And just like that another year goes by! To be selfish for just a second, 2023 has been a great year for me and my reading. I finally feel like my university hangover has come to an end and so I have read more than ever before! At the time of writing, that is 50 books, and it was quite the challenge to narrow that down to a list of 10, but here we are!
Special mentions have to go out to Mexican Gothic and Under the Dome by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Stephen King. I wanted my list to be 10 books by 10 different authors and so they sadly could not make the cut!
10) What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher (2022)
I must admit that I read some of these books quite some time ago, and so the length of my thoughts on each book is likely to vary! What Moves the Dead falls into the category of being read quite some time ago.
Reflecting on this book and why it is on the list, two aspects of the book stick out in my mind: tone and sporror (spore/fungus horror). What Moves the Dead is not short on unsettling and often disgusting moments, and fungi is at the heart of that. It is this book that really opened me up to this sub-genre of horror and got me to finally read Mexican Gothic! There is something about fungus and the notion of infestation that really makes me skin crawl and there are visuals in this book that have stuck with me even now! Despite this, Kingfisher’s story is one of heart and connection.
The strongest aspect of the book comes through the often light-hearted and humorous character interactions, which is a good job since there is a sequel out soon!
It would not surprise me one bit if Kingfisher’s sequel to What Moves the Dead makes my top 10 list of 2024.
9) Don’t Fear the Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones (2023)
Another book with a sequel (finale) out next year! 2024 is shaping up nicely. Don’t Fear the Reaper absolutely rocked me as a sequel to My Heart is a Chainsaw. Without delving into that book for far too long, Chainsaw was a slowly building slasher that exploded into action in the book’s bloody denouement. Don’t Fear the Reaper offers you no such build up. The bloody carnage is fast-paced, it is lethal and it is shocking. Yet the action does not come at the expense of character development. Four years have passed since book one and so it is inevitable that Jade, her friends, and the town of Proofrock have irreversibly changed in many ways. Stephen Graham Jones finds a perfect balance, satisfying our craving for blood while still giving ample spotlight to the characters that we have grown to know and love.
8) Maeve Fly by C.J. Leede (2023)
Of this entire list it is probably Maeve Fly that continues to cross my mind on the most regular basis. I am not quite sure what it is exactly that has left this book so imprinted on my brain. The book is a volatile concoction brought to the boil and left to wreak havoc on those who touch it. Maeve’s descent into madness and depravity is a spectacle as jaw-dropping as it is bloody, and it is unrelenting as the story slides towards its grim conclusion. In terms of visuals and gore, Maeve Fly is undoubtedly the most extreme book both on this list and in my catalogue of books read, but it truly earns its place on this list through its character work that lays the foundations for these visuals to mean something important.
7) The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (1971)
I listened to The Exorcist as a part of my Halloween reads and it did not disappoint. It is hard to imagine a more well-rounded and complete demon possession story, and this was 50 years ago! The Exorcist does not pull its punches with some truly grotesque moments, but these moments are few and far between, giving them more meaning. Blatty balances out superstition and science, and the supernatural and the natural to perfection. For so long into the novel there is genuine lingering doubt about whether the demon possession is real or not, and that is a testament to the extensive detail that Blatty goes into in regard to potential scientific diagnoses for Regan and her rapidly worsening condition. This book earns its place amongst horror’s greatest, and it is one that I think any horror fan should give a try.
6) Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2023)
For my full Silver Nitrate review check out the link here.
Similar to Maeve Fly, Silver Nitrate is a novel that I constantly find myself thinking about. In a book about nazi occultism, haunting grief, and cursed films, it is friendship that shines the brightest in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s latest novel. Montserrat and Tristán offer a revitalised and fresh take on friendship that I very much enjoyed. Montserrat is strong, stubborn and determined, and Tristán is a misguided and flimsy man who has his heart in the right place, but together they are a memorable duo. Silver Nitrate feels both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. In some ways it offers everything you would want in a story of this genre: compelling relationships, a mystery, and some frights, but at the same time Moreno-Garcia absolutely put her own spin on the story. If you have read any of her works before you will soon realise that ‘Silver Nitrate’ is unapologetically her, and that is where the story truly shines.
5) My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix (2016)
Read directly after The Exorcist as part of my Halloween reads, I did not expect this book to live up to the brilliance of Blatty’s novel, never mind surpass it. Grady Hendrix’s novel is of course much revered and considered among the best of modern horror fiction, and it very much lives up to that. Clearly I am a sucker for friendships in books (shock). The demonic possession of Gretchen and subsequent unravelling of her and Abby’s friendship only means so much because of the unbreakable bond between the two. Hendrix spends so long slowly building up their friendship that it is truly heartbreaking to see it unravel alongside the possession of Gretchen. It is a very real and very scary reflection of how the friendships you once thought were forever can slowly and painfully unravel as you grow older and change as people.
If you enjoy books where platonic love is put to the test, then this is the book for you.
4) The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (2013)
A non-horror book, shock! This is not to say that The Bone Season is not filled to the brim with intensely dark and traumatic moments, and it more than earns its place on this list regardless of that. A kidnapping, a dystopian Oxford, and a rebellion – in many ways the intrigue of the story writes itself, and the clairvoyant and otherworldly aspects are only supplementary in adding to beautiful horror that is The Bone Season. Shannon creates a world which I am very excited to revisit in 2024 as I continue the series, and characters that I cannot wait to meet again.
3) The Reformatory by Tananarive Due (2023)
For my full review of The Reformatory check out the link here.
I have waxed lyrical about this book on many an occasion. Allow me to one last time. The Reformatory is both a dug-up relic of the past and a prescient glimpse into a potential future. Tananarive Due reminds us that the past should not be buried and forgotten about, no matter the horrors.
Ghosts are remnants of the past, they are memories that have been shunned from the living world. Trauma. The ghosts in the story, known as haints, are memories of racially fuelled violence, abuse, and corruption. ‘The Reformatory’ sheds a light on very real and truly terrible things that have happened in the past, and the haints keep these memories, and the past alive, so that we can never forget.
I truly believe that The Reformatory will be considered a classic within the genre in years to come. It is a truly special story that simultaneously reminds us of the past while warning us about our future.
2) The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King (1987)
2023 was the year that I finally began on my quest for the tower! If The Gunslinger was a gentle, if slightly unusual introduction to The Dark Tower universe – the pilot episode you might say, then The Drawing of The Three truly felt like the beginning of something special.
It is full throttle, nonstop, vintage King. You are immediately thrust into dangerous waters that Roland does not even come close to paddling in during The Gunslinger, and this does not let up for the entirety of the novel. There is true jeopardy and danger in everything Roland does, and this helps create a story that not only does not, but quite simply cannot, take a breath.
If the rest of the Dark Tower series is anything like The Drawing of the Three, I am certain there will be more entries such as this one into my top 10 list next year.
1) Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward (2023)
For my full review of Looking Glass Sound check out the link here.
And then there was one…Looking Glass Sound.
Much like the memories of Wilder in the book, my remembrance of the plot of this book, so twisting and deceptive in nature, has become fractured and unreliable. Once again, Ward has done her job well.
In spite of this, I am still convinced that this is my favourite book of the year. The specifics may be blurry and fading but the intensity of my emotions as I reached the story’s conclusion is anything but. I obsessed over this book for weeks and in the end, it brought me here to fanfiaddict.com. This book is a 10/10, and you will get more coherent thought from me in my full review linked above, but it is also the book that propelled me to writing reviews on horror books more full time, and for that I am very grateful to this masterpiece of a book.