The Best Horror Books of 2014

2014 has been a great year for horror books. Here is a list of our five favourites

Stephen King – Revival

King’s latest offering received mixed reviews, however we adored the Lovecraftian homage as we join the nomadic Jamie and his one time minister, Charles Jacobs, as their experiments in electricity unlock and elder darkness from beyond the void that threatens to engulf our world.

Anne Rice – Prince Lestat

Rice’s return with the eleventh installment in the million-selling “Vampire Chronicles” series did no disappoint. Following on from “Memnoch…”, Lestat awakens to find his world in crisis as a disembodied Voice raises the elders from their slumber, only to immolate fledgling blood suckers across the world.

Martin Adil-Smith – The Shackles of a Name

“The Shackles of a Name” is our stand out horror story of the year, not because the villains (the demon Oni) are the greatest monsters, but because the greatest monsters are the human protagonists. Set during Japan’s bloody civil war, there is love, betrayal, duty… and some of the greatest battle scenes we’ve read this year. Sprinkle with a returning God who may not be all that She seems,  and it is easy to see why this is one of the biggest selling horror books of the year.

Josh Malerman – Bird Box

“Bird Box” returns Malerman to the very essence of horror – fear of the unknown. As an undefined event sweeps the planet, it drives all of those who behold it to madness and then death, and the only thing Malorie can do is board up her house from the inside, and try to keep her children safe.

Simone St James – Silence For The Dead

Our final pick is the delicious “Silence For The Dead”, where something unnatural roams the hallways of a World War 1 asylum, sharing horrific visions with the inmates and driving Kitty Weekes to the edge of sanity.

5 Great Horror Books That Nearly Never Were

A list of our favourite horror books that nearly never were.

1. Stephen King’s “The Stand”

The Stand – Stephen King

In 1978, Stephen King was riding high – “Carrie”, “Salem’s Lot”, and “The Shining” had all been bestsellers. How crushing it must have been to have had his fourth book – “The Stand” initially rejected by his publishers, Doubleday.

The marketing team couldn’t figure out how to pitch it to the public, and his editor refused to touch it. It was only when King voluntarily cut more than FOUR HUNDRED PAGES from his longest tome that Double Day agreed to consider it.

The rest is history, but it was only with the success of “IT” and “Misery” that saw a new edition published in 1990, with the original material re-inserted.

2. Martin Adil-Smith’s “A Gathering of Twine”

A Gathering of Twine – Martin Adil-Smith

In 2011, things were grim in the Adil-Smith household. Redundancy and economic woes had coincided with the arrival of a first child. Oh yeah, and Martin Adil-Smith’s debut horror novel had been rejected by over 200 literary agents.

It was only a chance meeting with an editor and his literary agent wife that stopped the young writer giving up completely, and in 2013 “A Gathering of Twine” became the breakout smash hit on Amazon, garnering praise and awards before moving on to the bestseller lists.

3. HP Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward – HP Lovecraft

Today, Lovecraft is a celebrated writer of cult classics such as “Call of Cthulhu”, “The Music of Eric Zann”, and “Cool Air”.

But it was not so during the writer’s lifetime, and he was largely ignored, so much those that his 1927 novella “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” remained unpublished until five years after death.

It was only the intervention of his literary executor, August Derleth, and Donald Wandrei, that saw the story eventually make it into print in 1941.

4. Clive Barker’s “Book of Blood Omnibus 1”

Books of Blood – Clive Barker

Clive Barker is best known for creating such memorable villains such as Pinhead (Hellraiser) and Candyman, but it was not always so.

In the middle 1980’s Barker was struggling, and his collection of short stories, “Books of Blood” was struggling to sell. It was only when Stephen King personally intervened and wrote to both Barker and his publishers that the book took off.

5. Anne Rice’s “Interview With The Vampire”

Interview With The Vampire – Anne Rice

“The Vampire Chronicles” catapulted Anne Rice to fame, and endured her to millions, but, in 1973, Rice was at an all time low following the death of her first child, Michelle, from leukemia and it is widely reported that she turned to alcohol to cope.

However, by the end of 1976, this grief had found a creative channel and “Interview With The Vampire” garnered so much success that it was later turned into a film starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.

Book Review – “A Gathering of Twine” by Martin Adil-Smith

“A Gathering of Twine” by Martin Adil-Smith

Rating: 4/5

Editor’s Rating: 5/5

Is our world being secretly run by an arcane order of hellish creatures, who are bent causing misery and chaos? Or are these these just the incoherent rambling of our protagonist, Freeman Sullivan?

This is a book that begins to answer these questions, and in doing so sucks us into a world of creeping shadows, questionable sanity, and uneasy allies.

We have the outwardly heroic George Tate, who may or may not be being manipulated by the enigmatic Celus Tuther, as they search for the meaning behind arcane inscriptions in a long ruined castle. There is the loathesome John Lennox and Ryan Hyde who seem to be going in opposite directions to reach the same point of redemption. Then there is the tragic Anna Hyde (who I hope to see more of in future books), and the shiveringly diabolical Raven Men.

And let us not forget that we have the ever-cowled central character around which all others orbit; the seemingly vengeful and cruel Creator (the titular Danu of the series title), who takes such pleasure in causing great suffering to her children.

This tale reminds me of many authors from different genres, and thus is difficult to categorize – yes, this is horror, but it is the horror that you don’t see; is it the shadow under your bed, it is the movement in your wardrobe.

No-one can doubt the scope and the scale; the main story is set in the near future (2030 something), but recounts events of 100+years before, and entwines many families and friends. In that regard, it reminded me of James Clavell’s work, and to a lesser degree The Dark Tower saga – a massive world filled with politics, deceit, and questionable religion.

Then there is overarching themes; dead God’s returning (Lovecraft), secret societies and conspiracy (Dan Brown/ Twilight Zone/ X-Files), and the terrible things that people will do in a crisis (Stephen King/ Clive Barker/ Graham Masterton/ Dean Koontz).

Finally there is the characterizations. They are textured, with back stories and history, and a great deal of love and care is shown, which reminds me of Anne Rice’s early work.

Ultimately, this will not be for everybody. The subject matter is dark, arcane, and shrouded in metaphor and allegory. But the writing style drags you kicking and screaming into this world of paranoia and subterfuge. As a member of my reading group said; “Imagine if Zuul [from Ghostbusters] wore a pretty face… it wouldn’t make Her any less terrifying or dangerous. But because this returning god presents a beautiful visage, we find ourselves conflicted.”

And that is one of the central pillars of the story. Evil is not ugly. Good is a point of view. And you can trust nobody.

This is a gripping and compelling story, but one that does not fit neatly into any one category. It certainly does make you think, and that is just one of its many strengths.

Book Review – “Eon” by Greg Bear

Rating: 3/5

This book represents many interesting ideas; not least of which , how (as readers) do we react to a “future vision” that is wrong?

This novel is set in 2005, and it takes it a little getting used when reading this in the modern day (2014).

On the whole, I usually like Greg Bear, but reading this reminded me of how limited his vision of the future is. He never foresaw the rise of technology and networked communications in the way that Clarke or Asimov did, and as a result there were some key descriptions that suffered.

That quibble aside, this is a page turner of a book… up to a point. The prose is good, and there are plenty of cliffhangers. The air of intrigue as a mysterious hollow meteorite orbits our world is comparable with Rendezvous with Rama, and there is plenty of tension as one crisis leads to another.

However, some of the concepts feel underdeveloped. On many occasions, it felt that we were going to be hit with a revelation, akin to understanding the true nature of the Monoliths (2001), only for a whimpered “it’s too advanced to comprehend.” This was disappointing because it means that either Bear never had a fully formed idea, or doesn’t credit his readership with the intellect to understand.

There are some saving details, albeit granular. Computer files are transferred in “memory blocks” – not far off from flash drives. And “slates” are used to interface with computers, just like tablets now. However the political vision remains mired in the 80’s, and it struggles for it.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that this book touches (but does not fully explore) the idea of an infinite number of universes, and therefore an infinite number of “you’s”. Whilst ok in principle, it renders the actions of the characters pointless. Their victory or failure is utterly devoid of meaning, and resulted in me disengaging about two-thirds of the way through.

In short, lots of good ideas that are never fully realized. Whilst it makes for compulsive reading, there is ultimately little pay off.

Read once.

Book Review – “City & The Stars” by Arthur C. Clarke

Rating: 4/5

Clarke does it again. In “The City & The Stars”, he paints a vivid picture of humanity in the far future that has reached for the heavens before inevitably falling back to Earth and stagnating.

Enter our hero, who feels that there must be more to existence than the city he lives in and sets out to discover what else there is.

Much like “Rendezvous With Rama” there is no villain other than Man’s ignorance and prejudice, and in truth this is a very gentle, if intriguing story.

So why do I think it is so amazing? Simple – the vision. Clarke eloquently describes such technologies as 3d printing, wireless communication and energy transfer, genetic engineering, wormholes and wormhole-inducing-space engines, personal interactive holograms… the list goes on. Now you may quite reasonably ask “so what?”. After all these are staples of sci-fi.

This book was published in 1956. Most homes in the UK did not have television and nearly 50% did not have a landline.

I like to think I have an original idea once in a while, but Clarke… he was a visionary. The things he could both conceive and express in layterms is breath-taking.

Now all of the gushing aside, there are a couple of areas where the book is let down. The first is one of morality. Everyone that our hero encounters is very moral and virtuous. I have no problem with that, but there is a distinct lack of any faith, spirituality, or religion – that’s fine as far as it goes, but then what has replaced that and how is then morality governed? It is not explained.

I am told that “Beyond The Fall of Night” is a sort of sequel, and I will certainly put it on my “to-read” list. “City…” is complete, but there are a number of loose ends that I would love to see explored. What becomes of Mad Mind? What did call to the Galactic Empire and where are they now? What is They City’s real mission?

In conclusion, buy this, enjoy it, tell others.

Book Review – “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever” (first trilogy) by Donald Stephenson

Rating: 4/5

Despite being a fantasy fan, I had never heard of Stephen Donaldson or his books until they were recommend to me recently.

The first Thomas Covenant trilogy has its flaws, but on the whole is excellent. The plot is that Thomas Covenant lives in 1970’s America when he is diagnosed with leprosy. His wife leaves him, taking his son with her, and the townspeople shun him. His is magically transported to The Land where he must choose to either save or damn all of creation. Cue giants, magic rings, evil twisted creatures, magic staff’s, and great peril in the best Tolkein tradition.

So, let’s start with the bad things;
Without a doubt, the first book is the weakest, and I nearly gave up on the series completely. Covenant spends the entire 300+ pages being angry and commits cruel and despicable acts. There is no character development and I really despised our (anti) hero.

Secondly, the plot is complex. There is nothing wrong with this, but the third installment does suffer with a couple of big plot holes – not so much that they spoil the series, but enough to make the reader go “Hey, hang on a minute!”.

Now the good things;
No one cannot deny the vision of these books. The backdrop is immense, the scenery vast, and the often referred to history is simply enormous.
The writing makes for compulsive reading – I read the first two books in ten days each, and the final one in under five days. There is peril, a turning of tables, betrayal, revenge, corrupting, massive armies, even more massive magic, giants, wizards, ancient artifacts, hidden lore… the list goes on.
The influence of Tolkein is evident throughout, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Not since “Return of The Jedi” have I had such an emotional reaction to the final installment of the series, and if you enjoy epic quest style adventures, then you will love this.

Book Review – “The Devil’s Advocate” by Andrew Neiderman

Rating: 4/5

Neiderman’s “The Devil’s Advocate” is one of those rare books that I read cover-to-cover in a single 8hr sitting.

The film (starring Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino) is in my top ten all time greatest movies, and so I wanted to read the book.

It is fair to say that the film does not follow the book exactly. The themes are the same, but key sections vary, and ending is VERY different.

In the book, Kevin Taylor knowingly defends the guilty whilst his wife embraces their new cosmopolitan lifestyle with the wives of the other associates of John Milton Associates – attorneys at law. And yet Kevin feels that something is wrong as he wins every case and criminals are returned to the streets of New York.

The pace is good and the writing style… it is highly unique. One the one hand it is quite plain, almost sparse, but at the same time it is so eloquent as to inspire the readers imagination. This may sound like a criticism, but it is meant as a compliment. Sure, this is not Fitzergerald or Hemmingway, but then I’m not reading it for that.

That said it is not a perfect book. The first two-thirds of the book are faultless, but it is in the final third that a few cracks begin to show.

In the first instance, Kevin senses that there is something unworldly about John Milton. However, when he discovers the “futures file” (a file detailing future crimes to come), he jumps to the conclusion that Milton is the Devil. He does not consider that he might be a psychic or a timetraveller. Given the secular age we live in, this seemed somewhat contrived because he did nto consider any alternative.

Secondly, there is the pregnancy subplot. I struggle to tell you exactly why I had a problem with this, other than it seemed to remind me too much of “Rosemary’s Baby”… but it felt underdeveloped. Given the questions of parentage that surround the other associates, nothing was made of Kevin’s and this jarred somewhat with me.

Finally, there is the ending. It felt rushed. The final confrontation with Milton barely lasted a page, the plot devices of the secretary’s was ultimately unused, and the conclusion seemed to see the hero resigned to his fate and not considering the option of his predecessor.

However, none of this should detract from what is ultimately a very good book. The characters are well developed, and each has an interesting back story. The descriptions of Milton are beautiful, and the party scene and its suggestions of heddonism was wonderful.

The character arc – particularly of Kevin’s wife – was so well done that it left me in awe, and the way all the themes were fleshed out was highly satisfying.

Is this book going to change your life? Probably not.
Are you going to enjoy reading it? Absolutely.

Book Review – “Selina’s Gift” by Andy Raptis

Rating: 3/5

Take Carrie (girl has period and develops powers) mix in a little Ginger Snaps (growing eldritch powers as a metaphor for an ascent into womanhood), and then slather in Lovecraft (the darkness… the secrets… a secret race of intelligent reptiles… oh, the madness) – and there you have Selina’s gift.

The truth is that this is not a bad story, and in places it is quite readable (although there are few grammar errors which break the flow, but I can forgive it), as we join the titular Selina whose burgeoning abilities reveal a hitherto hidden world.

There is some nice sexual tension, although the subtext of that labors in a couple of places. Whilst I did read to the end, I was glad when it was over. It was not gripping, and I was happy to leave Selina’s world.

The thing is, ultimately, this is a pastiche. The author does have genuine talent, but relies on the tried and tested tropes of the genre. It would have worked in the 70’s and 80’s but the modern reader of weird-horror has read it before. There are similar themed books out, but with much more original content, like the works of ST Joshi, and this does not stand up well against its competitors

Would I read another book by the author? Probably, if it seemed more original. Not bad for a first effort.

Book Review – “Zombie Gardening” by Adam Kessel

Rating: 4/5

So the apocalypse is upon you, and you’re on the run, probably with a handful of survivors who will get picked off over a number of seasons.

But wait. Having gas in the tank is one thing… but how are you going to feed yourself?

Enter Adam Kessel’s “Zombie Gardening”. Both humorous and informative, this guide takes you through identifying local plants as food sources.

Whilst the tone is light, the information is serious and has been meticulously researched and cross verified.

However, what lifts this upon an already congested “zombie-market” is the illustrations.

Hand drawn with care and detailed attention, this entire book is full of wonderful drawings to aid identification and pass the time as you take sniper shots at the approaching undead horde.

Book review – “11.22.63” by Stephen King

Rating: 3/5

11.22.63 is one of those books that is sooo difficult to review because it is both so very good, and so very bad.

So the plot; Jake Epping is a divorced teacher who is introduced to a wormhole by his friend, the dying Al Templeton who convinces our hero to go back in time a save Kennedy.

What becomes very apparent very quickly is that that the past does not want to be changed, and conspires against Jake for the better part of 800 pages.

Ok, the good things; no-one can deny King’s writing style. Occasionally witty, always engaging, the American Master keeps you turning the pages.

Maybe this is not the most original premise for a plot, but the characters are detailed, and there are multiple story arcs running at any one time.

This brings us on the thorny issues of where this book goes wrong;
There’s no getting away from it – the first hundred pages are terrible. And I mean so bad that I nearly put it down. The hero meanders about with little sense of wonder or incredulity at the discovery of the wormhole. He just seems to accept it and gets on with it.

Personally, I’ve never traveled back in time, but I’m pretty sure if I did, it would blow my mind and I would question my sanity. Just look at Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys.

But no, Good Ol Jake gets on with it with little more than a shrug of the shoulders.

Now all of that said, once I got beyond the first hundred pages, the story really kicked up a gear and it became a lot more engaging to the point that I was reading until 4am, knowing I had to be up at 5am. Yeah, it go that good. I can’t explain how the first hundred pages got past the editors, but they very nearly lost me.

The second problem with this book is that the main character makes bad decisions. And I mean things that could send the world spinning off into a nether dimension.

And it’s not just that he makes bad decisions… he KNOWINGLY does it… WILLFULLY does it, all to the point that I’m reading and thinking “you my friend, are an idiot.”

Before going off to save Kennedy, Jake makes an experimental trip back, to save a family from their alcoholic father (hmmm… little autobiographical their Mr King?). This he does, but when he returns to the present, he finds that their lives turned out EVEN WORSE.

So not only does he think he can fix it, he travels back in time to save Kennedy… and begins having an affair, betting on sports games.. you get the idea. Don’t get me wrong, the love-story aspect of this book is great, but if you apply logic, the hero KNOWS that everything he touches will break (because the past fights back), but goes about it anyway.

Jake Epping, you are a tool.

Buuut, no-one can deny that this is an engaging well-written story… if with a few flaws.

So, to summarize, utter nonsense… but enjoyable nonsense.