The historical horrors of the past can offer some important lessons to the reader. They can reveal patterns about human nature through a myriad of cruel acts that have marked society since the dawn of time. Adding a little bit of fiction to the truth makes those dark days all the more terrifying.
Medieval horror books bring Gothic themes and style to fraught stories—enough to make the reader eternally grateful that they weren’t born centuries ago. After all, these were the days of bubonic plague, mandated torture, and Puritan belief structures. These tales deliver some of the bleakest depictions of human struggle and strife.
But if you like dark, we've got it for you. We’ve gathered some excellent examples of what the medieval horror genre can do with these nine books!
Mister B. Gone
The way Clive Barker can make your skin crawl is unrivaled. This short novel feels as intimate as a cursed journal or confession of a killer. Readers are introduced to Jakabob Botch, a demon with quite a hellish past. Think demon with a capital D: Botch was created out of pure hate and misery, and his purpose is seemingly to inflict the same onto others.
The book itself takes on a life of its own, often speaking directly to the reader to make it feel like what they’re holding is dangerous. Botch thrives in human society, as any demon designed to feed on others would, and eventually becomes enrapt with Joahnnes Gutenberg’s invention, the printing press. Mister B. Gone will have readers second-guessing every story and human interaction, doubting one’s intentions, especially when it becomes clear that in every story there’s a spell waiting to cast itself onto an unsuspecting mind.
Eaters of the Dead
With Eaters of the Dead, author Michael Crichton has conjured some masterfully bleak and violent medieval horror. In fact, we’re going way, way back to the era of the Vikings, 922 AD.
A courier named Ibn Fadlan is being led by a group of Vikings to find his way back home. Being amid their ways and customs, Ibn sees their violent and gratuitous acts head-on. Soon it becomes evident that there are terrors much greater than his Viking mercenaries, and in the near-endless night of the frozen landscape, something waits to attack.
Crichton has captured the nuance of a found text by way of how the book itself was written, lending itself to feeling even more like a window into the past. Eaters of the Dead is a truly unique slice of medieval horror, one that readers should not take lightly should they decide to join Ibn and the Vikings on their brutal journey.
Howls from the Dark Ages
Explore the obscured depths of hidden history within eighteen medieval manuscripts, where each dedicated scribe unveils ancient terrors dwelling within cursed castles, eerie woodlands, spectral hamlets, and cryptic monasteries. The inaugural anthology from HOWL Society Press, historical medieval horror—featuring a blend of esteemed and emerging authors. Included in this anthology are sword-sharpened stories by Hailey Piper, Brian Evenson, Lindsey Ragsdale, Cody Goodfellow, and so many more.
And now for something that dives into the surreal. Some may know Brian Catling from his wonderful and equally surreal novel The Vorrh. In the novel (part of a trilogy), the eponymously named Vorrh is a seemingly endless forest; in Hollow, Catling introduces us to a strange, haunted mountain.
Hollow follows a group of seven mercenaries, led by Barry Follett, on a mission to lead a new Oracle to the Monastery of the Eastern Gate. This is an incredibly important job, because without an Oracle, the living are vulnerable to the dead. Throughout their journey, the mercenaries cross paths with and befall all sorts of oddities and tragedies.
Catling blurs the story between horror and dark fantasy. The blend of genres creates a sense of majesty and wonder, dread, and worry, which cements Hollow as an utterly unique read—and a perfect addition to the shelves of readers looking for something different and surprising.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Patrick Suskind’s novel, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, is one of those books that have become a cult classic among readers, especially those who enjoy transgressive work. Though not truly medieval horror, it carries many of the same nuances of the genre, complete with the plague-ridden cities, gothic atmosphere, and more.
The infamous protagonist of Suskind’s novel is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a character born with a gift and a curse. He has a perfect sense of smell—almost too perfect. This takes him to the world of perfume creation, and he attempts to capture that perfect scent: a concoction of youth and virginity. But all the while, everything he knows and gets close to ends in tragedy.
Perfume is one of those novels that you just know is going to leave a lasting mark.
The Raven's Table
The thunderous clash of warfare. The haunting melody of clashing swords. The anguished wails of the injured. The faint breaths of lurking beasts in shadows—trolls, giants, and draugr. Witness the chilling howl of wolves, akin to death's silent pursuit. Overhead, carrion crows greedily encircle the battlefield, the Raven's Table. The skald weaves hypotic tales of destiny, valor, divine beings, and their adversaries—of Nordic landscapes, distant settlements, mead-soaked victories, fiery pyres, dragon-adorned ships, and treasure-filled tombs. These are stories of Ragnarok, of Valhalla, and the courageous souls who confront gods and monsters alike.
Between Two Fires
This is a masterful work of medieval horror, one that pulls from religion and the horrors of the Black Death to create a lasting, page-turning epic. Readers join Thomas, a knight that finds a lone girl in a massacred village. The girl is in every way the picturesque definition of innocence, especially amid the torturous destruction of the plague taking out towns left and right. But she is more than her innocence; her appearance calls upon something far more sinister than the plague, an uprising of fallen angels under command of Lucifer in a new attempt at war between Heaven and Hell.
Buehlman does an incredible job of keeping the war and its various biblical themes in check, allowing for all characters and scenes to be viewed impartially, allowing for the bleakness and horrors that befall a war.
The Enterprise of Death
With a title like that, how can you not pick up this novel by Bullington? Readers are introduced to Spanish Inquisition-era Europe. Here, a necromancer kidnaps three people and turns them into apprentices for his odd studies of the dead. When one “apprentice” attempts to quit, Awa is cursed and forced to seek out salvation in the form of a tome deep in the warring world. Across her journey, she encounters a world full of magic and terror, as well as a cast of characters that can be as irritating as they are endearing. That’s the power of Bullington’s novel: It reveals a world as complex as it is cursed, one that explores necromancy and other dark arts, all the while spinning an unforgettable tale.
Bullington’s novel is peak medieval horror, and an extraordinary example of the genre.
Moshfegh takes her unique voice into a world rife with bleakness and deceit. Lapvona takes place in a village that is afflicted with disaster. Marek is the son of the village shephard. All his life he’s been abused, and he knows very little outside of his tiny, allotted world. Ina, a midwife in the village, is his lone solace, a sort of improvised motherly presence as Marek's mom died during childbirth.
Ina also has a curious power, the ability to commune and connect with the natural world. She isn’t alone either, for there are other villagers that join Ina in the woods outside the village to seek an escape from the village’s drought and endless horrors. Marek becomes part of a bigger plot, one that just might threaten his life—or at least any chance of being able to understand reality from savagery.
Moshfegh’s descent into medieval horror has produced one of the grimmest novels in quite some time.