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You walk into a bookstore, and it seems clear-cut, right? One section for sci-fi, one for fantasy, another for young adult novels. You know what you expect to find in each section, and you know what doesn’t belong. Stephen King’s It, for example, wouldn’t be hanging out in the picture book section. No ABC books are in with the self-help.
But sometimes books aren’t so easy to define. A Wrinkle in Time has science fiction and fantasy elements. Bluets is both an essay and poetry at the same time. A space opera may combine science fiction and romance. Historical fiction and thrillers can go hand in hand. These are genre-blending novels — or sometimes hybrid novels or cross-genre novels, depending on who you ask. It just means they take elements from more than one genre to make one awesome book.
And the horror novel is no different! Horror, with its creepy crawlies, its ghostly visions, its monsters lurking just behind that door, can benefit from more light-hearted subplots, like a romance or a family element, a touching friendship story, or a romp into the fantastical. The movie Spontaneous is horror, comedy, romance, and a coming-of-age story all in one! It, too, has a coming-of-age element while the clown wreaks his havoc. These additions to the story just make it all the more impactful when the monster calls.
If you’re interested in exploring the best genre-blending horror novels, look no further! Here are 20 to get you started.
Horror Meets Sci-Fi
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
No one comes back from Area X. Not fully, anyway. Mass suicide, betrayal: one by one, the expeditions fail. After the members of the 11th expedition come back, they all die of cancer. Now, it’s time for the 12th expedition to make their way inside. Four women come together to document their exploration of that strange land while surviving its surprises. This atmospheric, unique sci-fi horror is sure to keep you fascinated even as it gives you chills.
Gideon The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Nine ancient houses have their rulers and their death magic. Necromancy, communication with ghosts, soul-stealing, it all goes. Gideon is a swordswoman for the Ninth Necromancer, but she wants out of the servant life. Harrowhark, Daughter of the Ninth House, is invited into a deadly competition of the nine houses put on by the galactic empire’s emperor Muir, and she needs a fighter on her side. The pair team up, determined to make it out on top.
The Deep by Nick Cutter
I had to include a plague book in this list. They’re fairly common in the horror genre for obvious reasons. In The Deep, it’s a plague of forgetting at first. Little things first, but then bigger things like how to speak and how to make their bodies function. In the depths of the Marianas Trench, a possible cure lurks. A research lab is established under the sea, off the grid from the rest of the world. Will the crew find a cure, or will the depths of the ocean stir up something far more sinister than the plague miles above?
Horror Meets Fantasy
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Father is missing. Carolyn, one of his 12 adopted children, spent decades learning from him and the Library. They are Librarians, keepers of vast and ancient knowledge. Now, the siblings must guard the Library and find Father before all they have built is ruined. This strange fantastical thriller-turned-horror is as intriguing as it is bloody.
The Devourers by Indra Das
This one’s graphic and gory and dark, folks. The story opens on Alok, a college professor, who is approached by a stranger claiming to be a beast. Intrigued by these grandiose claims, Alok agrees to transcribe documents the stranger brings. Through these, Alok learns another side of history spanning centuries, in which another race of people, half-beast and half-man shapeshifters, lurk in the shadows. Questions of humanity, identity, and history will plague you through these horrifying pages.
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
A research vessel searching for mermaids disappears, leaving behind chilling footage of violent creatures that look a lot like mermaids. Seven years later, a new documentary group sets off to prove once and for all if that footage was a hoax or if those terrifying beasts really do lurk below the surface. Tory is more interested in finding out something else: the fate of her sister who was on board all those years ago. Will the crew, and Tory, get the answers they’re looking for, or will they face the same fate as the others?
Horror Meets Historical Fiction
The Hunger by Alma Katsu
The Donner Party is reimagined in this pioneer-set narrative. Misfortunes plague their convoy: limited rations, tension among the party, and death turn their West-focused journey into a slog. Tragedy lurks at every turn. When the party decides to travel into unexplored terrain, their limited luck is soon to run out. When members disappear among the mountains, those still alive are left questioning if they’ve been curse or if something else is out to get them too.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia
It’s 1950, and Noemí Taboada, a Mexico City debutante, is summoned to High Place by a strange letter from her newly married cousin begging for a favor. The estate is remote, but that doesn’t stop Noemí from dropping everything to help her cousin. What she finds when she arrives is her cousin’s charismatic husband, his strange family, and a house that seems to haunt her dreams. This historical fiction horror mash-up is rich in setting and in scares.
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
The Birth of a Nation, a spell cast by sorcerer D.W. Griffin in 1915, opens a rift between worlds and demons called Ku Klux run rampant. They plan to bring Hell to Earth. Enter Maryse Boudreaux, a bootlegger with a magic sword and a taste for killing monsters. She teams up with a group of fellow monster killers, the set out to save the world from the Klan and its demons. This bloody, historical, hate-filled story will have you on the edge of your seat.
Horror Meets Comedy
How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend by Linda Addison
This collection of prose and poetry is demon-filled and giggle-filled in equal measure. The stories explore who or where you might encounter demons, and what to do when you find them inside your neighbors, friends, or loved ones. The author, Linda Addison, was the first African American to receive the HWA Bram Stoker Award. This collection is a must read!
Married with Zombies by Jesse Peterson
Sarah and David were in love, once. But, now, married life is a struggle. To try to save their relationship, they turn to couples’ counseling. One day, as they make the commute to the office, things seem off. There aren’t as many people on the road, nor people at the office. Then, they find their counselor very much a zombie. Now, the couple has to unite to survive. But it turns out that the presence of brain-eaters doesn’t fix their marriage problems. Do couples that slay together really stay together? Find out in this zombie-filled tale.
Bunny by Mona Awad
Dark humor is a staple of the funny horror genre, and Bunny is a perfect fit. The story follows Samantha Mackey, a sort-of-outcast student of the MFA program in New England. The rest of her cohort are her opposite. They’re rich, cliquey girls who call each other bunny. What’s that about? When Samantha gets an invite into the exclusive group, she is drawn deep into their weird rituals and the blurring of reality that comes along with them. Loneliness, friendship, and, well, bunnies collide in this darkly funny story.
Horror Meets Fairytales
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
Helen Oyetemi’s entire catalogue is full of horrific, interesting twists on the fairy tales we know and love. White is for Witching is no different. Full of references to magic mirrors and secret doors, this fairytale-esque story centers on Miranda after the unexpected death of her mother. Their house seems plagued with voices, women of generations past who talk to her. She grows hungry, too. Hungry in a way she can’t satisfy with food. Miranda finds herself retreating from her brother and father more and more until there seems to be nothing left.
House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig
Grimm’s “Twelve Dancing Princesses” takes a dark turn in this haunted novel. Annaleigh lives in a manor by the sea with her 12 sisters. At night, they sneak out to dance and frolic in ball gowns and silk. But then, one by one, her sisters die in strange circumstances. The village people tell each other stories of the family’s curse. After Annaleigh is plagued by visions of ghosts, she starts to think the deaths weren’t so accidental after all. This dark fairytale is as haunting as it is beautiful.
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
Based on the changeling folktales, The Changeling brings the story into modern day New York City. Apollo is determined to be a good father after the birth of his first son. But soon, his wife Emma starts spewing stories about their son not being their son after all. At first, he assumes it a lack of sleep. But pictures appear on her phone of their son and then Emma herself disappears. Apollo sets out to find her, encountering a stranger who claims to have information about her. This haunting, mythic tale is a thrilling journey of one man dedicated to his family no matter the cost.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
This collection of stories is a powerhouse one after another. One puts a new twist on the girl-with-the-ribbon tales of the past. Another takes on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. With each, Machado writes incredibly beautiful prose alongside horrific violence. It’s an experimental and weird collection you can’t miss.
Horror Meets the Suburbs
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Patricia is a stay-at-home mom with distant teenage children and a busy, distracted husband. Her social life revolves around her weekly book club with some of the other mothers nearby. When a new, intriguing stranger moves into the neighborhood, and children start to go missing, conversations turn in his direction. Patricia launches her own investigation, finding something horrible lurking in her suburb.
The Association by Bentley Little
The gated community of Bonita Vista seems perfect. That’s why Barry and Maureen are willing to join an HOA to live in a house inside those gates. Soon, they start getting notices they’ve violated some aspect of The Association’s lengthy list of rules. More and more arrive until they’re buried in penalties. Barry sets out to fight the system they bought into in the first place, realizing those gates they loved for keeping out the rest of the world might also be keeping something sinister in.
The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons
Weekend barbeques, picturesque porches, and 9 to 5 work make up the lives of Colquitt and Walter Kennedy. And, really, their whole suburban neighborhood lives the same peaceful life. That is, until construction starts on the empty lot next door. The house that emerges is beautiful — and sinister, as it seeps out the best of the people who try to live inside it. Owners come and go, driven mad by the walls of that gorgeous place.
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
Accomplished photographer Joanna and her family make the move to Stepford, Connecticut. The community is perfect, everyone successful and beautiful. The perfect place to raise her two children, to grow old with her wonderful husband. As Joanna tries to fit in with the neighborhood women so busy with housework while her husband spends more and more time at the mens’ club, the divide between men and women gets more and more prevalent and then disturbing. Something is very wrong in Stepford.
I hope at least one of these genre-bending scare-fests knocks your socks off. If you’re in the mood for more terrifying tales, check out this intro to the social horror genre or these new psychological horror novels!