Old-fashioned creepy Victorian horror sneaks up on you in the night, haunts your dreams and harasses you the next day. Recent novels guaranteed to do all three are John Harwood’s The Séance, Sarah Waters’s Little Stranger and John Langan’s Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters. In Harwood’s tale, a young woman inherits the seedy mansion, Wraxford Hall, after the owner dies and is warned by villagers that the house is haunted. Will a séance bring the ghosts to light? In The Little Stranger, the last remnants of an aristocratic family eke out a fading existence in an old manor house. When Dr. Faraday comes to call, feelings about his low birth and his obsessive interest in the eldest daughter are twisted into an almost tactile malevolence. Likewise, in Langan’s collection of macabre and mysterious tales, Mr. Gaunt, the skeletal butler of the title story and the keeper of an ancient burial relic, is truly the stuff of nightmares.
And for those of us with active imaginations and the ability to accept the seemingly impossible, consider a magical map that transports its owner to key times in history. In The Map of Moments, by Christopher Golden, set in post-Katrina New Orleans, a conjure man’s map grabs an ordinary guy, Max, pulls him helplessly through history and forces him into a voodoo hero role for which he is ill-prepared. In The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, a passenger jet lands at the airport but no one disembarks – authorities find the passengers sitting dead in their seats. Then the truly bizarre happens: they reanimate. What viral strain or power is responsible and how can it be stopped? S. G. Browne spends no time questioning the reality of a zombie infestation in Breathers: a Zombie’s Lament. Newly revived zombie, Andy Warner (living with his parents who wish he’d stayed dead), joins a support group and learns how to succeed at being undead. Often funny and truly unusual, this magic little book makes you wonder about the afterlife’s actual location!
Keep the lights on for novels that define the new horror, such as Nate Kenyon’s portrait of a schizophrenic girl in The Reach. Little Sarah, imprisoned in an insane asylum, is able to manipulate the energy and objects around her, including Jess, her psychiatric counselor. Everyone is powerless against Sarah’s unleashed fury and chaos ensues when she escapes and goes on a killing rampage. The house in The House of Lost Souls, by F.G.Cottam, calls to four daring students who succumb to madness almost as soon as they enter – one even commits suicide. Now it’s up to Nick Mason and the one person who escaped the house’s madness (or did he?) to save the three who cannot shake the house’s menacing power. Finally, Christopher Ransom imagines a dream house that turns on its owners as soon as they move in. Read The Birthing House, but be prepared to be absorbed – and changed.
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