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Top 10 Modern Horror Novels More Terrifying Than A Stephen King Book

by B. Kristen Kelly
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Have you tried to find a good horror novel lately? It is impossible to search any site for recommendations without seeing Stephen King’s books popping up left and right. King’s books are undoubtedly what comes to mind when we think of horror, but there’s so many new great authors out there penning their own brand of supernatural terror.

The great thing about horror novels is there’s so many different subgenres to choose from. Whether you’re looking for ghosts, crazy cults, psychopaths or dystopian dread, these ten tales will have something for everyone. Many of the authors listed have written several books so be sure to check out their other works. Now, here’s ten spine-tingling horrors you’ll want to read with the lights on!

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10Last Days by Adam Nevill

You may have heard of Ritual which is arguably Nevill’s most popular novel, but the prolific British writer has written many books of the supernatural. Last Days is one of his most terrifying works. The novel follows a reporter named Kyle who is sent to investigate a creepy cult. The last few remaining members of the cult have been dying in mysterious ways and Kyle is in a race against time to get their stories and solve the mystery of what happened during their time with the cult. The story takes us from England, to France and finally a desert in the United States, where we learn the cult spent their last days trying to conjure something that has been long dead. The reporter begins to lose his sanity as the rotten dread creeps closer.

This book will appeal to those interested in cults and the character Sister Katherine, the creepy enigmatic spiritual leader, will revive memories of notorious figures from the past. The supernatural element adds a deeper level of terror.

9A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Paul Tremblay will have a couple of offerings on this list. A Head Full of Ghosts was published in 2015 and received the Bram Stoker Award for Novel.

The story begins with an adult character named Merry relating the strange story of her childhood to a reporter. Merry’s sister Marjorie began to exhibit strange demonic symptoms when they were children. Her parents allowed a TV film crew to document their daughter’s scary transformation, and her recently converted catholic father wanted her exorcism to be filmed. The story goes back and forth between past and present as we see the family torn apart and Merry confused and frightened by the chaos surrounding her.

This novel has some scenes reminiscent of The Exorcist, and Merry is an unreliable narrator which throws the reader of balance in a frightening way. A Head Full of Ghosts feels like a supernatural mystery more than an all-out terror fest.

8The Troop by Nick Cutter

Fans of body/gross-out horror will love this one.

The Troop is a gorefest about a group of scouts stranded on an island after their leader succumbs to some sort of terrifying parasite after trying to save an extremely thin, terribly ill and incredibly HUNGRY stranger. The boys find themselves in a fight for survival that unlocks the heroism of one and the psychopathy of another. The story unfolds through various retellings, from one boy, letters and transcripts including scenes from an animal laboratory that may cause some readers to lose their lunch.

The Troop is what you would get if David Cronenberg wrote Lord of the Flies, but much, much worse. You’ve been warned!

7The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

The Marriage Pact is a novel of psychological suspense and another novel that takes you into the world of creepy cults, but in a more modern and realistic way.

Jake and Alice are a newly married, seemingly happy couple until an acquaintance of Alice introduces them to The Pact. The couple joins The Pact on a lark without realizing what they’re joining is basically a cult that was created to protect the sanctity of marriage, at any cost. The Pact is real and there are severe penalties for anyone who disobeys the rules. Jake and Alice soon begin to realize there’s no escape from The Pact and if they want to live, they will have to at least pretend to be the perfect couple.

If you’ve ever seen the movie The Game (1997) you’ll have a good idea what kind of suspense to expect from The Marriage Pact. Feeling that someone is watching and controlling our lives from the outside is a terror many readers will find disturbingly familiar.

6The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy

The Dead Lands is a dystopian retelling of the Lewis and Clark expedition, a perilous journey through a post-apocalyptic American wasteland. Lewis Meriwether and Mina Clark lead a group of survivors away from The Sanctuary and its megalomaniac leader towards a new hope in the east. Along the way they battle monsters and mutants and find strengths and actual powers they never knew they possessed. But are they heading to a better world, or something much worse?

The Dead Lands was a page turner. With adventure, scrappy underdog heroes, reformed villains and giant albino bats, what’s not to love?

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5Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Hex is about a town called Black Spring which is cursed by an ancient witch. The witch walks around town among the living but does not interact with the townspeople. Her eyes and mouth are sewn shut, and legend says her stitches must never be removed. She is an open secret among Black Spring but her existence must be protected from the outside world. No one can leave Black Spring, and newcomers must be driven away. These strange rules have been obeyed by the townspeople for centuries, until a group of young people decide to record video of the witch and her presence goes viral, causing a catastrophic chain of events.

Hex begins with some shiver-inducing imagery of that witch, with her eyes and mouth sewn shut, just randomly appearing in people’s houses in the middle of the night. The story is a frightening juxtaposition of folkloric nightmare vs. modern day malevolence. It’s a novel that will scare you and make you think.

4Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

You’ve probably heard of Annihilation because of the movie, but you may not know that it’s the first novel in a series, called the Southern Reach Trilogy. Annihilation won the 2014 Shirley Jackson award for best novel, and the 2015 Nebula Award.

Eleven expeditions have gone into Area X, which has been a restricted zone for three decades. The last known team died of cancer after returning, the team before them turned on each other, and one team committed suicide. The novel takes us into Area X with the twelfth team, which consists of four women, a biologist, a psychiatrist, an anthropologist and a surveyor. The women are ill equipped to deal with what they may find within Area X, and they are being controlled by hypnotic suggestion by the psychologist. They do not know when they arrived in Area X, and they do not know if they will ever be able to leave.

Even if you’ve seen the movie you should read Annihilation. It is a novel of existential horror which is very different from the film. The book raises many questions and will leave you eager to read the next installment in the trilogy.

3The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

The Cabin at the End of the World is the second novel by Paul Tremblay included in this list. It won the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award for Novel in 2019.
The novel has few characters and a seemingly simple plot: a gay couple and their daughter are staying at their lakeside cabin when their weekend is interrupted by a menacing group of people arriving with homemade weapons. Violence ensues as the visitors insist a sacrifice must be made to save the world from an apocalypse. Are they telling the truth, or are they just crazy?

The Cabin at the End of the World is not a typical home invasion novel. The mysterious motivations of the antagonists leave you in suspense and turning pages late into the night. If you like psychological horror with plenty of blood and violence this is a book you don’t want to miss.

2Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

Grace and Jack are the perfect couple. Jack is a handsome lawyer who defends battered women, grace is an elegant homemaker and beautiful dinner hostess. Jack gives Grace a beautiful home, exotic trips abroad, a new puppy to celebrate their engagement, and most importantly a room in their home for Grace’s disabled sister.

It doesn’t give anything away to tell you Jack is a raging psychopath. The reader is made aware from the very beginning. What appears to the world as a beautiful marriage is a prison and Hell on earth that Grace must somehow escape. The author is adept at ratcheting the suspense and Jack is a truly despicable and terrifying villain. This novel is a frightening reminder that we truly don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors and in our neighbors’ lives.

1The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Carolyn and her siblings were raised by Father. Father took them in after killing and enslaving their parents. Father is a mysterious and God-like figure who has taught his children the secrets of the universe but also punished them in horrifying ways. Now Father is missing, and Carolyn recruits her friend Steve to help her in her quest to find him.
Wow, what a book! It’s difficult to write a synopsis for this novel because it’s really unlike anything out there and there’s quite a lot going on in the plot. The story, however, manages to remain fast paced and humorous along with being darkly frightening and violent at times. If you like your horror with elements of fantasy and moments of pure hilarity you will enjoy The Library at Mount Char.

+ Competition

At midnight Pacific Standard Time tonight (twenty-four hours from now), ten commenters will be selected at random to win one book off this list. Each winner will be able to choose which of the ten books they want to receive. The competition is open to all contributors from all countries. Comments must be related to the list and not be clearly aimed at simply winning (such as repeating the same comment over and over). So get commenting: tell us what your favorite non-Stephen King horror story is, or even tell us what you think of the books on this list if you’ve read them!

The competition is over! Congratulations to the winners: Juds, Josh Hawes, TheAnnoyedElephant, Hillyard, ??????????, Jo-anne Tapfield, Paper Cuts, Mackenzie Moore, Killjoy McGiggles, and abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz1234. Please see the featured comment below for details on how to claim your prize.

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fact checked by Jamie Frater