What’s not to love about folk horror? Weird pagan rituals, malicious forest spirits, creepy myths come to life—whether you’re a nature lover, a folklore enthusiast, or a horror connoisseur, the best folk horror books have something to offer everyone.
What is folk horror? The folk horror genre, explained
Folk horror can be a little tricky to pin down, and you’ll find that the books on this list run the gamut from ghosts haunting rural farmhouses to uncanny happenings in big cities. According to Folk Horror Revival, the term “folk horror” originally referred to British horror films from the ’60s that focused on European pagan and folk traditions in rural settings. In more recent years, the genre—and its definition—has exploded, incorporating numerous films and books that draw their horror elements from global folklore. Whether the monster is a supernatural spirit or an abusive parent, folk horror captures the anxiety of the industrial age, and the way we long for bygone times while running from the angry ghosts that lurk there.
With that broad definition in mind, here are the 10 best folk horror books to read if you’re looking for that folkloric vibe.
The Gathering Dark, edited by Tori Bovalino
The Gathering Dark is a YA short story anthology about teens confronting the sinister ghosts and spirits that haunt their rural homes. The collection is admittedly spotty overall, but the good stories in it are really good. Be sure to check out “Stay” by Erica Waters, “The Tallest Poppy” by Chloe Gong, and “Ghost on the Shore” by Allsion Saft.
Slewfoot by Brom
If you loved the movie The Witch and you think the Devil is more misunderstood than evil, you’ll want to pick up a copy of Slewfoot posthaste. Agatha is a reluctant Puritan, living as a farmer’s wife in a dogmatic New England community. She’s in danger of losing her farm to her greedy brother-in-law when she gets some diabolical help from a spirit haunting the forest.
Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley
In Starve Acre, Richard and Juliette are living in their rural family home when their son starts acting strangely. Thus begins a terrifying series of encounters with the malicious spirits haunting the land around them. I won’t spoil it too much, but the book contains a sequence with a rabbit skeleton that’s seared into my brain. Be sure to read the book before the film adaptation starring Matt Smith comes out!
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Deer Woman, a.k.a. Deer Lady, a figure from Native folklore, is at the center of Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians. Four friends make a fatal mistake when out hunting one day, angering a vengeful spirit. Now, ten years later, she’s hunting them down one by one—and going after their families, too.
The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
T. Kingfisher is the only horror writer I know of who can write stories that are cozy, funny, and warm—and still contain moments that make you jump out of your skin. In The Twisted Ones, Mouse is tasked with cleaning out her grandmother’s home in North Carolina. But as she cleans, she finds a cryptic diary, and its contents lead her on a bone-chilling journey into the spirit world.
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
In The Changeling, Apollo Kagwa is living the dream: he’s got a wife he adores, a new baby son, and a thriving career as a used book dealer. However, when his wife commits an unthinkable act and disappears, Apollo finds himself thrust into a surreal, fairy tale-infused world that he never knew existed. This novel is the basis for the new series on Apple TV+.
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
Who needs the supernatural when human beings are capable of horrifying acts? In Ghost Wall, Silvie and her family accompany an archaeology class to live like their neolithic ancestors. As they build shelter and forage for food, though, violent tendencies start to emerge. You won’t usually find Ghost Wall in the horror section of a bookstore, but it’s a solid addition to the folk horror genre.
Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
In Hex, the town of Black Spring is haunted by a spirit known as the Black Rock Witch. Her eyes and mouth are sewn shut, and she has a penchant for appearing next to children’s bedsides. The town is secretive about the Black Rock Witch, but when a group of teenagers decide to go viral, they unleash something far more evil than they anticipated. Read this book if you like sleeping with the light on and your head under the covers.
Lotería by Cynthia Pelayo
Lotería is a collection of stories, vignettes, and poems inspired by the 54 cards of Lotería, the Mexican game resembling Bingo. The collection is filled with chupacabras, duendes, and other spirits and monsters from Latin American folklore. Although most of the entries in the collection aren’t heavy on plot, the book is an atmospheric celebration of folktales and the supernatural.
Pine by Francine Toon
In Pine, Lauren and her father Niall live in a lonely village surrounded by forests. When, on Halloween night, they come upon a girl in the road who disappears the next morning, Lauren has to rely on her wits and her tarot cards to unravel the mystery of her turbulent community.
(featured image: Tor Nightfire)
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