Books

Monsters, Monsters, Everywhere: Marvelous New Monster Novels for Your Bookshelf

There’s something fascinating about monster tales — something that keeps us humans coming back for more. And, let’s be honest: we’re the ones creating the monsters here. So what is it about monsters that’s so fascinating?

In the late 1990s, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen wrote an essay called “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” in the book Monster Theory: Reading Culture that kicked off the subfield of monster studies. In this essay, he posits that monsters are reflections of the cultural contexts from which they arise. So if we look at, for example, alien invasion novels from the 1950s, we can see the anxieties of the second Red Scare manifesting themselves in those oh-so-scary aliens.

Cohen also discusses how even though the monstrous might repulse us, it also attracts us so that we can’t look away. We love our monsters. We want them. And we want more of them.

If you’re interested in exploring the delightfully dark subfield of monster studies further, the recently-published The Monster Theory Reader is a smart and diverse collection of scholarly essays that’ll help you think about monsters and monstrosity in more ways than you would have dreamed of.

But if you’re looking for a good monster story, rather than theories about monsters, look no further. This list has everything from human-animal hybrids to folkloric creatures and beyond. It includes new monster novels and some which are a few years older.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones book cover

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Realistically, you could pick up almost any of Stephen Graham Jones’s books and encounter some form of monstrosity. That being said, the elk-headed woman stalking the characters of Jones’s masterful work of horror is nothing short of extraordinary. As a product of settler colonial violence, disregard for tradition, and the classic slasher flick, Jones’s complex antagonist is hell-bent on revenge. Never one to shy away from a bloodbath, the novel gets really gory really fast…but for those of you who might shy away from the more gruesome modes of horror, it’s worth it for the interesting story and the well-written characters. You’ll absolutely love the teenager who ends up saving the day, too. I don’t want to plot spoil, but suffice it to say she’s amazing.

The Keeper by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes book cover

The Keeper by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes

Who could say no to a horror graphic novel co-authored by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes, especially when it’s illustrated by Marco Finnegan? Not this reader, that’s for sure. The Keeper features protagonist Aisha, whose life has been altered by tragedy. In the aftermath of a car crash that killed her parents, she’s forced to relocate to Detroit and live with her grandmother. But when granny dies, too, Aisha’s thrust into a world of confusion because her grandmother’s final act is to let Aisha in on a tremendous secret: their family has a guardian…and it’s not human. Thus begins the harrowing series of events that will have you biting your nails as you plummet toward the final pages of this book.

Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison book cover

Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison

I love a monster story with sense of humor, and that’s exactly what Such Sharp Teeth is. It’s not exactly funny, but it’s not your run-of-the-mill horror monster novel. Nope, this one’s about Rory Morris, a woman who moves back to her hometown — a place she thought she’d gotten free of, until her sister needs her help. When she has a bloody run-in with an animal one night, everything changes. But maybe there’s more to being a werewolf than the folklore would have her believe…

The Fervor by Alma Katsu book cover

The Fervor by Alma Katsu

How could you not be interested in a horror novel that brings together Japanese folklore and histories of Japanese internment during the second World War? The Fervor‘s alternating narration brings several characters’ arcs together as a mysterious disease spreads throughout Camp Minidoka and strange and dangerous objects appear across the United States. The book is full of demons both literal and figurative, and Katsu’s engaging writing will keep you turning the pages late into the night. I, for one, love a good puzzle, and this novel’s intricate workings had me from start to finish.

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher book cover

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

Okay, so the monster in this book might really be a house…but it’s a wild monster, nonetheless! What Moves the Dead is a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, and it’s done with incredible skill. The book is at times disturbing and terrifying, which is part of what makes it so great. Protagonist Alex Easton is a retired soldier who’s been called to Ruravia where their childhood friend Madeline Usher lies dying. As you might suspect, things are not as they should be at the Usher estate, and it’s up to Alex (and a couple of quirky locals) to figure out what’s going on before it’s too late. Oh, and for those of you who wanted actual creatures in your monster stories, the hares in this slim novel are creepy enough for their own monster tale.

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull book cover

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull

No Gods, No Monsters is the first book in a series of indeterminate length (and I sure hope it’s a long series, because this book was a great read!). It opens with Laina in the early days of her grief over her brother’s death at the hands of a police officer. From there, it quickly spirals waaaaay beyond Laina’s emotional landscape. When a mysterious stranger provides her with a video of her brother’s death, in which he is shapeshifting from wolf to human form, she puts it online and suddenly everything changes. If so-called “monsters” are real, then what is this world we really live in? Turnbull’s sympathetic cast of characters illustrate the complexity of this story world as well as the real-life anxieties (as per Cohen) at the heart of it.

The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado book cover

The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado

Can you really go wrong with a six-part horror comic series (collected here into a graphic novel) set in a place called Shudder-to-Think? Especially when the woods in that town are filled to bursting with some very bizarre creatures like people without skin, some very creepy bunnies, and a deer woman? I should think not. On top of that, Machado delivers in droves on her trademark smart feminism, queer characters, and inventive storyline. Rounded out by Dani’s impactful artwork and Tamra Bonvillain’s color work, The Low, Low Woods will leave you with a lot to think about.

The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw book cover

The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw

I really wanted to tell you all about Cassandra Khaw’s novella Bearly a Lady, which features a werebear in London who’s looking for love…but it’s out of print. Luckily, Khaw’s next book, slated for release in May 2023, is a dark mermaid tale that sounds wonderfully freaky! The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw picks up where Hans Christian Andersen’s mermaid tale left off…and in this version, mermaids have teeth. The mermaid’s daughters have decimated the kingdom and she’s forced to flee. Cue bloody mysteries of all sorts — curious travel companion, disturbing village of creepy children, and more. You just never know what you’re going to get when you pick up one of Khaw’s slim volumes, but it’s always pretty extraordinary.


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