2020 was by most measures, a bad year. While other storytelling mediums had to push back release dates and productions because of COVID-19, books kept chugging along. In fact, 2020 was great for horror fiction. With releases from Stephen King, Silvia Morena-Garcia, Stephen Graham Jones, Grady Hendrix, Paul Tremblay, and Alma Katsu, there was an embarrassment of riches. Here are my favorites from throughout the year.
1. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Morena-Garcia
Mexican Gothic follows debutante Noemi Taboada as she tries to rescue her newly married cousin from her in-law’s strange estate. Like the title suggests, the book is a gothic novel set in Mexico, but Morena-Garcia skillfully updates the form while crafting a compelling character in Taboada. All of this led to Mexican Gothic being the first book to beat a Stephen King offering for Best Horror in the Goodreads Choice Awards.
2. Submitted for the Approval of the Midnight Pals by Bitter Karella
Bitter Karella’s Submitted for the Approval of the Midnight Pals started as a Twitter feed where Karella imagines horror luminaries—most frequently Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, and Dean Koontz—telling each other stories around the campfire. The book compiled Karella’s hilarious feed while adding illustrations and appendices. For fans of fantastic fiction, Submitted for the Approval of the Midnight Pals is a must have.
3. Deathless Divide by Justine Ireland
Dread Nation was not Justine Ireland’s first book, but it established her as a literary force. The young adult novel introduced an alternate timeline America, where the Civil War ended after those killed in the Battle of Gettysburg came back as zombies. Slaves were freed but were still forced to go into combat schools. Dread Nation followed Jane and Katharine, two women of color, through their time at an academy where they learned to fight zombies, and Deathless Divide picks up where Dread Nation left off. Deathless Divide is a rare sequel: one as good as its predecessor.
4. Hairspray and Switchblades by V. Castro
Unnerving Books “Rewind or Die” series asked authors for books reminiscent of the covers of horror films from the 70s to the 90s. Hairspray and Switchblades does just that: telling the story of a pair of orphan were-jaguars. The sisters are trying to make a life when the San Antonio Stripper Ripper targets them. V. Castro’s novella is a thrill a minute 80s-horror style story.
5. The Only Good Indian by Stephen Graham Jones
Stephen Graham Jones’s The Only Good Indian is a harrowing novel. The book is equal parts revenge story and cultural exploration. Four Blackfeet men transgressed ten years ago, and now something is hunting them, one by one. In what might be his best book yet, the prolific Graham Jones chronicles what life is like for the Blackfeet tribe both on and off the reservation.
Cirque Berserk by Jessica Guess, The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories vol. 1 edited by James D. Jenkins and Ryan Cagle, and The Hollow Ones by T. Kingfisher