Hair-Raising Historical Horror

Staff Picks

Hair-Raising Historical Horror

Five eerie tales of the past

Historical fiction has gained a momentum of popularity recently, possibly due to the rise of period drama shows on TV and streaming services. Many of these shows focus on interpersonal relationships or the social mores of the time. However, sometimes it can be interesting to read how a protagonist handles a terrifying, supernatural situation without modern conveniences such as cell phones or cars. Here is a list of historical fiction that brings both the past and the supernatural together.

(Please note that all titles are linked to physical, regular print copies, but most are available as ebooks and/or eaudiobooks via OverDrive or its app Libby.)

The Terror by Dan Simmons
The HMS Terror was one of the first steam-powered ships to search for the Northwest Passage. Unfortunately, the 1845 expedition led by Captain John Franklin was a catastrophic failure, resulting in his death and two dozen crew members. Simmons weaves both fact and fiction in The Terror to create a chilling, psychological tale of man facing both natural and supernatural horrors. After the death of Captain Franklin, Captain Francis Crozier is faced with a difficult decision -- risk the bitter cold and lead the remaining crew across the icy landscape to possible safety, or remain on a ship slowly being crushed by ice to hide from a strange and terrible creature trying to claw its way onto the vessel. Crozier chooses to escape the ship with the remaining crew, but to his horror, the creature follows.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu
When the body of a young boy from the wagon train is discovered, tension and fear rise among the Donner Party as they traverse across the Rocky Mountains on their ill-timed and ill-fated journey west. Dwindling supplies, poor terrain, and bitter quarrels tear at the frayed nerves of the wagon train, as they begin to fear that their dreams of starting a new life out West will never come to fruition. Some of the party members begin to suspect Tamsen Donner, an alleged witch, for their misfortunes. Yet as more members of the group begin to mysteriously disappear, the survivors begin to fear whether a horrifying and unknown force is waiting for them in the mountains, or if it has been with them the whole time.

The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood
Unable to accept the death of his beloved cousin Lizzie, Albert Mirralls sets off to the village of Halfoalk to investigate the gruesome rumors surrounding her murder. A town tucked away from modernity and the Industrial Revolution, the townsfolk are deeply entrenched in superstition. Albert discovers the reason behind Lizzie's death: her husband believed she was kidnapped by fairies and replaced by a changeling, and the only way to "bring her back from the fairy world" was to burn the "imposter" alive. As he attempts to get to the bottom of what really happened to his cousin, Albert struggles to ignore the possibility that there may be some truth to the fairy stories he dismisses, especially after his wife follows him to the village and begins acting strangely... almost like a completely different person.

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates
When a young bride mysteriously disappears with another man during her wedding ceremony, rumors of all sorts fly about 1905 Princeton, ranging from a harrowing abduction to abandoning her fiancee for an old lover. Her brother Josiah Slade sets out to find her and bring her home, putting him in the path of prominent figures such as Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, and Upton Sinclair. However, as strangely personal tragedies begin to manifest among the town's social elite with greater frequency, people begin to worry that a powerful curse has taken root in the town due to the coverup of a horrific lynching.

Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman
In 1348 France, knight-turned-bandit Thomas finds a young girl alone in a ravaged village. Orphaned by the bubonic plague, the girl eerily tells Thomas that the plague was one but of many weapons of Satan's army aimed at destroying mankind, and she must travel to Avignon to restore peace to the world. Naturally, Thomas is skeptical; the child claims she can see angels and speak to the dead in her dreams, but she's unable to really explain what her mission "means," only that it is of a great importance. Despite his reservations, Thomas agrees and guides the young girl across a land torn by war, famine, disease, and the darkest natures of humanity to restore both order to the world and his faith.