Best Reads Of 2019
To say that 2019 was a good year for horror is an understatement. It was a fucking excellent year for the genre, but then, I’m not sure there’s ever been a year in which reading horror hasn’t formed an important part of my life. Whether it’s for escapism into weird mirror versions of our own twisted world, or to feel the visceral punch of gore-splattered gruesomeness. Sometimes you need a laugh as you’re reaching for the sick bucket, or you need to feel the icy pinch of a well-realised nerve jangler. Horror in 2019 has delivered on so many different levels, I can’t really do a traditional list of my top however-many titles. Instead, I’m treating this more like an end of year awards. So let’s open a few golden envelopes then, shall we?
Best Horror Comedy – Cannibal Nuns from Outer Space by Duncan P Bradshaw
Leaning heavily into the bizarro end of the spectrum, this is a literal B-movie in book form. Starting with trailers and ending with end credits – as well as a bumper crop of “DVD extras” (deleted scenes, alternate endings, and a director’s commentary), the special edition of this Peter Jackson meets British sitcom schlock-fest had me grinning like a bad Jack Nicholson impression from start to finish. Like all great comedies there’s a heart to it, not just gags for gags’ sake (though there are a lot of gags), and like all good horror, there’s plenty to tingle your spine here too. If you don’t want to buy it from the title alone, you might want to get your funny bone examined.
Best Political Horror – Cockblock by CV Hunt
Men only think with their dicks. That’s the message with this satirical, terrifying glimpse into a world where men become oversexed zombies, able to speak only in one-liners, and the women of the world unite against them. It’s Y The Last Man without a sarcastic magician and his monkey, and even months later I still get the shivers thinking about some of the genuinely horrifying setpieces, and I still want to cheer for the brilliant ending. The heroes in this story are put through hell, with their losses and the violence against them all feeling uncomfortably real. But again, that ending. One of the most satisfying conclusions to a story I’ve ever read, a little taste of wish fulfilment which might have some people crying foul, but me? I was out of my chair and near enough applauding.
Best Vampire Story – Invisible Chains by Michelle Renee Lane
I don’t seek out vampire stories as a general rule, but this one ticked all the right boxes for me. Set in 1800s New Orleans, this involves a young woman caught in the middle of a feud between a vampire and a loup-garou. Twilight this is not though, as our hero learns to wield magic as she crosses America in search of freedom. It’s a story where the balance of power keeps shifting, and you’re kept guessing about everyone’s fate right to the end. There’s the same attention to historical detail that you might find in an Octavia Butler novel, and the fantastic elements popping up alongside realistic events works incredibly well. There are moments of huge tragedy – the riverboat scene in particular still upsets me when I remember it – as well as emotionally powerful ones. There’s both romantic and dangerous tension as the book goes on, and all of this adds up to a hell of an impressive first novel.
Best Anthology/Short Story Collection – multiple winners
In the grand tradition of breaking with tradition, there were multiple doozies which I’m going to recommend or re-recommend here. In Darkness, Delight: Masters of Midnight collected a bunch of very different stories, like a delicious pick & mix thrown together by a bloodthirsty maniac. Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Vol. 4 delivered some of the year’s best horror, not all of it hardcore but all of it affecting. Tales from the Crust served up tales of terror with a pizza theme, giving you giggles and garlic bread alongside gore and ghosts. Tales from the Lake volumes 2-4 were solid additions to the series. This House of Wounds by Georgina Bruce gave you a series of fairytale, dark fantasy worlds dealing in tragedy, loss and sheer dread. And In Dreams We Rot by Betty Rocksteady was packed with cats and carnage, creepy elephants ripped from a drunken Dumbo dream, and absolute terror. Before you start complaining about how I didn’t pick one clear winner in this category, look! The last award is coming!
Best Non-Horror Book – Jade War/Jade City by Fonda Lee
Essentially The Godfather mixed with wuxia movies, these first two instalments of a planned trilogy are sprawling, magical epics with superb character work. In a world where jade is harvested by gangs, who use the mineral to harness various superpowers, war is brewing amongst the factions. There’s everything you love from mob stories blended with spectacular action sequences, palpable tension as the clans’ situations grow ever more complex, and bloody, brutal battles. I’m all for books which give me a full-on emotional reaction, and there were many times where I found myself either gasping or cheering – (quietly – I read a lot of part 2 on my lunch at work). Things get pretty dark in part 2, so I’m eagerly awaiting the next one. I only mention both titles together because part 1 sets up the lore and whatnot, giving part 2 the chance to get right into the meaty stuff, so it’s well worth reading them back-to-back.
Here’s a placeholder sentence about how there were plenty more books I loved that didn’t make this list, which I’ll probably replace with something funnier right before I hit send on this email.
[Editor’s note – he didn’t]
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.