Book Club Nominees

6 Novels That Will Make You Fear the Ancient Terrors

by the Medievalists, curators of HOWLS Book Club nominees for December’s “Old Evil in a Modern World” category

We just wrote a whole bunch of old stories, and now we’re blasting into the future while keeping a grasp on the past. Ghosts, monsters, haunted houses, ancient artifacts, existentialism itself – all of those things that seem set into the recesses of our brains, creeping and crawling in the corners of our memories.

Cover of The Changeling by Victor Lavalle. Cover shows drawing of a forest full of trees with bare branches. The whole image is tinted blue, except for the baby basket, which is sitting on its own the forest floor between the trees. A baby's legs protrude from the basket.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Nominated by @Chris O’Halloran

Apollo Kagwa has had strange dreams that have haunted him since childhood. An antiquarian book dealer with a business called Improbabilia, he is just beginning to settle into his new life as a committed and involved father, unlike his own father who abandoned him, when his wife Emma begins acting strange. Disconnected and uninterested in their new baby boy, Emma at first seems to be exhibiting all the signs of postpartum depression, but it quickly becomes clear that her troubles go far beyond that. Before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act—beyond any parent’s comprehension—and vanishes, seemingly into thin air.

Thus begins Apollo’s odyssey through a world he only thought he understood to find a wife and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. (Goodreads)

The Changeling was one of the first books I picked up once I started to deliberately try to expand my reading list beyond Stephen King, his children, and other various white dudes. It made me an instant fan of LaValles. The way he builds up Apollo’s life and explores the various emotions are next level. If you liked The Ballad of Black Tom, get ready for something that’ll make you rage just as hard!

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw. Cover shows a drawing of a woman. She is wrapped in a white robe, has no eyes or nose, and her open, wide mouth is smeared with lipstick. You can see her teeth inside her mouth. Her hands are suspended in mid air, one hand near her face and the other near her waist on a nearly outstretched arm, and she has very long fingers.

Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

Nominated by @JL Kiefer

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends.

But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt. (Goodreads)

The cover is deliciously creepy and I’m in love with the novella length (the books are too damn long!). An old bride seeks vengeance on a new one. One of the first entries from Tor Nightfire, this one looks like a fun, short ride steeped in tradition and culture.

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Cover of Mr Suicide by Nicole Cushing. Cover shows an image of a young boy staring directly at us with a very intense stare. Surrounding the boy's head is a superimposed image of a gaping wide mouth. We can only see the teeth.

Mr. Suicide by Nicole Cushing

Nominated by @Carson Winter

No one likes you. You don’t like anyone. You jack off in public parks. You yearn for complete erasure. 

Not death, no, death is too simple. Death, by its very nature implies a life. No, you want to be cut from existence, leaving absolutely no trace. 

Now—how do you make that happen?

Nicole Cushing’s MR SUICIDE is an often disturbing, often hilarious journey that merges Thomas Ligotti’s pessimism with Chuck Palahniuk’s knack for transgression—creating a dark and bizarre novel that solidifies Nicole Cushing as a new and vital voice in Weird fiction. (Blurb by @cdubs )

Carson loves this book. I’m not sure why he chose it specifically for this category other than the fact that he’s a big fan of Nicole Cushing and wants more people to read her, even if her cover art is a little…lacking…

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Cover of The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernan. Cover shows a woman standing in front of a tree. The moon and sky behind her are tinged red -- or perhaps the tree is. There is a house in the distance.

The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernan

Nominated by @BookishBirdwatcher

Sarah Crowe left Atlanta–and the remnants of a tumultuous relationship–to live in an old house in rural Rhode Island. Within its walls she discovers an unfinished manuscript written by the house’s former tenant–an anthropologist obsessed with the ancient oak growing on a desolate corner of the property.

Tied to local legends of supernatural magic, as well as documented accidents and murders, the gnarled tree takes root in Sarah’s imagination, prompting her to write her own account of its unsavory history.

And as the oak continues to possess her dreams and nearly almost all her waking thoughts, Sarah risks her health and her sanity to unearth a revelation planted centuries ago… (Goodreads)

I feel like this is a book that has it all: an eerie story with vivid and creepy imagery, compelling characters, and beautiful language. Kiernan takes full advantage of the opportunities offered by having most of the novel be in the form of journal entries. For example, sometimes there will be multiple entries for one day, with the later ones reinterpreting or adding new context to the previous ones. I think this book also has something for everyone because Kiernan isn’t afraid to draw on multiple influences. There are definitely some Lovecraftian elements, but some of it also reminded me of the Celtic legends of the Tuatha De Danann.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman. Cover shows a tree on the edge of a body of water. The tree is reflected perfectly in the water.

Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman

Nominated by @Jessica Peter

Failed academic Frank Nichols and his wife, Eudora, have arrived in the sleepy Georgia town of Whitbrow, where Frank hopes to write a history of his family’s old estate – the Savoyard Plantation – and the horrors that occurred there. At first, the quaint, rural ways of their new neighbors seem to be everything they wanted. But there is an unspoken dread that the townsfolk have lived with for generations. A presence that demands sacrifice. It comes from the shadowy woods across the river, where the ruins of Savoyard still stand. Where a longstanding debt of blood has never been forgotten. A debt that has been waiting patiently for Frank Nichols’s homecoming… (Goodreads)

A sticky Southern gothic set in a town with a dark history and *some awful presence* in the woods that the townsfolk fear, this seemed to fit our category to a tee. As the medievalist group, it also felt appropriate that we give a nudge to the intro-writer of HOWL Society’s future medieval anthology, Christopher Buehlman! 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Ararat by Christopher Golden. Cover shows a line of people in winter gear hiking  through the snow toward a mountain. Snow swirls in the air, and wisps of clouds float through the sky.

Ararat by Christopher Golden

Nominated by @The_Left_Reverend

When a newly engaged couple climbs Mount Ararat in Turkey, an avalanche forces them to seek shelter inside a massive cave uncovered by the snow fall. The cave is actually an ancient, buried ship that many quickly come to believe is really Noah’s Ark. When a team of scholars, archaeologists, and filmmakers make it inside the ark for the first time, they discover an elaborate coffin in its recesses. The artifact tempts their professional curiosity; so they break it open. Inside, they find an ugly, misshapen cadaver—not the holy man that they expected, a hideous creature with horns. A massive blizzard blows in, trapping them in that cave thousands of meters up the side of a remote mountain…but they are not alone. (Goodreads)

This book brings together an Old Testament evil to a modern group of scientists and explorers. It offers a chilling sense of dread as tensions rise among those touched by this ancient evil. I read this last year and enjoyed the atmosphere of the setting and the mystery of what forces are really behind the terror that the characters feel. 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read The Changeling by Victor LaValle. Join HOWL Society on Monday. December 20, 2022 to begin discussion!

About The Team: The Medievalists are 6 of the 43 authors who took part in the annual HOWLS Anthology workshop for our yearly anthology. All 43 spend three months providing and receiving criticism for the stories they were to submit for Howls from the Dark Ages — A medieval-horror anthology and one of the first of its kind. Understandably, after 3+ months playing in the medieval sandbox, we were ready to come back to more of a modern setting while still keeping the “old evil”.

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