At this point, it practically goes without saying that 2020 has not been anyone’s favorite year. So why not just escape it entirely? Historical horror is a subgenre that’s having a moment, and for good reason. At its best, it’s nostalgic fun, a way to forget the turmoil we’re all currently mired in. It also gives us a chance to reflect on the horrors of the past, an opportunity to step out of our own time and see just how much the world has changed—while also staying eerily the same. So for those of you looking to flee 2020, here are five books that will help you do just that.
Cirque Berserk, Jessica Guess
There’s nothing like a creepy circus to inspire some terror. Alternating between the late 1980s, 1999, and present day, this slasher-inspired novella follows a group of teens who head to an abandoned carnival for a night of debauched fun, only to face off with an urban legend that turns out to be more real than any of them ever imagined. Part of Unnerving’s Rewind or Die series, this is one wonderfully bloody tribute to everything genre fans love about 1980s horror. It also gives props to the music of the time, with the section headings reading like the ultimate 80s mixtape. This is an incredibly fun and fast read, and as a major up-and-coming voice in horror, Jessica Guess is undoubtedly an author to watch.
The Devil’s Dreamland, Sara Tantlinger
The World’s Fair was never quite so terrifying. Chicago in 1893 comes bursting to glorious—and gloriously bloody—life in Sara Tantlinger’s sophomore poetry collection, which takes readers on a ride through the deeply depraved mind of prolific serial killer H.H. Holmes. Set primarily in the infamous Murder Castle, Tantlinger’s award-winning book never flinches away from revealing the horrors Holmes inflicted on his more than two dozen victims. With language that’s by turns grotesque and gorgeous, The Devil’s Dreamland proves that poetry can be every bit as vibrant and disturbing as fiction.
The Deep, Alma Katsu
Ghosts and the Titanic—honestly, what’s not to love? Add in a compelling cast of characters and a meticulous attention to detail, and you’ve got a sumptuous and haunting tale that readers can fall right into. Along with her highly lauded Donner Party retelling, The Hunger, Alma Katsu is proving herself to be a go-to author for historical horror these days, so if you aren’t reading her work yet, it’s time to remedy that immediately.
Invisible Chains, Michelle Renee Lane
This devastating and beautifully written book is a perfect example of how historical horror can bring the past right into the present moment. Nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, Invisible Chains is a gorgeously rich horror story set in antebellum New Orleans, and from the very first page, it’s easy to see why Michelle Renee Lane’s debut novel is garnering all kinds of high praise. The journey of protagonist Jacqueline as she escapes slavery boasts a bevy of supernatural creatures along the way, and it never fails to draw you deeper into her intricately wondrous world. Brimming with magic, this is a tale that will stick with you long after the final pages.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Grady Hendrix
Described as Steel Magnolias meets Dracula, this title is fast becoming the go-to summer read on everyone’s list. Set in Charleston in the early 1990s, a women’s book club must face off with a charmingly mysterious man who’s much more than he seems. Boasting both humor and a body count, the nostalgia and horror are strong with this one, and it’s a fantastic read for anyone who loves a story that’s as creepy as it is fun. Plus, with an Amazon Studios adaptation on its way, this is one book that we’ll be talking about for many years to come, so hop on board now for a wild, vampiric ride.