Puzzle Box Horror’s book recommendation of the week is Gemma Amor’s “Girl on Fire.” Gemma Amor is a Bram Stoker Award nominated horror fiction author, podcaster and voice actor based in the UK. Her books include Cruel Works of Nature, Dear Laura,White Pines, Girl on Fire, and These Wounds We Make. She’s also co-creator, writer and voice actor for horror-comedy podcast Calling Darkness, starring Kate Siegel. Her stories are feature on the NoSleep Podcast, Shadows at the Door, Creepy and the Grey Rooms podcast.
SYNOPSIS: Ruby Miller is free at last. Free from her past, her tormentor, her shitty family and the even shittier odds she was given at birth. But freedom has a price, and when the young girl hell-bent on starting a new life crashes her cherry red 1989 Pontiac Bonneville on America’s loneliest road, she finds out just how dear that price is. From the Bram Stoker Award nominated author of Dear Laura and White Pines comes a new novella, a searing tale of fire, revenge and redemption, a coming-of-age tale with a bite, because, let’s face it… happy endings are for children, and some girls just want to watch the world burn.
Review by Ben Vicariously 4/5 stars.
This story starts with a bang (literally) and is paced like wildfire, zipping through a tale of a young girl’s burning fury being unleashed upon the world. Ruby’s traumatic past haunts her still, and all she wants to do is see the world burn. She is the girl on fire, and her killing rage is both righteous and overwhelmingly destructive. Unfortunately for those around her it is only going to escalate.
Tritone’s love of horror and mystery began at a young age. Growing up in the 80’s he got to see some of the greatest horror movies play out in the best of venues, the drive-in theater. That’s when his obsession with the genre really began—but it wasn’t just the movies, it was the games, the books, the comics, and the lore behind it all that really ignited his obsession. Tritone is a published author and continues to write and write about horror whenever possible.
Is there anything more complex than religious faith? Faith can be ineffably inspirational and intractably inflexible, a source of hope to motivate some of humanity’s greatest heroes and an excuse to defend some of our most despicable monsters. And when most people talk about the subject, they tend to focus on one quality to the exclusion of the other.
So it’s to the credit of British author C.J. Tudor that her novel The Burning Girls incorporates faith into horror story in a humane and principled manner. The book’s title refers to two young girls martyred in the 16th century for their Protestant beliefs. Today, villagers in their hometown remember “the Sussex Martyrs” as champions, holding memorial ceremonies and constructing twig dolls in homage. And sometimes, the girls’ flaming ghosts appear as omens to those who are in trouble.
The most important troubled person is Reverend Jack Brooks, a vicar who has been moved, along with her fourteen-year-old daughter Flo, to the tiny Sussex village Chapel Cross from her urban parish in Nottingham. Jack brings along her troubled past, including the murder of a young parishioner, her husband’s shadowy death, and a family history that she does not want to discuss with anyone, including us readers.
Despite her increasingly weighty baggage, Jack makes for a kind and engaging lead. Serving as the narrator for the majority of the book’s chapters (Tudor employs third-person voice for chapters focusing on other characters), Jack is quick with a quip and a forgiving aside, without ever feeling like a saint. The mercy she extends to others stems from an awareness of her shortcomings. When she begins judging a colleague for engaging in a sin of omission, she checks herself and thinks, “Who am I to judge?”
This isn’t to say that Jack doesn’t make mistakes. She gives into anger and (like all parents) constantly flubs in her decisions with Flo. But given how easily this smoking, swearing, horror-movie-watching woman of the cloth could become a “cool priest” cliché, there’s something refreshingly real to Jack’s grounded approach to the transcendent, especially to a lifelong practicing Christian like me. The Burning Girls insists that everyone has their demons and fights them their own way.
Despite the certainly admirable quality of this theme, the novel does become laden with tragedy. Everyone from a small-time reporter to a fellow vicar’s wife has a tragic backstory, which can become overwhelming. Given the mundane atrocities that mark The Burning Girls, pyro specters and crooked exorcism blades seem excessive.
The problem is exacerbated by Tudor’s sometimes too-lean prose, which prioritizes snappy dialogue over clearly defined spaces and characters. The book often reads like a script, as conversations between characters can go on for over a page, with little more than a signal phrase to break it up. As a result, the characters feel thin, as we’re forced to construct our mental image of them from the things they say, rather than the physical attributes the narrator allows us to see. This tendency crosses over from frustrating to irritating when the characters indulge in pop-culture references, talking about Evil Dead, Bill Hicks, and (with surprising frequency) The Usual Suspects. Unless you’re Nick Hornby, readers shouldn’t know more about your protagonists’ movie collections than we do about their physical features.
Fortunately, Tudor balances these issues by moving the plot along swiftly. The author shows a deft hand at revealing clues and mysteries, allowing connections between the Sussex martyrs, the disappearance of two teen girls and a local priest, and Jack’s biography, to float into view with satisfying elegance. The reader feels like an active participant in the adventure, never ahead of the characters and rarely trailing behind.
The Burning Girls treads some truly horrific ground, recounting some of the worst things humans can do to one another. And it does not shy away from the fact that religious faith often drives these acts of brutality. But it also shows us how faith can be a healing element, compelling us to care for each other, all the more in the face of such cruelty.
While exploring the best of sci-fi horror books we traveled as far back as 1818 and well into the future. Stories set in the speculative genre known as science fiction have always had a thrill and a sense of wonder about them. Technological advancements, adventures on alien worlds or deep below sea, life-altering discoveries – all aspects that incite excitement in the reader. And yet there are some stories that eschew the glossy-eyed outlook and choose to peer into the darker side of it all. What if those technological advancements come at a high moral price? What if those alien planets hold unfathomable dangers? And what if those discoveries alter life in a way that dismantles the construct of our humanity?
There are many science fiction authors who occasionally dwell on the negative consequences of mankind’s headlong rush into the future. Sci-fi greats like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, and many others write stories that have a darker side to them. But here at Puzzle Box Horror we lean heavy into the horror side of things, and so in creating this list we sought out books that have sci-fi trappings while also being downright terrifying. The genres of science fiction and horror have many base similarities, and it’s our belief that tales that blend the best of both worlds are pretty much perfect. Read on to see our selection of the very best sci-fi horror books!
Hell on Mars by J.Z. Foster and Justin Woodward (2020)
Scientists have been working for years on a secret project at the Mars Felicity Station. Something to do with opening a gateway to another dimension. Suddenly communications with earth are cut and the station goes dark. The US sends a crew in to investigate, but they are completely unprepared for what they find. What starts as a routine investigative mission turns into war with a new terrifying enemy and a high-stakes fight for survival.
The story follows the crew of the Perihelion as they journey towards the space station. We learn about the characters and their personality quirks, but the closer they get to Mars the more the dread begins to mount. When they arrive building suspense bursts vividly into nightmarish horror. Mixing the fast-paced action of Doom, the grotesque creatures of Dead Space, and the cosmic horror of Event Horizon, Hell on Mars is a gory good time and the first book in what is sure to be an exciting series. An immediate addition to our best of sci-fi horror books list.
Abandoned and alone on a remote planet, Gyre Price descends deeper into the cave. She’s lied about having cave-diving experience, hoping the paycheck from the expedition will be enough to cover any incidents that may happen. Her only connection to the outside world is her handler Em, who controls her body suit from the safety of the surface. Unfortunately, Em is both mysterious and dangerous, and she has her own dark plans for Gyre.
The Luminous Dead is a tense, claustrophobic and psychological thriller. Considering the limited setting, essentially just two characters in a mine, it’s amazing the levels of emotion and suspense author Caitlin Starling is able to provide. Both characters have secrets and ulterior motives, keeping readers guessing as to where each new revelation will lead. While the pace plods some it’s never boring, and it’s punctuated with some truly gruesome and terrifying moments.
This Nebula award-winning book is about a group of female scientists on a mission to explore a place that’s mysteriously appeared on earth known as Area X. There have been numerous previous missions, all met with disastrous results, insanity, and death.This group of women, whose story is narrated by the biologist, are tasked with exploring the area and avoiding contamination. No matter what they expected to happen after crossing the border, what actually transpires is beyond their wildest imaginations.
Annihilation is a bizarre story of psychological terror and cosmic dread. There’s no way to adequately prepare yourself for the strange events that will unfold. The four women are trying to survive in a land that is actively trying to hurt them, but their own secrets and duplicity might just be the thing that tears them apart. The book deals with big questions on life and identity, while mixing weird eco-horror with a healthy dose of cosmic horror in the second half.
A mysterious bioengineered parasite is spreading disease across America, turning the infected into deranged and bloodthirsty murderers. This sci-fi horror story is told mainly from three different perspectives. First, there’s the secret CIA agent Drew Phillips who is searching the country for a victim that’s still alive. Second, there’s the CDC epidemiologist Magaret Montoya who is racing to better understand the disease. And finally, there’s the desk jockey Perry Dawsey who is infected and must fight against his own body to survive. Infected is a glorious combination of gore and thrills that manages to blend nauseating pulp and smart storytelling.
In the near future, a space probe happens to pick up transmissions from a distant alien spaceship. Something is whispering in a strange tongue. An unusual crew is thrown together to go investigate the signals: a warrior who wants peace, a biologist entwined with machinery, a linguist with multiple-personality disorder, and a vampire exhumed by paleogenetic witchcraft. This ragtag group boards the alien ship and what begins as a routine investigation quickly devolves into an unnerving series of discoveries. A heady horror sci-fi adventure, Blindsight blends unforgettable images with philosophical inquiries about communication, consciousness, and what it means to be alive.
Thousands of humans have been living on the spaceship Argonos for several generations, traversing the galaxy in search of other life. Suddenly an unknown transmission captures their attention and leads them to a mysterious yet habitable planet. The planet, named Antioch by the crew, is barren but a group decides to go exploring anyway. They are tired from their aimless wandering of the stars, and they yearn for a new home. Unfortunately, there’s more to this planet than first meets the eye. Ship of Fools engages readers with strong character studies while also striking fear into their hearts as the crew begins to unravel into madness.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison (1967)
This collection features seven short stories by science fiction great Harlan Ellison, but it’s the titular tale that has captivated and terrified audiences the most over the decades. In this story, a post-apocalyptic future finds a small group of five people struggling for survival. Human warfare has wiped out most of the population, and now a malicious supercomputer powered by artificial intelligence has imprisoned the remaining few. They are kept alive only to be brutally tortured by the sadistic machine. It’s a disturbingly inventive story, and one that helped create the “A.I. nemesis” trope in the sci-fi horror that followed.
A spectacular shower of comets blinds most of the world’s population, leaving those few left with sight to battle a race of giant, mobile, flesh-eating plants known as Triffids. As society crumbles, our two main characters Bill and Josella, along with a band of other survivors, must find a way to avoid the poisonous stingers of these assailants and rebuild what they can of civilization. Written during a time of Cold War paranoia, The Day of the Triffids anticipates weapons of mass destruction and biological warfare. Not only did the book help popularize the post-apocalyptic genre, but it remains to this day a staple in the sci-fi horror genre overall.
Scientists at a research camp in Antarctica have discovered a frozen alien form that appears to have crash-landed there a long time ago. Misguided by their excitement, the researchers decide to thaw the creature and chaos quickly ensues. The being they have revived can transform itself to look like both humans and animals, and it’s using its shape-shifting abilities to pick them off one by one. Now this paranoid band of men must struggle to survive against a foe who can present itself as a friend. Though this story is better known as the 1982 John Carpenter film The Thing (plus various other movie remakes), it’s interesting to go back and look at the sci-fi horror novella that started it all.
At this point everyone is familiar with Mary Shelley’s story of Dr. Frankenstein and the reanimated being he assembles. Written centuries ago, this story has spawned countless iterations and made Frankenstein’s monster a pop culture horror icon. Though the book features a mad scientist and explores early on the methods used to reinvigorate life, a large part of it focuses on the humanity of the monster and the inhumanity of those around him. While it doesn’t fall into the horror genre quite as squarely as other entries on this list (though there are plenty of horrifying moments), it’s influence on the genre should not be neglected. Frankenstein is definitely one of the best sci-fi horror books of all times in it’s own right.
Ben’s love for horror began at a young age when he devoured books like the Goosebumps series and the various scary stories of Alvin Schwartz. Growing up he spent an unholy amount of time binge watching horror films and staying up till the early hours of the morning playing games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Since then his love for the genre has only increased, expanding to include all manner of subgenres and mediums. He firmly believes in the power of horror to create an imaginative space for exploring our connection to each other and the universe, but he also appreciates the pure entertainment of B movies and splatterpunk fiction.
Nowadays you can find Ben corrupting young minds as a high school English teacher. When he’s not trying to subvert the status quo at school or spending time with his wife and two kids, he’s immersing himself in his reading and writing. Though he loves horror in all forms, he has a particular penchant for indie authors and publishers. He is a proud supporter of the horror community and spends much of his free time reviewing and promoting the books/comics you need to be reading right now!
Welcome to Puzzle Box Horror’s Best of Horror Graphic Novels. We love all forms of horror here at Puzzle Box, and graphic novels have seen some incredible stories and artwork emerge and come to define horror in the same ways that iconic movies and shows have in the past. In honor of that level of terror, we’ve compiled this list of our best horror graphic novels, where terrifying is an understatement.
Sandman by Neil Gaiman
Supernatural and suspenseful, Sandman is the story of Morpheus, the god of Dreams. He escapes an occult ritual and goes on a journey for vengeance. Readers are introduced to Morpheus’s kingdom, the Dreaming, that fell into despair during his imprisonment, and his brethren, the Endless. Sandman’s initial cruelty makes for thrilling moments and as his character grows, so does the darkness around him. With an electric plot, Sandman keeps the pages turning and gives you a good excuse to leave the lights on. Available on Amazon here.
Adamtine by Hannah Berry
A master take on a classic figure, Berry’s story starts with a simple premise: an accused serial killer delivers notes from “a bogeyman. A monster.” He disappears, and the plot expands and entrances in complexity, only to unfold with astounding, and terrifying clarity. Four strangers on the late train home, whose pasts hold the key to the mystery, are forced to confront the very same terror. Full of hidden images, cover to cover, it not only terrifies, but it demands a reread. Available on Amazon here.
Locke & Key by Joe Hill
Keyhouse, the haunted house on the hill, is the New England home of the Lockes. Nina Locke, the widow of Rendell Locke, moves her family to the Locke ancestral seat following his death. The family, overcome by grief, fails to see the forest for the trees, but the secrets of Keyhouse–and the creature lurking inside–are slowly revealed. What ensues is a combination of real terror and psychological terror for the Lockes, who must learn to survive in the darkness surrounding them. Available on Amazon here.
Gyo by Junji Ito
Junji Ito is a prolific author, and his work probably deserves an article on it’s own. It only makes sense another one of his works should be on this list. Ito always blends comedy into his horror, and Gyo is definitely one of the prime examples of that. What starts with mechanical-legged fish with an extreme stench coming from the ocean, leads to a population infected by the same mechanical virus and a world on fire. With the subtitle ‘The Death Stench Creeps,” Ito’s manga is true to the course, subverting expectations and using them to take us to a terrifying end. Available on Amazon here.
Wytches by Scott Snyder
These aren’t the wytches you’re used to. The citizens of Litchfield, New Hampshire, sacrifice people to these ancient forest-dwellers for favors and boons. That’s bad news for the Rooks, the new family in town, who are running from their own family trauma. Rumors in their old home drove them away, and followed them to Litchfield. This ostracizes their daughter, Sailor, the first to learn about the town’s dark secret. This interesting and ravenous take on witches transports readers to the haunting chill of the New England night, the birthplace of American horror. Available on Amazon here.
Infidel by Pornsak Pichetshote, Aaron Campbell, and Jose Villarrubia
With a topic that feels very current, Aisha, a Muslim-American woman, struggles to deal with xenophobia from her new neighbors, and even from her mother-in-law. What this graphic novel does is take that xenophobia and personifies it in truly horrifying forms that Aisha is prey to as she learns more about her housing complex’s past. Available on Amazon here.
Clean Room by Gail Simone, Jon Davis-Hunt, and Quinton Winter
Reporter Chloe Pierce’s fiance commits suicide after devoting himself to the teachings of a self-help book. The self-help book’s author has created a cult that has incredible influence. Chloe’s reporting instincts and her quest for answers drive her to learn the truth, even if she has to infiltrate the Clean Room, the cult’s headquarters. What she finds is worse than she, or you, could have ever imagined. Available on Amazon here.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Behind You is an anthology of five short horror stories, full of ghosts, awful morality, haunted houses, and beautiful art. Each story is grounded in the dark fairy tale motif, as creatures of the night, humans included, emerge with thrilling and terrifying consequences. The two standout stories are “His Face All Red” and “The Nestling Place,” but all of the stories deserve to be read, in dark sleepless nights or midday–with a light on. Available on Amazon here.
The Dregs by Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler
Art with a cause is my kind of art, and The Dregs does that by flipping the slogan “Eat the Rich” into a stunning graphic novel, both visually and fictionally. Set in a gentrified Vancouver neighborhood, Arnold, our homeless protagonist, is struggling to survive with his friend Manny, until Manny goes missing. In his search, Arnold uncovers truths both disturbing and dreadful, with resounding parallels to the plight of homelessness today. Available on Amazon here.
Aliens: Salvation by Mike Mignola
Mike Mignola adds another incredible chapter to the Aliens franchise, with the Xenomorphs terrorizing another set of space explorers. As if the Xenomorphs aren’t terrifying enough, Mignola uses religious symbols to amp up the creeping paranoia the Nova Maru crew experience as they realize their cargo is hunting them, with chilling effect. Available on Amazon here.
And that’s a wrap! Our favorite horror graphic novels take us to the razor’s edge, and everyone’s edge is different. Let us know what stories keep the lights on in your bedroom in the comments below, and you could see it featured in our next updated list. Until next time, thanks for reading!
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