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Top 10 Chilling Horror Novels to Read in the Winter
Many people associate horror with October, and while Halloween is the classic time to get spooky, winter can provide just as many scares. The nights are dark, and the temperatures are low, which is not only a great recipe for an atmospheric horror story but also the perfect time to curl up under a blanket with a book. In the midst of winter, there’s nothing better than complementing the chilly weather with an equally bone-chilling book.
So if you want to be frozen in terror this winter, consider picking up a few of the books listed below, all of which take place in snowy settings. You’ll find a couple of classics that are to be expected but also some lesser-known terrifying tales.
10 Snowblind (2014) – Christopher Golden
Snowblind is a supernatural thriller that will leave you wondering if there’s something lurking in any snowstorm you find yourself in. It is about a small town in New England called Coventry that was hit by an abnormally vicious blizzard twelve years ago. The strange happenings and unexplained deaths that occurred haunt the townspeople, and now another blizzard is forecast. However, once the flakes start falling, it becomes clear that, once again, something evil has blown in with the storm.
Christopher Golden focuses on psychological terror rather than blood and gore, and he includes a large cast of characters to develop a sense of the community. A feeling of creeping dread builds throughout the novel as the whiteout—and whatever lurks within it—envelops the town and its people. Stephen King praises the novel, saying it “will bring a blizzard to your bones (and your heart) even in the middle of July.”
9 Bone White (2017) – Ronald Malfi
If you love horror set in the snow, then multiple Ronald Malfi books fit the bill. Snow (2010) follows a group of travelers trapped by a snowstorm in a sinister remote town, and The Ascent (2011) is about a hike in the Nepalese mountains that turns deadly. His most recent offering to this subgenre is Bone White. We follow Paul, whose twin brother, Danny, has gone missing in the frozen Alaskan wilderness. Danny’s car was found on the outskirts of a town called Dread’s Hand, and Paul travels there, determined to figure out what happened.
With the still and snowy woods featured as the focal point, Bone White is a slow-burn supernatural mystery. It is a chilling tale of small-town superstition and malevolent forces, of frigid temperatures and brotherly love. Amazon is currently developing the book into a series, with Henry Chaisson, who wrote the screenplay for Antlers (2021), serving as the writer for the show.
8 The Hunger (2018) – Alma Katsu
Alma Katsu adds a supernatural twist to the horrifying true story of the Donner party, a group of pioneers on a westward-bound wagon train who became stranded in the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains, forcing some of the group to resort to cannibalism to survive. A portion of the novel takes place in kinder weather, but the most gruesome scenes occur in a frigid climate. With each page, the situation for the characters grows more dismal, and the fictional creatures they are being stalked by grow more menacing.
Even though most people know roughly how the story ends, the creatures add an unknown element, and it is harrowing reading about the experience. Author John Langan explains, “It’s a testament to Katsu’s skill as a writer that she creates characters so compelling that we can’t help hoping they will escape the fate we knew was hurtling toward them the moment we opened the book.”
7 Let the Right One In (2004) – John Ajvide Lindqvist
Let the Right One In follows Oskar, a lonely 12-year-old boy who has family issues and is mercilessly bullied while living in a suburb of Stockholm. With this harshly realistic setting established, he then befriends Eli, who has just moved in next door—who turns out to be a centuries-old vampire. Their friendship is the emotional center of the novel, but it also delivers frights. The sense of dark foreboding that is present throughout is punctuated by scenes of visceral and hard-hitting horror.
Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 Swedish film adaptation of the book perfectly captures the frozen setting. Not only is the snow visually striking, but it also provides silence. Alfredson explains that “It’s a very special sound after a heavy snowfall,” which allowed him to capture the smallest sounds from the actors. There was even a scene “where we micced their eyes.” There was also an American remake in 2010, renamed Let Me In, but it is worth reading the original novel.
6 The Shuddering (2013) – Ania Ahlborn
Ania Ahlborn’s wintery offering is about a group of friends staying at a secluded cabin in the mountains of Colorado when they are hit by a massive snowstorm that leaves them stranded. A chilling realization soon hits: something is lurking in the deep dark woods, and it’s watching them. What should have been a weekend of fun quickly turns into a fight to the death against terrifying creatures.
Ahlborn’s tale of survival in the mountains delivers fast-paced thrills and chills. It is also packed with gore, so if you want bright red blood seeping into glitteringly white snow, then you’ll find it within these pages. The frozen setting is an atmospheric background as drama bubbles up within the group, and once the action hits, the pace is relentless. This is the perfect read for winter, though maybe not if you’re planning a break at a snowy cabin.
5 Dark Matter (2010) – Michelle Paver
The idea for Dark Matter was first sparked when Michelle Paver visited Spitsbergen, a large Norwegian island. Her novel takes place in 1937 and follows Jack, who has joined an Arctic expedition to the uninhabited (and fictional) island of Gruhuken as a wireless operator. One by one, his companions are forced to leave, and Jack is left alone as polar night closes in, engulfing the camp in darkness for months. But maybe Jack is not alone; maybe something haunts this island.
To accurately portray Jack’s fear about being alone during the polar night, Paver returned to Spitsbergen in winter. She explains that she “went snowshoeing in the dark, and experimented with headlamps, and climbed a glacier in driving snow,” which allowed her to better “understand how paranoid Jack would become.” Set in such a desolate and icy landscape, Paver’s ghost story is sure to send shivers down your spine.
4 Stolen Tongues (2017) – Felix Blackwell
Stolen Tongues began life as a short story on Reddit, where it quickly went viral. Spurred on by its continuing popularity, Felix Blackwell self-published the story as a full-length novel, and a film adaptation is now currently in production. The story was inspired by Blackwell’s fiancée, Faye, who suffers from night terrors and both sleepwalks and talks. He explains that “while listening to her holding a one-sided conversation in her sleep, I asked myself, ‘what if someone were actually standing outside the window, whispering back?’”
In the novel, we follow fictional versions of the author and his fiancée. The couple has gone to a snowy cabin for a romantic getaway to celebrate their engagement. But the celebration takes a sinister turn when they start hearing noises in the woods, and it becomes evident that Faye isn’t just mumbling in her sleep; she’s answering back to…something. This is another book on this list that favors intense creepiness over gory body horror.
3 The Shining (1977) – Stephen King
Although it might seem like an obvious choice, this list would be incomplete without Stephen King’s The Shining, set during the wintertime at The Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. The sinister impact of the Overlook’s ghosts on the Torrance family is perfectly foregrounded against the snowy setting. Many people are familiar with this story through Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation, which is often considered to be one of the best horror films of all time. King, however, hated it. In a 2013 interview, he explained that Kubrick’s film felt “very cold” because it treated the characters “like ants in an anthill,” whereas his novel invited the reader into their inner lives.
King’s novel definitely offers a lot more warmth for the Torrance’s. Not only does the novel provide a lot more detail about Jack’s alcoholism and its effect on his family, but it also gives a clearer understanding of how the shining works regarding Danny and the hotel. These elements come together and culminate in an ending that is very different and far wilder than Kubrick’s film. Also, there are killer topiaries in the book.
2 The Terror (2007) – Dan Simmons
The Terror, like The Hunger, is all the more terrifying for being based on an incredibly bleak true story. It is a fictionalized account of Captain John Franklin’s lost expedition to the Arctic in the 1840s. Franklin’s two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, were trapped in ice for years, and not a single person survived. Little is known about what happened during those years, but starvation, hypothermia, and lead poisoning have been suggested as causes of death. Oh, and cannibalism probably featured too.
Dan Simmons vividly portrays this harrowing ordeal, but he also adds another horror: a polar bear-like monster that stalks the crew. While this creature certainly adds a visceral thrill to the novel, the true horror lies in the survivalist and cannibalistic aspects of the story. Reviewer Alison Flood asks, “What better read for a winter weekend than a book about people even colder than you?” So grab a blanket and cozy up before diving in because this one will freeze you to your core. If the book has failed to fully satisfy your craving for frozen landscapes, then you can also watch the TV series, which was released in 2018.
1 Near the Bone (2021) – Christina Henry
Christina Henry often twists well-known fairy tales, like Peter Pan (1911) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), into horror delights, but her latest offering is an original story. Near the Bone follows Mattie, who lives with her overbearing husband William in a cabin on an isolated snow-capped mountain. One day Mattie finds the body of a mutilated fox and realizes that the mountain might not be so isolated after all. Not only is there an unseen creature stalking the woods, but a group of strangers also shows up who is tracking the cryptid. And William hates strangers.
This survival novel/creature feature is blanketed in a frozen atmosphere, and Henry vividly describes the snowy mountain. She also reveals just enough of the monster to let the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. Author Rachel Harrison describes the book as “Hair-raising, heart-stopping suspense from start to finish.” Near the Bone intertwines the very real horrors that humans can inflict on each other with the fear of a vicious monster lurking just out of sight.