We all have to start somewhere. To celebrate the spooky season we decided to share our recommendations for the first horror novel for people that have never read the genre before. Even if you haven’t read horror before, you’ve heard of Stephen King. King books like Pet Sematary, Salem’s Lot, IT, Night Shift, and Joyland are all fantastic choices to start with horror fiction. But if you want to start elsewhere or the only horror you’ve read is from King, you can consider this list to be your horror stater kit, whether you’re a seasoned horror fan looking for recommendations for a newbie or someone just starting their journey down the dark road of horror fiction, you will find something on this list for you. -Matt Redmon
The Walking Dead series by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga
I have always been a big fan of horror movies, especially zombie movies. I remember seeing Dawn of the Dead for the first time, I was OBSESSED! Then, The Walking Dead TV series started up and I just knew it was going to be awesome. I’m pretty sure most people knew of The Walking Dead graphic novels but there is a book series as well. I think that because the show is so massively popular, the books are a great transition and is a good way to ease into the horror genre. The series is extremely well written and like most adaptations, the books are better than the show!
Buy The Walking Dead series here: https://amzn.to/31DN2M4
The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
The Winter People was the first "scary" book that I read, and it's perfect for deciding if you can handle scary. But trust me, you'll want more.
By The Winter People here: https://amzn.to/32qrN1D
It takes a lot to scare me, but I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid did the trick. What you have here is a simple story about a girl on a road trip with her boyfriend to meet his parents, but during this awkward car ride, you get the impression that something is gravely wrong with the relationship and our main character. There is an underlying sadness throughout accompanied by an unnerving sense of dread, warning the reader that something bad lies in wait for this couple. This is an intense psychological tale that requires dissection and a full night to read without distraction… because you aren’t going to want to put this down.
Buy I’m Thinking of Ending Things here: https://amzn.to/2N5BZpI
Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant
Rolling in the Deep is an excellent introduction to horror that's a little less ghost story, and a little more science-based. Featuring a wide and inclusive cast of characters, terrifying cryptids, and a decent amount of gore, I recommend this oceanic thrill ride to anyone that asks me what to start within the genre.
Buy Rolling in the Deep here: https://amzn.to/33LgEZo
Phantoms by Dean Koontz
Outside of King, Dean Koontz was a huge influence on me as a kid and one of my favorites is from Dean Koontz - PHANTOMS. If you look close enough, you’ll see a lot of similarities to King’s IT, and it was written three years prior. *wink* Koontz has written a lot of duds, but if you want great horror from him, this and WHISPERS is the way to go.
Buy Phantoms here: https://amzn.to/2qBkGFB
Paperbacks From Hell by Grady Hendrix
Paperbacks From Hell is an absolute treat for any bibliophile. It's the perfect coffee table book: filled with the gory, gorgeous covers of classic horror novels from the '70s, '80s, and '90s. The book is broken up thematically, which really helps to emphasize the diverse umbrella of horror literature. There are so many different sub-genres for readers to explore - one of the best things about diving into horror is that you can experiment with different categories to find your flavor, so to speak. Paperbacks From Hell does a great job guiding readers on a tour of what is available. Creepy animals? Possessed children? Maniacal neighbors? Sexy vampires? Which one will you dare to try?
Buy Paperbacks From Hell here: https://amzn.to/35NmQ58
Video Night by Adam Cesare
Video Night is an alien invasion horror romp fueled with 80’s nostalgia. I think the two best gateways into horror are nostalgia pieces and coming of age. You’ve got both of that here, the coming of age to a lesser degree but the nostalgia is soaked into these pages. It was a blast and I love it.
Buy Video Night here: https://amzn.to/31FncaC
Gwendy’s Button Box - Richard Chizmar and Stephen King
Gwendy's Button Box is the perfect book for those looking to dip their toes into horror. It's a well written and quick read that doesn't dive right into the scares. It's a fun story that isn't too scary.
Buy Gwendy’s Button Box here: https://amzn.to/2pBJ4WW
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
The Woman in Black is a perfect gothic horror with all the elements of chill, perhaps literal. This is exactly the kind of story that does all the right things leaving you wanting to know what else the horror genre holds that you've been missing out on!
Buy The Woman in Black now: https://amzn.to/2qlmvGr
The Nightmare Room by Chris Sorensen
The Nightmare Room is such a phenomenal and easy read that I think it would be perfect for someone just starting off in the horror genre. It's easy to follow and deliciously sinister. It has the perfect Midwestern town setting full of creepy scenes such as dark basements, an old farmhouse, and mysterious evil voices lurking in the dark. From the very first page, it grabs hold of your attention and does not release you until the very end!
Buy The Nightmare Room here: https://amzn.to/2J6fQGL
14 by Peter Clines
14 was one of the first horror books that I read. I don't believe it's normally filed under horror, but it definitely should be. 14 takes place almost entirely in one creepy apartment building. As the residents unravel the secrets of their building, the tension and horror build. This is one of my favorite books, and it'll give you a good idea if you enjoy creepy, secretive, and unexplained happenings. If you're into audiobooks, Ray Porter's narration on Audible is just incredible.
Buy 14 here: https://amzn.to/2pDZzli
The Carrow Haunt by Darcy Coates
Darcy Coates and specifically her novel The Carrow Haunt is perfect horror for the first time reader. I think in a review or a conversation someone referred to her work as “horror lite” and I think that is a great way to describe her novels. The Carrow Haunt is spooky and tense without being too much for someone who isn’t used to reading horror. A tour group becomes trapped by a storm in a haunted house, and they are forced to deal with the souls that are trapped within before they are able to leave. If you are on the fence about horror, I think this one just may change your mind.
Buy The Carrow Haunt here: https://amzn.to/2PdqeAu
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
I'm choosing My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. It introduces a lot of common horror tropes in a fun and compelling way. New horror readers will fall in love with the two female protagonists and will enjoy getting acquainted with one of horror's most original voices, Grady Hendrix. This book is the ultimate gateway drug for full-blown horror addiction.
Buy My Best Friends Exorcism here: https://amzn.to/35N5HZh
Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Let The Right One In is translated, but the translation is superb, and the many details make this a believable creepy story. I got my husband (who doesn't usually read horror) to read this by telling him it was more about a beautiful friendship between two friends...one just happens to be a Vampire. The perfect read to have you looking over your shoulder in these colder months.
Buy Let The Right One In here: https://amzn.to/2MTnUf7
Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast by Jonathan Winn
My recommendation is Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast, by Jonathan Winn. It’s an insanely dark read, with fluid, poetic prose written by one of my favorite writers on the horror scene right now. It channels everything that horror fiction is and can be, bleak, haunting, mesmerizing, magical. I want you to challenge yourself immediately. Being a horror fan requires personal sacrifice and this book will gladly initiate the metaphorical bloodletting. Jump in with both feet, know from the get-go if the genre is right for you, and once you’ve inoculated yourself the rest is merely a bad dream.
Enter Eidolon Avenue here: https://amzn.to/2W8choP