry (Ink; St. Martin’s, Nov.), and Simon R. Green (The House on Widows Hill; Severn House, Jul.) who have plied their trade navigating this space. Two of the best upcoming titles in this vein are The Raven by Jonathan Janz (Flame Tree, Sept.), a thought-provoking story set in a postapocalyptic world in which terrorists add monster genes into human DNA, and Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots (Morrow, Sept.), a sharply humorous tale about an assistant to a supervillain.

The ongoing overlap between sf thriller and horror is also evident in the ways authors are increasingly incorporating tropes such as alternate dimensions, portals, and space itself into horror novels. Notable examples on the horizon include Night Train by David Quantick (Titan, Jul.), The Sentient by Nadia Afifi (Flame Tree, Sept.), and Alpha Omega by Nicholas Bowling (Titan, Jul.).

SHORT SCARES ATTRACT NEW READERS

Short stories are a great way for readers to discover new voices in small bites. Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Stories of Horror (Black Balloon: Catapult, Oct.), edited by Lincoln Michel & Nadxieli Nieto, is an inventive anthology featuring award-winning and beloved writers such as Jac Jemc and Stephen Graham Jones, as well as brand-new voices. Other anthologies of note include editor Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year Volume 12 (Night Shade, Sept.); After Sundown (Flame Tree, Oct.), edited by Mark Morris; Worst Laid Plans: An Anthology of Vacation Horror (Grindhouse, Aug.), edited by Samantha Kolesnik; and the must-purchase Wonder and Glory Forever: Awe-Inspiring Lovecraftian Fiction (Dover, Nov.), edited by Nick Mamatas, which examines H.P. Lovecraft’s influence on a wide range of today’s writers, while placing the author’s problematic life and works into a modern context.

Anthologies are a great way to showcase multiple authors at once, but library workers and readers’ advisors should not forget about single-author collections. Three modern masters of the horror short story with new collections coming—John Langan (Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies; Word Horde, Aug.), Gary A. Braunbeck (There Comes a Midnight Hour), and Lucy A. Snyder (Halloween Season; both Raw Dog Screaming Pr., fall 2020)—offer ideal reads to terrify fans new and old.

 

BACK TO REALITY

It’s not only fearful fiction that is having a moment. With the world full of real-life terrors, nonfiction writers are also responding. Informational texts about horror have traditionally been limited to local ghost tales or explorations of horror in film. Now, authors are entering new territory that goes beyond the confines of the genre. Lisa Morton, the world’s eminent expert on Halloween, has a fascinating new book, Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances (Reaktian, Sept.), a fun and thorough look at how humans have tried to communicate with the dead over time. Colin Dickey’s The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained (Viking, Jul.) probes into our collective psyches while taking readers on an out-of-this-world field trip. Elsewhere, J.W. Ocker treats readers to an in-depth examination of the macabre in Cursed Objects: Strange but True Stories of the World’s Most Infamous Items (Quirk, Sept.).

The increase in horror’s popularity will no doubt inspire new authors. Critically acclaimed horror writer Tim Waggoner offers a unique and helpful guide to the craft in Writing in the Dark (Guide Dog, Sept.), which explores the genre’s history and appeal, providing practical writing advice and wisdom from respected and popular practitioners like Joe Hill and Ellen Datlow.

A BRIGHT FUTURE FOR DARK BOOKS

Despite the uncertainty in the world right now, horror continues its march back to the mainstream. Barnes and Noble recently confirmed that horror sections would be returning in many of their stores, a clear indication that horror is on the rise. But the biggest game changer for the genre may be the launch of a new horror imprint from Tor: Nightfire, whose first list debuts in the fall of 2021. Nightfire is already stoking readers’ excitement with two free audiobook collections, Come Join Us by the Fire Season 1, featuring stories from Paul Tremblay, Carmen Maria Machado, and Chuck Wendig, among other horror luminaries (2019), and Come Join Us by the Fire Season 2 (Oct. 2020).

“Our goal,” says Nightfire’s president and publisher, Fritz Foy, “is to gather a strong and diverse list featuring both new voices and some familiar authors.... We’ve already announced a few of the great titles we’ll have coming, including Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing but Blackened Teeth (Sept. 2021), a gorgeously creepy haunted house tale steeped in Japanese folklore and full of devastating twists; Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s Echo (Oct. 2021), a harrowing novel of obsession and the destructive force of nature from the international best-selling author of Hex; and Gretchen Felker-Martin’s Manhunt (winter 2022), a compelling take on gender in a postapocalyptic world where cis men have transformed into feral monstrosities and a group of trans women must fight to survive.”

Horror stories may make readers squirm with discomfort and dread, but the genre seems to have a bright future ahead.


Becky Spratford is a readers’ advisory specialist and trainer. She runs raforall.blogspot.com and its evil twin, raforallhorror.blogspot.com. She is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, 2nd Edition (ALA) and is currently working on the third edition. Connect with her on Twitter @RAforAll.

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Nicole Schuck

What a phenomenal categorization of horror books coming out in the next 6 months! I'm impatiently waiting for all of these to come to my local libraries! As a new horror fan, I could only wish a list of previously published titles was as easy to come by.

Posted : Jul 15, 2020 02:47


Kim Haddox

So glad horror is on the rise again! The news about Barnes & Noble is very exciting, too.

Posted : Jul 14, 2020 10:33


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