As a lifelong period drama devotee, historical romance is probably my favorite subgenre in all of Romancelandia. But as a history nerd, I’ve never quite understood why the Regency and Victorian eras are so very, very dominant. Don’t get me wrong—I will never say no to a good bustle, and I love Austen-esque tales as much as the next romance reader. But why isn’t there an entire genre of fast-paced, witty Roaring ’20s romances? Or love affairs within the court intrigue of Tudor England? Or, you know, more romances set anywhere other than England or America? The following list is unfortunately still Anglocentric, much like the romance genre itself, but these authors offer a place to start for those looking to move beyond the Regency or Victorian romance.
Is it Gothic Fiction?
Is it dark (in tone or in luminous intensity)?
Is it creepy in an undeniable, but sometimes indefinite, way?
Most of the time.
Is death featured heavily, either as an event or preoccupation?
Does it leave you with a deep distrust of old, palatial manners, moldering estates, dilapidated plantation homes and crumbly castles?
It would have if I weren’t already freaked out by those places.
Is it focused on an individual (or small group or family) and their thoughts and feelings as they try to deal with everything listed above without going completely insane?
That’s Gothic Fiction alright. This genre looked at the rugged individualism, intense emotions, introspection and focus on nature and the past (in particular the medieval period) of Romanticism and said, ‘Yeah, but where is all the deep, existential and psychological terror and death?’ It’s not necessarily terrifying in the way traditional Horror is but it will almost certainly get your skin crawling at some point. Or at least make you look over your shoulder as you walk down dark and deserted hallways, should you have occasion to do so.
Now that we have that established the real question is, where is it set? For Gothic Fiction, setting is what determines subgenre – American (or, more specifically, Southern), English or Space (you read that right, space).
As you would assume, we’re dealing with American settings here — the frontier or wild west, the deep south, sometimes even suburbia. The stories often explore the darker parts of American culture and history; slavery, war, genocide and the exploitation of the nation’s natural resources and wilderness come up fairly regularly. Horror is there in some form or another, but it isn’t always supernatural (as people are more than capable of being horrifying on there own), and when it is, it might be implied rather than clearly identified. This brings in the unreliable narrator and mental illness, which is another common theme in American Gothic stories. Set it in the sweltering southern heat, and liberally sprinkle in racial tension, degradation, and poverty left over from the Reconstruction era and you have Southern Gothic.
The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe
Sanctuary by William Faulkner
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
Grappling with mental illness or spiritual angst, while dodging ghosts on the windswept moors or in a crumbling tower? In England? You’re in an English Gothic story. Watch out for untimely death, doomed romance, and villainous depravity – if it hasn’t happened already, it’s only a matter time. And, this probably goes without saying but, try to stay out of neglected graveyards, cobwebbed dungeons and, of course, haunted castles.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Racliffe
Gothic Space Opera
You know those sci-fi stories where civilization and technology extended so far and so fast that when it eventually and inevitably collapsed the average person was suddenly left stranded in a pseudo-medieval, superstitious and decaying society despite the fact that they live on an alien planet or massive star ship? Well, they’re out there, and they are frequently the starting point for these Gothic Space stories.
In these cases, the rickety star ship serves as haunted mansion/castle analog and the inky, vast blackness of space the misty, eerie moors that surround typically surround them. Authoritarian regimes, oppressive cults and demonic alien forces are common issues, as well as the usual wear and tear of long space travel — time dilation, the assumption of death-like states of suspended animation, and the dementia-inducing isolation of space travel, to name a few examples — on human relationships and sanity are frequent topics.
Blindsight by Peter Watts
The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher
The Explorer by James Smythe
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Nightflyers by George R. R. Martin
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Horror, as a genre, has a tendency to get a bit of a bad rap outside of its rather ardent fan base, despite the fact that more than a few literary icons made their bones on the backs of some truly spine-tingling tales (Ray Bradbury, anyone?). There has long been a strong relationship between literary fiction and the horror genre – the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Henry James, and Oscar Wilde can attest to that. While violence and gore and things that more traditionally go bump in the night certainly have their place, so too do well-crafted sentences and deeper philosophical underpinnings. Over the last decade or so, there has somewhat quietly been a resurgence in literary horror as immensely talented writers pick up the genre trappings of horror, tear them apart and fuse them back together into wholly original and truly unsettling creations. Writers like China Mieville, Brian Evenson, and Jeff VanderMeer are following the footsteps of Bradbury, Peter Straub, and Shirley Jackson and creating some stunningly imaginative and extraordinarily unsettling prose. Here are a few of our (relatively) recent favorites.
MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI
If you haven’t read House of Leaves, go grab a copy now. We’re happy to wait, it’s just that good. I’m pretty confident saying this literary head-spinner is unlike any other novel you’ve read. Part epistolary novel, part haunted house thriller, with a bit of weird fiction thrown in for good measure – House of Leaves is a difficult book to pin down or describe. It’s a narrative as twisting (literally) and expansive as the house it chronicles.
The fairy tale form is built on a dark undercurrent that, in many ways, is the perfect foundation for horror. That’s something that Helen Oyeyemi illustrates with terrifying brilliance in White is for Witching. The story centers on the Silver family, specifically the four generations of Silver women who have lived in the family home. When her mother passes, Lily, the latest in the family line, begins experiencing strange ailments and soon the Silver house itself begins to manifest malevolent intent. It is at once a dread-inducing mystery and powerful examination of race and family legacy.
Literary horror is at its best when writers play with readers’ expectations to create something that is at once familiar enough but also wildly original. Scott Hawkins draws from a wide range of influences for The Library at Mount Char – there are hints of Gaiman, a bit of Lovecraft, a little King. Hawkins takes inspiration before proceeding to tear it all to shreds and glue the pieces back together into something truly original, grotesque, and oddly beautiful.
A Head Full of Ghosts owes a nod to The Haunting of Hill House and The Exorcist for its slow-burn, constantly-shifting narrative. The novel centers on a suburban New England family coming to grips with a fourteen year old daughter who’s suddenly showing signs of schizophrenia – or so they hope. What follows is a novel that riffs on unreliable narration, reality TV, and familial tragedies in ways that are both unexpected and truly unsettling.
With The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters reinvigorated Gothic fiction in a way that would’ve made Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allan Poe proud. Part haunted house horror, part unreliable narration, and part social critique, The Little Stranger is a deeply unsettling descent into madness and dread within the walls of a crumbling Georgian Mansion where a malevolent presence may or may not be lurking.
ROBERT JACKSON BENNETT
Mr. Shivers reads like the literary love child of China Mieville and John Steinbeck. It’s The Grapes of Wrath by way of Lovecraft. Bennett’s tale of a father on the trail of the possibly otherworldly killer who murdered his daughter is a slow-burn piece of dread-fueled Americana. Robert Jackson Bennett has quietly positioned himself as one of the more talented voices in the New Weird genre, and Mr. Shivers remains among his best work.
Weird fiction and literary horror have long been comfortable bedfellows, and novels don’t get much weirder than Drew Magary’s The Hike. In this tale of a hike in rural Pennsylvania gone terribly wrong, Magary manages to infuse his pop culture references and classic folklore tropes with a nearly suffocating sense of existential dread.
Jarret Middleton’s Darkansas is a novel that begins as an examination of familial strife and quickly progresses to one of preternatural dangers lurking just beyond the page and a century-old curse at its center. The story centers on itinerant musician who is his family’s black sheep. Unfortunately, any hope of reconciliation may have been doomed decades before he was born. It’s a dark, twisting page-turner with hints of Southern gothic lurking around the corners of its horror tinged sense of dread and juxtaposes its gritty reality against a mounting sense of surrealistic terror.
“CURL UP ON MY LAP. LET ME BRUSH YOUR HAIR WITH MY FINGERS. I AM SINGING YOU A LULLABY. I AM TESTING FOR STRUCTURAL WEAKNESS IN YOUR SKULL.” Imagine you’ve just lost your spouse and you suddenly begin finding messages like those above hidden throughout your home: that’s the disturbing premise for Amelia Gray’s wholly unnerving examination of death, grief, and memory. The novel follows David, a man attempting to unravel the mystery of his wife’s death against his increasingly unreliable recollections and a world that no longer makes sense.
Brian Evenson is the sort of writer who simply knows how to get under a reader’s skin. A Collapse of Horses is a short story collection that grapples with some big existential questions on reality and perception while simultaneously veering into the sort of grotesquerie that will leave you haunted long after you finish the last tale.
By KEITH RICE,
While there’s a lot to be said for digging into the intricacies of a good series – the overlapping storylines, the ongoing plot threads, the multi-arc character development – it can sometimes be difficult to find a good jumping-on point. This is particularly true for long-running series. Fortunately, there are several series structured to give you the opportunity to dive in wherever you’d like, and as a matter of fact, we have a few in mind. The novels below are all part of often much larger series, but nonetheless stand up well on their own. And while they can certainly be read as one-offs, there’s a pretty good chance one (or several) might become your new literary obsession.
Part of Catherine Coulter’s FBI Thrillers series, Double Take sees husband-and-wife FBI agents Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock caught up in a pair of seemingly disparate cases: One involving the attempted murder of a dead psychic’s wife and the other the missing wife of a Virginia sheriff. These cases, and the threads that connect them, pull Savich and Sherlock deep into a world of psychic visions, communications with the dead, and dangerous connections.
The Cold Dish
With “Longmire” heading into its sixth and final season on Netflix, now is as good a time as any to dig into the source material. The Cold Dish introduces fans to Walt Longmire, a widower and dedicated sheriff investigating the murder of a young man who two years prior had been involved in the rape of a local Cheyenne girl.
The third entry in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness Mystery series is an excellent spot to dive into the world of Lady Georgiana, a clever amateur sleuth and member of the British Royal Family. Royal Flush sees the aristocratic detective working at the behest of the Queen Mary to save the Prince of Wales from two particularly determined, if very different, hunters.
While not technically part of a series, Mysteries is, in many ways, a perfect introduction and distillation of the complex themes – man’s relationship to the natural world, biblical allegories, etc. – that served as a common thread throughout the celebrated works of Nobel Laureate Knut Hamsun. Mysteries centers on Christ-like stranger who suddenly appears in a small Norwegian town, but is perhaps more sinister than he initially seems.
Part of Peter Straub’s loosely connected Blue Rose Trilogy, Mystery nonetheless stands well on its own. The novel follows Toma Pasmore, a young boy who survives a near fatal accident, and an elderly man named Lamont von Heilitz, a once-celebrated detective. The two are drawn together to investigate an unsolved murder with implications far darker than either could anticipate.
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary
Susan Elia MacNeal
Set amid the air-raid sirens and constant threat of bombings of 1940’s London, Maggie Hope, despite graduating at the top of her class, finds herself as a typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Fortunately, her remarkable gift for code-breaking and unparalleled intellect will place her front and center of a murderous plot aimed at newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
The Queen’s Accomplice
Susan Elia MacNeal
Yes, we’ve got two Maggie Hope mysteries on this list; that’s just how much we love her. You can begin the Maggie Hope series with the above, or jump right into the thick of it with this one. The Queen’s Accomplice sees resourceful code-breaker and spy Maggie Hope dueling with a serial killer in the Blitz-weary London of 1942. A killer has been systematically attacking the women serving as spies and saboteurs of MI-5 in eerie recreations of the crimes of Jack The Ripper. At first assigned to find the murderer, Maggie soon finds herself squarely in the killer’s sights.
Murder in the Secret Garden
In this third title in the A Book Retreat Mystery series, hotel manager and amateur detective Jane Steward is drawn into a murder mystery at her book-themed resort, Storyton Hall. When a member of an herbalist society is found dead in Storyton’s Secret Garden-themed garden, it’s up to Steward to figure out which of the society’s members committed the murder.
The Doll’s House
M. J. Arlidge
With The Doll’s House, troubled detective Helen Grace finds herself on the trail of a calculating and very deadly serial killer. The body of a woman is found buried on a secluded beach. The kicker? The woman has been dead for years but no one even so much reported her missing. After all, the woman continues to send text messages to her family. With that, Grace is drawn into an intricate world of a deadly criminal mastermind and time is running short for the killer’s next victim.
By KEITH RICE,
Looking for your next great read? You’re in luck!
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola
BEST FACT CRIME
Chester B. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson
BEST SHORT STORY
“Spring Break” – New Haven Noir by John Crowley
Vanished! By James Ponti
BEST YOUNG ADULT
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY
“Somebody to Love” – Fargo, Teleplay by Noah Hawley
ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD (Best First Short Story)
“The Queen of Secrets” – New Haven Noir by Lisa D. Gray
GRAND MASTER (Lifetime Achievement)
RAVEN AWARD (Outstanding achievement in Mystery outside the realm of creative writing)
Kristopher Zgorski, BOLO Books
The Raven Bookstore, Lawrence Kansas
ELLERY QUEEN AWARD (Writing Teams & People in Mystery Publishing)
THE SIMON & SCHUSTER MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD (Book Written in the Mary Higgins Clark Tradition)
The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman
The Western genre is uniquely American (more-or-less – Australian and Eurowesterns [see below], and spaghetti western films [many oddly inspired by Japanese samurai films] create a few exceptions to this rule). The genre’s main feature is its setting, the untamed western half of the United States during the 1800s (and occasionally stretching into the late 1700s or early 1900s), which makes sense as it got its start in the “penny dreadfuls” and “dime novels” of the 19th century. These cheap books were wildly popular and helped spread the mythic image of the old west with stories about the mountain men, outlaws, settlers, and lawmen who were taming the wild western frontier. Western novels as we know them today began appearing in the early 20th century, popularized by well known authors like Zane Grey and later, in the mid 20th century, by authors like Louis L’Amour. Maybe due to the timing of it, as the Western novel was becoming popular as motion pictures came into their own, but the Western genre is as well known for its movies (and movie stars) and TV shows as it is for its books (maybe better known). This is why you’ll notice in the list of Western subgenres below that more than a few of the examples given are film titles.
Sadly, the genre peaked around the early 1960s and has been undergoing a long, slow decline ever since. Most of the best movies are old, and a lot of the new ones are remakes, and many of the most iconic Western novels (and their authors) are several decades past their prime. Still, as long as there is an audience for them, Westerns and their rugged heroes will continue to prevail before stoically riding off into the sunset.
You can be fairly certain that there will be six shooters and horses, but aside from that Westerns can vary quite a bit. Below is a list of many of the subgenres associated with tales of the wild west.
Australian westerns are a rare exception to the ‘time and place’ bounds of the genre, moving from the western US to the untamed Australian outback. Sometimes, the protagonist is an American that is no longer satisfied with the rapidly-filling western United States, and instead settles in Australia’s vast outback. Sometimes the story centers around European or Australian outlaws and their western-like adventures and escapades. Ned Kelly, the fictional account of a real Australian outlaw is a good example.
Black Cowboy (Buffalo Soldier): These westerns feature a protagonist of color. Gerald Haslam’s story Rider is a fine example. These stories sometimes depict members or veterans of the US Army’s 9th and 10th Cavalry (aka Buffalo Soldiers), African-American soldiers that gained fame for their actions in the west. Z.Z. Packer’s novel The Thousands is a good example of this subgenre.
Bounty Hunter tales center upon these morally ambiguous characters. Peter Brandvold’s novel Bounty Hunter Lou Prophet is a clear example. Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian follows a band of bloodthirsty killers after the money offered for killing Native Americans.
Cattle Drive westerns are set amidst this definitive frontier activity and, along with gunslingers and wagon trains, is among the most well known and frequently depicted western subgenre. Often the young protagonist makes long strides toward adulthood during these grueling journeys. Larry McMurtry’s novel Lonesome Dove and its sequels are famous examples. Clay Fisher’s novel The Tall Men is another.
Civil War westerns are defined by the conflict that gives the subgenre its name – pitched battles having been fought as far west as New Mexico. Stories can be set during or after the war as former soldiers carried Blue/Gray antagonisms throughout the frontier in the years following the official end of the fighting. Johnny D. Boggs’ novel Camp Ford is a comprehensive example. Howard Hawk’s 1970 film Rio Lobo places John Wayne in a similar situation.
Cowpunk is a subgenre that derives its name (and irreverant tone) from science fiction’s ‘cyberpunk.’ It can also, but does not have to, overlap with the steampunk subgenre of sci-fi to varying degrees. These tales depict all sorts of bizarre happenings on the remote frontier. Elisabeth Scarborough’s novel The Drastic Dragon of Draco Texas mixes ethnic mythology with comedy and horror.
Doctor and Preacher is a subgenre with two main types of protagonists. I’ll give you two guesses… Well done.
The common thread between the two character types are that such lead characters are committed to peace and healing (or know they should be) despite frequently finding themselves surrounded by violent situations and people. TV’s fictional Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman is a well-known example. Robert B. Parker’s novel Preacher is a more recent one.
Eurowestern tales come, as the term implies, from Europe. Karl May’s German-language novels, starting in 1892 with his Winnetou I, brought the excitement and allure of the rugged frontier across the Atlantic. Sergio Leone’s classic 1966 ‘spaghetti western’ films, like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef in the white and black hats, could also be considered part of this genre. Traditional examples of this subgenre are often more gritty; in a an emotional and violent (and even dusty) sense, than its American cousins, which could depict a more romanticized version of the Old West.
Gunfighter tales are an iconic western subgenre. In reality, two men dueling each other on the dusty main street of an old west town almost never happened , yet that image is probably what people most often picture when thinking of westerns and it is essential the plot of these stories. Often a ‘white hat’ protagonist reluctantly agrees to go up against a cruel ‘black hat’ villain on behalf of oppressed common folks. Jack Schaefer’s 1949 novel Shane is a classic example. Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 film High Noon casts Gary Cooper in the lead role.
Humorous or Parody is self-explanatory. Mel Brook’s 1974 film Blazing Saddles towers over this subgenre. Gene Kelly’s 1970 film The Cheyenne Social Club is another example and Ellen Recknor’s novel Prophet Annie is full of wry humor.
Indian Wars dominate the subgenre of the same name. They are often historically accurate in the details, but can also reflect the time and worldview (and thus, bias) of the author. James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans remains a classic. Douglas C. Jones’s novel The Court Martial of George Armstrong Custer vividly depicts a “what if?” cultural clash, asking ‘was General Custer a hero or a villain?’ Many older American films depict the Indians as ruthless savages to be swept aside. In Arthur Penn’s 1970 film Little Big Man the natives are wise and noble and white Americans cruel interlopers. Kevin Costner’s 1990 film Dances With Wolves portrays a more realistic mixed bag.
Land Rush stories usually focus on Oklahoma, where vast tracts of land were suddenly opened to homesteading — whether the resident Native Americans liked it or not. Al and Joanna Lacy’s novel The Land of Promise is one example. Ron Howard’s 1992 film Far and Away has a dramatic portrayal.
Lawmen (Texas Rangers): This subgenre centers around the honest lawmen (especially Texas Rangers) who struggled to bring order and justice to the wild frontier. Often the protagonist is, or is based upon, an actual person. Jack Cumming’s novel The Last Lawmen is a realistic example.
Mexican Wars (Texan Independence): Stories in this subgenre include the decisive geopolitical events of 1845-48. Marion G. Otto’s novel Hugh Harrington is a good example. Many Texan tales feature the siege of the Alamo, like Stephen Harrigan’s novel The Gates of the Alamo. Mexican authors who write in this subgenre often depict the secession of Texas, and the US invasion of Veracruz and Mexico City — but with heroes and villains reversed.
Modern Indians is a western subgenre that is set in the present day with a protagonist must bridge a venerable Native American heritage with modern American culture and technology. Tony Hillerman’s novel Coyote Waits is perhaps the best known example. Hillerman’s books are often listed with the ‘mystery’ genre, as they feature the Navajo tribal police. To his credit, they’re immensely popular in Navajo country.
Mormon tales center upon the settlement of Utah in the 1840s and 50s, under the leadership of Brigham Young. Marilyn Brown’s novel The Wine-Dark Sea of Grass is an unstinting depiction and From Everlasting to Everlasting, by Sophie Freeman, mirrors real-life experiences. Many of these novels are published by imprints associated with the LDS church.
Outlaw westerns focus on the ‘black hats,’ the colorful villains of that era cast as anti-heroes. The Dalton Brothers, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, and many others became legends in their own time. Eugene Manlove Rhodes’ 1927 novel Paso por Aqui (later reprinted as Four Faces West) depicts an unusual robber hunted by the famous marshal Pat Garrett.
Prairie Settlement tales are not quite standard ‘westerns,’ but they do fall within the time-and-place bounds of the genre. They depict the taming of the vast flat plains of the midwest, during the 1800s. Ole Rolvaag’s classic novel Giants in the Earth depicts a Norwegian family enduring bitter winters and maddening loneliness, as civilization slowly follows them west. While intended for children, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series is enjoyed by all ages.
Prospecting (Gold Rush): This subgenre focuses on the quest for sudden riches, whether as a comfortable silver mine owner or a hardscrabble gold panner. In the 1860s, Bret Harte and Mark Twain immortalized these characters even as the California gold rush was in full swing. Jack London extended the ‘western’ genre northward, with realistic accounts of the 1896 gold rush into Alaska and the Yukon Territory, most famously in his novel The Call of the Wild.
Quest westerns involve a protagonist on a mission, set against a harsh untamed frontier and relentless rivals and/or enemies. Cameron Judd’s novel The Quest of Brady Kenton is an oft-cited example of this subgenre. Elmer Kelton’s Cloudy in the West is another.
Railroad stories center upon a titanic project: the bridging of the east and west coasts by the Central Pacific and Union Pacific lines. Rugged geography, indentured Chinese workers, and international scandals add depth to this milieu. John Ford’s 1924 film The Iron Horse remains a classic.
Range Wars (Sheepmen): These stories center upon a peculiar western rivalry, as ranchers trying to claim the best grazing land came into conflict with homesteading farmers (sometimes sheep ranchers) who were fencing off said grazing land. Owen Wister’s classic 1902 novel The Virginian, later filmed at least twice, depicts Wyoming’s fratricidal Johnson County War.
A few subgenre tales focus on shepherds, many of them Basque immigrants, and the wool merchants who owned the flocks. Zane Grey’s 1922 novel To the Last Man depicts a cattlemen vs. sheepmen feud (based upon real Arizona history) so vicious its title is a literal description.
Revenge westerns are a relatively dark subgenre. A determined protagonist, often a young survivor of some cruel massacre, goes after the perpetrators. In the Western setting, witnesses to crimes were few, and law enforcement scarce (and sometimes corrupt), leading to such harsh individual actions. Charles Portis’s 1969 novel True Grit, soon filmed by Henry Hathaway (also remade by the Coen brothers), follows a determined young woman on such a mission.
Romance is an overlapping subgenre, where the Romance and Western genres meet, which features the elements of Romance but in the ‘western’ novel setting. A.H. Holt’s Silver Creek and Morgan J. Blake’s Redemption are two such novels.
Town-tamer westerns are well described by their name. A lone gunman, or sometimes a group of friends, take on the corrupt and oppressive leaders or marauding bandits that are terrorizing an isolated town. Frank Gruber’s story “Town Tamer,” filmed by Lesley Selander, is a clear example. Lawrence Kasdan’s 1985 movie Silverado is a great depiction. John Sturges’ 1960 film The Magnificent Seven extends this subgenre into rural Mexico.
Most Trapper or Mountain Man tales are set earlier than other western subgenres, when Native Americans still dominated the land and civilization was still a long way away in the “East.” Often the rugged protagonist is the only white man for hundreds of miles around, and he’ll find a native bride. Louis L’Amour’s novel To the Far Blue Mountains depicts the earliest English settlement of the Appalachians, in the 1500s. A.B. Guthrie’s novel The Big Sky crosses the continent, and James Michener’s sprawling Centennial is another example.
Wagon Train westerns are a quintessential subgenre. The Oregon Trail was the interstate highway of its era, with lumbering Conestoga wagons, and hardships that were often extreme. Zane Grey’s 1936 novel The Lost Wagon Train is a classic example. George Stewart’s episodic novel Sheep Rock follows waves of settlers through a remote Nevada desert.
Women protagonists lead this subgenre. Some tales idealize their courage and triumphs, as with the real-life Annie Oakley. Opposite this, Dorothy Scarborough’s 1925 novel The Wind is a harsh depiction of a young woman’s life in frontier west Texas – so harsh that the leaders of Texas at the time protested.
by KEITH RICE,
Being alone in the dark, unable to make a sound, unseen creatures waiting to attack – these are some of humanity’s most primal fears, fears that lurk deep within us all. These sorts of fears, and the anxieties they pry from us, have long been fertile ground for horror and thrillers across all mediums. “A Quiet Place” is set to arrive in theaters on April 6th, telling the story of a family surviving in total silence out of fear of unseen creatures who hunt purely by sound, so naturally these sorts of deep-down fears are firmly on our minds. While there’s undoubtedly something special in catching a great horror film on the big screen in a dark theater, nothing quite compares to the chill that comes from curling up with a terrifying read. Fortunately, there are an abundance of frightening and unnerving reads to scratch this particular itch – silently, of course.
Josh Malerman’s debut novel is an unrelenting excursion into suspense and tension. Set in apocalyptic near-future, Malerman imagines a world beset by mysterious creatures who drive anyone who catches even a glimpse of them into a volatile and deadly mania. Malorie and her young children, who were born after the creatures appeared and have been trained to navigate the world under blindfolds, set off on journey downriver to what they hope is a safe haven. But something is stalking their every move.
And if this sounds like your cup of tea, good news – a Netflix adaptation of Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock is due out later this year.
Blindness is among José Saramago’s finest novels and was cited by the Nobel Committee when Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. The novel follow seven strangers stuck in an epidemic of blindness. As the city around them descends into chaos and becomes more and more dangerous, a woman who has miraculously retained her sight attempts to lead the group to safety and keep them alive. It is a haunting parable of loss and man’s capacity for violence and degradation.
Cormac McCarthy took home a Pulitzer Prize for The Road, which centers on an unnamed father and son making their way across a an America devastated by an unexplained apocalyptic event. Their bleak and harrowing journey is both shockingly violent and unexpectedly hopeful. It is an unflinching meditation on man’s capacity for brutality as well powerful love between a parent and child.
They are blind and hunt purely by sound, twisted creatures that emerge from an underground cave system to feed, tracking their prey by the slightest sound. A young girl and her family watch the news in horror as the creatures lay waste to mainland Europe. When the creatures begin to appear in the UK, the girl – who has been deaf for most of her life – set out for a safe haven, hoping silence will shield them from the terrifying creatures.
Beginning in the early days of a devastating global pandemic, The Fireman centers around the journey of a nurse named Harper Grayson. A deadly spore causes its victims to break out in beautiful gold markings and eventually spontaneously combust. When Harper spots the gold markings on her arms, her only goal is to survive long enough to give birth to her child, but as she struggles for survival she soon discovers there is far more to the outbreak than she ever could have imagined – and that perhaps it isn’t the death sentence she thought it was.
It’s Lord of the Flies meets an apocalyptic contagion! I’m not really sure I need to say more than that, but here goes: Nick Cutter’s novel centers on a scout troop’s annual weekend camping trip to an island in the Canadian wilderness. What begins as a reliably fun experience quickly deteriorates into an exercise in survival and terror when an emaciated, pale, and disturbingly hungry stranger wanders into the group’s camp.
Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Black Spring is a seemingly picturesque community harboring one unsettling secret – the streets are haunted by seventeenth century woman whose eyes and month are sewn shut. Known as the Black Spring Witch, she enters homes at will and menaces townsfolk as they sleep in their beds. The town elders have kept the town effectively quarantined to keep their secret and keep the curse from spreading, but when a group of teenagers break the long-established traditions, the town descends into chaos and darkness.
The Beast of Barcroft
Barcroft is like any other well-to-do commuter suburb, except for one major difference – a ferocious creature is stalking the community. Ben McKelvie bought a house in Barcroft with his fiancée before everything fell apart. Now he’s square in the sights of the otherworldly creature, and he needs help. Now.
Wytches Vol. 1
Scott Snyder & Jock
The Rooks moved to the remote community of Litchfield, NH, hoping to find relief and a safe haven from their family’s recent traumas. Unfortunately, Litchfield harbors a dark secret stretching back generations. An ancient and hungry power lurks in the forest just beyond the town, and it’s watching the Rooks.
On a hike through the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains, Travis Cornell runs across a disheveled golden retriever. Soon he and the remarkably intelligent dog are on a run for their lives from an unseen and terrifying creature intent on destroying the dog and anyone who gets in its way.