Winter is a time for festivities, for lighting candles and singing songs and eating lots of warm, ridiculous food. But do you know why we have all of these cozy, comfy, adorable traditions surrounding the dead of midwinter? Because winter is freaking terrifying. You could starve to death or get eaten by wolves. Your fingers could all freeze off, or you might get lost in the snowy woods and find yourself haunted by memories of your past and/or straight up ghosts. The sun just goes away for like three entire months. It's a nightmare season that we've transformed into a holly jolly celebration over several centuries' worth of terror. So if you're looking to recapture a little bit of that terror this winter, check out some of these chilly, chilling horror novels.
I mean yes, fall does get a lot of credit as the creepiest season, and I'm not here to argue with that. Skeletons and gourds are deeply scary in their own, autumnal way. But winter has been vastly underrated as a horror setting for too long. I mean... blizzards? Snowed in mysteries? Polar expeditions gone wrong? There's just so much to be scared of when the world grows dark and cold.
'The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories' edited by Tara Moore
In Victorian England, Christmas was traditionally a time for ghost stories. This book collects some of the actual tales of corpses, strange spirits, and creepy tapestries from old 19th century periodicals. It's perfect for delighting any history buffs and traumatizing any children in your family around the fireplace this holiday season.
'Let the Right One In' by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Already a classic of the creepy-child-vampire-by-way-of-Scandinavian-crime-novel genre, Let the Right One In is a brilliant combination of blood, friendship, and frigid weather. After all, if you were a kid vampire, wouldn't you spend a lot of time kicking it in the eternal darkness of a northern European winter?
'Wolf Winter' by Cecilia Ekbäck
Maija and her family are hoping to find a new start in the harsh yet beautiful landscape of Swedish Lapland, 1717. It seems like they might be able to put their traumatic past behind them at last... until little Frederika finds a body in the mountains. Everyone accepts that this tragedy as a wolf attack, except for Maija, who can't help but feel that a man, not a beast, is the true danger here.
'The Winter People' by Jennifer McMahon
Ruthie and her mother and sister are living in a big, old farmhouse in Vermont, about as "off the grid" as you can get these days. Especially when the snows come in the winter. But then one morning, Ruthie wakes to find her mother has vanished completely, leaving the two girls behind to piece together the strange, dark history of their own home, and what might have really happened to their mom.
'The Terror' by Dan Simmons
The explorers of the HMS Terror are determined to find the fabled Northwest Passage in the far, arctic north. They're pretty dang confident, too, since they have the first steam-powered vessels ever to embark on this journey. But as the summer comes and goes without a thaw, the men soon find themselves struggling just to survive in a world of encroaching ice and ever dwindling rations.
'The Hunger' by Alma Katsu
What if the Donner Party... but scarier? That's the premise behind this supernatural retelling of the most disturbing pioneer expedition in all of American history. The people of the wagon train believe that Tamsen Donner must be a witch, and the cause of all their hideous misfortunes... but once they reach the mountains, they feel that something else is lying in wait for them. Something that's very, very hungry.
'The White Road' by Sarah Lotz
Simon Newman is internet famous, and he's determined to keep it that way. He's uploaded some viral footage of his harrowing trip through the notorious Cwm Pot caves, and his fans just love watching him flirt with gruesome death. So now Simon is taking it to the next level: he's going to vlog his way up Everest... and this time he might not make it back in one piece.
'The Winter Ghosts' by Kate Mosse
Look, grimdark journeys into the dark heart of winter are not necessarily everyone's thing. If you prefer your ghost stories less visceral and more gently haunting, try The Winter Ghosts. It's a lovely, bittersweet, lightly creepy tale about a man trying to wait out a blizzard in the woods of 1920's France, and a young woman who is mourning a whole generation.