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Troubled Waters: 6 Ocean Horror Books to Soak You in Screams

Let the waves of terror wash over you.

three book covers on a scary ocean and speed boat background
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  • Photo Credit: Maarten van den Heuvel / Unsplash

The deep blue sea is as frightening as it is fascinating. As someone that’s afraid of water and can barely swim, books that go all-things aquatic are going to quickly conjure a very palpable fear.

It could be the unfamiliar feeling that comes from being without a solid surface underneath one’s feet. Or it could be the fact that we still don’t know what lives and thrives in the deep waters. 

The ocean is as vast a narrative setting as it is, well, vast in size. We all share the same shark-attack-ridden fears that came from Jaws.

Then there’s Orson Scott Card’s The Abyss (along with James Cameron’s film adaptation), tapping into the unknowns of the ocean depths. Cloverfield used a similar idea of alien life beneath various ocean trenches that—when disrupted—may prove to be a threat to humans. 

No matter the story, the ocean setting has an undeniable way of reminding us that there’s still so much left to learn about this planet. Here are six ocean horror books that dive into a unique brand of fear.

The Deep: A Novel

The Deep: A Novel

By Nick Cutter

In Nick Cutter’s The Deep, readers enter a world where a deadly virus called “the Gets” is wreaking havoc. Scientists discover a possible cure (and more than that, a cure for most if not all diseases) in a substance called “ambrosia” burrowed deep under an ocean trench. 

Of course, the discovery comes with a price: the lab stationed miles under the sea goes silent. The lone survivor that reaches the surface is lacerated with self-inflicted wounds that keep healing due to the substance.

Cutter taps into the unknown depths of the ocean and explores how scientific discovery often comes at a price. 

Dark Tide Rising: A William Monk Novel

Dark Tide Rising: A William Monk Novel

By Anne Perry

Dark Tide Rising is part of the long-running William Monk series by author Anne Perry.

At the center of the story is none other than Commander William Monk. In this book he takes on the task of helping a businessman named Harry Exeter navigate the derelict Jacob’s Island, where Exeter is told to hand off ransom money for his kidnapped wife, Kate. 

Things go awry and Monk and others on the crew are attacked, creating quite the back-against-the-wall scenario for the series stalwart. Dark Tide Rising uses the ocean setting to cast a reflection of the mysterious underbelly of criminal acts. 

lure by tim mcgregor


By Tim McGregor

Lure takes readers to a fading fishing village lost to the hustle and bustle of the world. A teenage boy named Kaspar struggles to stay afloat in the village, where everything seems to be going dry.

Food is scarce, and even though his father holds the noble rank of priest of the village, they are barely able to fill their bellies. 

After a storm hits the village, a “luremaid” appears, causing the various village folk to become obsessed with the visit. What results is an ill-fated hunt and further possible undoing of the village.

McGregor takes ocean horror to its dire limit, focusing on how so much can be lost (and found) to the sea.

Deck Z

Deck Z

By Chris Pauls, Matt Solomon

Chris Pauls deftly blends horror, fantasy, and history in Deck Z, an alternate history of the Titanic. Readers are introduced to a claustrophobic apocalypse when a scientist flees from Europe onto the Titanic with a substance that turns people into zombies

The captain and his crew must try to stop the substance from spreading and turning everyone on the gigantic ship into mindless killers. Of course, things don’t go as planned, and Smith and crew must spring to action while their fate continues sailing toward the fateful iceberg.

Deep Black Sea

Deep Black Sea

By David M. Salkin

In this novel, author David M. Salkin peers into the unknowns deep under the ocean surface. A group of scientists research life under the sea—particularly how living deep underneath might affect humans for the intended year-long duration.

It doesn’t take long for them to discover a new type of bacteria that, when tested, reveals that it can make flesh ironclad and capable of enduring extreme temperature and pressure. Quite a breakthrough, the scientists soon face the effects of the bacteria, which ultimately poses danger for the entire group. 

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

Our Wives Under the Sea

By Julia Armfield

In Julia Armfield’s Our Wives Under the Sea, a tale of love and loss, readers meet Mira, who is excited and anxiously awaiting the day her wife Leah returns from yet another deep-sea mission.

However, the mission goes horribly wrong, leaving the crew stranded under the sea without any means of communicating with the world aboveground. After the return date lapses with no sign of the crew, Mira fears the worst.

After nearly six months, something happens: Leah returns. And yet, something is off about her; Mira can tell that she isn’t the same.

Armfield masterfully disarms expectations and uses the ocean and the unknown as twin pistons of intrigue to create a tale that will leave readers spellbound. 

Featured image: Maarten van den Heuvel / Unsplash