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Last updated: 08/13/2020

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Terror literature has a long history and has been around for longer than most people think. It is even possible to find stories about ghosts and demons in ancient religious texts such as the Bible or the Koran. The famous terror book monsters that have become folklore, such as Dracula, Frankenstein or the Werewolf have made terror books an absolute pleasure to read for people of all ages.

Supernatural beings, high levels of tension, suspense, and dark, sinister worlds are all elements that appear in the terror genre. Many terror book stories are set in familiar places or cities, which helps the author create a sense of fear and keeps the reader biting their nails right until the bitter end. If you want to know all about terror books and how to find the best one on the market, you’ve come to the right place.

Key Facts

  • The terror genre, also often referred to as “horror”, has been part of literature for centuries. Gothic terror, written way back in the 18th century, was the beginning of modern terror literature and shaped the genre as we know it today.
  • There are many great terror books that have been turned in popular movies. Classical terror characters such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and Doctor Jekyll have made their way into cinema and have become a part of popular culture.
  • The terror genre has many subgenres that are intertwined throughout the majority of the stories. Although it may seem strange, themes such as romance and forbidden love are commonly found in terror books.

Our Selection: The Best Terror Books on the U.S. Market

The first terror books began appearing way back in the 18th century. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is widely considered to be the first modern terror book and the book that kickstarted a literary movement. Nowadays there are so many terror books available on the market that it can be difficult to know which one is the best. To help you select a great terror book that you will thoroughly enjoy, we have made a shortlist of the best terror books that are currently available on the market.

Best Selling Terror Book


The Shining is a classic modern American terror novel from the undisputed king of the terror genre, America author Stephen King. If you are looking for a classic terror book that is guaranteed to keep you enthralled in the story, then this book is for you. After reading this book you can check out the Hollywood movie of the same name based on this story starring Jack Nicholson.

Oldest Terror Book


Originally published in London in 1818 and widely considered to be the first-ever terror book, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley has become the most celebrated terror novel in literary history. The story of Victor Frankenstein and the monster he created has been read by millions all over the world. This story has inspired hundreds of imitations, however, no other version has ever equaled the masterful story of the original.

Most Famous Terror Book


Written in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula has become arguably the most famous terror book in the history of the genre. A classic vampire story, this fantastic novel tells the story of Jonathan Harker, a young English solicitor who finds himself in Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania. The events that unfold in the castle lead to a frantic escape from Dracula’s fortress and a desperate vampire hunt. To read one of the most famous terror books ever written, take a closer look at Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Best Modern Terror Book


If you’ve read all the classics and are looking for a modern terror novel from an up and coming author, then The Terror by Dan Simmons might be your next terror book. This novel is a story about life on board the HMS Terror and the expedition into the unknown that leads to death, starvation, and scurvy, with no escape. The Terror is a book that will capture your attention from the very beginning and chill you to your core until the end.

Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Terror Books

The terror genre is one of the fastest-growing literature genres, with new books being published daily by American and foreign authors. Not only can you find titles from famous American terror book authors such as Stephen King and H.P Lovecraft, but new authors are coming onto the scene every day it seems. To help you understand more about the terror genre, we will explain some of the key aspects in the following section.

holding a book

A good terror book can keep you occupied for hours. 
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What is a terror book exactly?

A terror novel is a type of novel that cultivates fear and all the emotions associated with it, with the aim of causing restlessness in the reader. According to J.A. Cuddon, a British author, terror books seek to shake and frighten the reader thanks to the mysterious and terrifying atmosphere described. Often, authors use the central threat of a terror story as a metaphor for society’s actual fears.

What are the main characteristics of terror books?

Terror literature tends to deal with subjects or themes that are sensitive to the reader of the era that the book is written. The characters that are most common in the 18th-century books come from the supernatural or mythological world (vampires, werewolves, natural monsters, ghosts, demons or witches), a world that was thought to be true back in this time. Meanwhile, modern terror books, from the 20th century onwards, focus on elements such as extraterrestrial or space, nuclear threats, genetic manipulation, and even the risks of environmental pollution.

Books falling from the sky

There are terror books that are suitable for all age ranges.
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What are the classic terror books?

If you are new to the world of terror books, a great place to start is with the classics from this genre. Like watching a Martin Scorsese film for those new to cinema, selecting a classic terror novel to start off with is one of the best ways to fall in love with this enthralling genre.

To help you find a classic terror book that shouldn’t be missing from your library, we’ve compiled a list of the five best terror books in history:

  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Considered to be the first modern terror book and also the first science fiction book in history, it tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates an unworldly creature in a scientific experiment.
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula: A novel that tells the story of the vampire Count Dracula and his attempt to move from Transylvania to England to find new blood and spread the vampire curse.
  • Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray: This is the story of Dorian Gray, a handsome young man who is on a search to find eternal youth. His constant search for pleasure and youth will lead him to corrupt his own soul.
  • The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James: This is a classic ghost story, in which a brave nanny must fight to save the souls of her two young pupils.
  • Stephen King’s The Shining: This classic tells the story of Jack Torrance and his family. Jack, who has recently lost his job and is overwhelmed by debts and alcohol issues, attempts to rectify his life by accepting a job as a caretaker at the Overlook Hotel. It is at the hotel where his son, Danny, becomes a victim of the ghosts that populate the empty rooms.
girl reading on the grass

A classic terror book is a great place to start if you are new to this genre.
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Who are the great authors of terror books?

Just like learning about the classics books that have been written, knowing who the best terror writers are is a great way to find your next good book. Stephen King is certainly the most famous author of terror literature. He has written more than 60 books within this genre, with many of his works having been adapted for film and television. Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft are two other notable American authors whose works are highly recommended.

Stephen KingFamous American Author

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”

There are a number of international authors that cannot be left out that include Horace Walpole, Anne Radcliff, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley or Sheridan Le Fanu, all of whom have produced fantastic terror books. Knowing who the best writers are in the history of the terror genre is an easy way to finding a good book.

Buyer’s Guide

The terror genre is a complex style of writing that dates back to the 18th century. Within the terror genre, there are books that are suitable for every type of reader. With so many titles available, it can be very difficult to choose a book that is just right for you. To help you find a great terror book, we have prepared the following Buyer’s Guide to help you narrow down your search:

Theme

Terror books have one characteristic that stands out above all: their ability to provoke a personal feeling. Each person has their own fears and doubts, which is where terror books aim to hit you the hardest. Choosing a book that revolves around your greatest fear, believe it or not, is the best way of finding a novel that will keep you hooked. Think about the themes that scare you the most and look for the titles that delve into this fear throughout their narrative.

Bram StokerIrish Author

“There are such beings as vampires, some of us have evidence that they exist. Even had we not the proof of our own unhappy experience, the teachings and the records of the past give proof enough for sane peoples.”

Classics

When it comes to literature, no matter what the genre is, there is nothing like reading a classic. Those novels that are classics have stood the test of time and captured the imagination of readers, generation after generation. The classics are terror stories that stimulate your biggest fears and keep you hooked right until the very end. If you are not sure where to start when it comes to terror books, look at the list of classics we described earlier in the guide and choose the book that stands out to you.

Author

Some authors, like Stephen King, have a very specific style that appeals to certain readers. However, the one guarantee that you can be assured of is that the best terror authors produce books that you will be unable to put down. Our recommendation is that you start with the classic authors that we listed earlier in the guide, and that little by little, give new terror authors a chance.

Reviews

The terror literature genre has one of the most involved communities when it comes to providing reviews and book recommendations. There are social networks such as Goodreads that specialize in book reviews and blogs devoted entirely to terror literature. We recommend that you read the reviews from other readers and well-renowned critics before purchasing a specific title.

Summary

Monsters, ghosts, vampires, and werewolves are the classic features in terror books that will terrify and fascinate you for hours. Terror books date back to the 18th century, with many of these books still holding an integral part in the terror genre. Books such as Frankenstein and Dracula are more than 200 years old, but they are still some of the popular terror books today. When looking to purchase your first terror book, we recommend looking at the classics first, as these are the safest bet.

We really hope this guide has taught you many things about the fascinating terror genre and convinced you to purchase your first terror book. If you enjoyed reading this article, please leave us a comment below or share this guide with your friends and family on your social networks.

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