The best debut horror short story collections

Who am I?

Mike Thorn is the author of Shelter for the Damned, Darkest Hours, and Peel Back and See. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies, and podcasts, including Vastarien, Dark Moon Digest, and The NoSleep Podcast. His books have earned praise from Jamie Blanks (director of Urban Legend and Valentine), Jeffrey Reddick (creator of Final Destination), and Daniel Goldhaber (director of Cam). His essays and articles have been published in American Twilight: The Cinema of Tobe Hooper (University of Texas Press), The Film Stage, and elsewhere. 

I wrote...

Darkest Hours

By Mike Thorn,

Book cover of Darkest Hours

What is my book about?

Between the covers of Mike Thorn’s debut collection, Darkest Hours, you will find academics in distress; humans abusing monsters; demons terrorizing people; ghostly reminiscences; resurrected trauma; and occult filmmaking. Ranging from satirical to dreadful, these sixteen stories share a distinct voice: urgent, sardonic, and brutal.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Books of Blood Volume 1

Why did I love this book?

Clive Barker transcends the subgenre label of “splatterpunk,” infecting an array of lofty speculative traditions with mutilation and viscera. The author’s prose style is elegant, often gorgeous, and his depictions of violence connect to a provocative, career-long interest in the cosmic, glimpsed often by means of extreme physical experience. For my money, "The Midnight Meat Train" is one of the great horror stories of the late twentieth century.

By Clive Barker,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Books of Blood Volume 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Rediscover the true meaning of fear in this collection of horror stories from Clive Barker, New York Times bestselling author and creator of the Hellraiser series.

Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we're opened, we're red.

In this tour de force collection of brilliantly disturbing tales, Clive Barker combines the extraordinary with the ordinary, bringing to life our darkest nightmares with stories that both seduce and devour. As beautiful as they are terrible, the pages of this volume are stained with unsettling imagery, macabre humor, and visceral dread. Here then are the…

Book cover of Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe

Why did I love this book?

Thomas Ligotti is one of the few writers whose work genuinely, profoundly scares me. His vision is underscored by an all-too-convincing commitment to pessimistic philosophy (which is accessibly detailed in his 2010 book The Conspiracy Against the Human Race). Songs of a Dead Dreamer is haunted by the philosophical outlooks of E. M. Cioran, Arthur Schopenhauer, H. P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Allan Poe, but Ligotti’s fixation on marionettes, dolls, and the illusory nature of human agency is singular and distinctive. This is a masterpiece of existentially disturbing dark literature.   

By Thomas Ligotti,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Thomas Ligotti's debut collection, Songs of a Dead Dreamer, and his second, Grimscribe, permanently inscribed a new name in the pantheon of horror fiction. Influenced by the strange terrors of Lovecraft and Poe and by the brutal absurdity of Kafka, Ligotti crafted his own brand of existential horror, which shocks at the deepest levels. In decaying cities and lurid dreamscapes tormented by the lunatic pageantry of masks, puppets, and obscure ritual, Ligotti's works lay bare the sickening madness of the human condition.

From his dark imagination emerge stories like "The Frolic" and "The Last Feast of Harlequin," waking nightmares that…


By Kathe Koja,

Book cover of Extremities

Why did I love this book?

Kathe Koja changed everything with the release of The Cipher in 1991, emerging as the most exhilarating new voice in American dark fiction since the arrival of Stephen King nearly two decades prior. Her work is characterized by hyper-sensory immersion into complex subjectivities, achieved by an inimitable, modernism-tinged voice. Koja is a master novelist, and it’s a rush to read her style within the more condensed form of short fiction; once you’re finished with Extremities, be sure to pick up her genre-expanding 2020 collection, Velo/Cities.

By Kathe Koja,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Extremities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Blending elements of horror, fantasy, and science fiction, an imaginative anthology of seventeen short stories by a Bram Stoker and Locus Award-winning author includes "Disquieting Muse," "Anels in Love," "Bird Superior," and "The Neglected Garden." IP.

Book cover of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe

Why did I love this book?

This book's heightened literary consciousness suggests a lifetime of practice, but it is, in fact, Gwendolyn Kiste's debut (she has quickly become one of contemporary dark fiction’s most celebrated, leading figures). Throughout Untether, the author examines both societal and individual forms of suffering (e.g. depression, dissociation, and the dangers of socially imposed normativities). My favorite piece is “Skin Like Honey and Lace,” which depicts a group of women who achieve social induction by taking skin from strangers and applying it to their own bodies. A staggeringly accomplished collection. 

By Gwendolyn Kiste,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A murdered movie star reaches out to an unlikely fan. An orchard is bewitched with poison apples and would-be princesses. A pair of outcasts fail a questionnaire that measures who in their neighborhood will vanish next. Two sisters keep a grotesque secret hidden in a Victorian bathtub. A dearly departed best friend carries a grudge from beyond the grave.

In her debut collection, Gwendolyn Kiste delves into the gathering darkness where beauty embraces the monstrous, and where even the most tranquil worlds are not to be trusted. From fairy tale kingdoms and desolate carnivals, to wedding ceremonies and summer camps…

Book cover of Bleedthrough and Other Small Horrors

Why did I love this book?

Scarlett R. Algee’s debut collection is an exemplar of concision, comprised of stories that have been sanded down to their unsettling essences for maximally chilling impact. Bleedthrough deftly navigates the space where beauty and horror intermingle, often boldly upending genre conventions in the process. These pieces are vivid and absorbing, drawing fully realized worlds before exposing the terrible things that lurk on the peripheries.   

By Scarlett R. Algee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bleedthrough and Other Small Horrors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A virtual-reality getaway stirs up latent malice. A lingering illness hides a truly monstrous malady. A young girl realizes her new stepmother is something other than human, while a dying man’s last wish bestows his ghoulish lover with the most intimate of gifts. A solitary occultist wakes to find his summoning ritual gone horribly awry, a mother’s grief leads her into a resort’s troubled past, and a teenage girl’s growing pains mark the beginning of an otherworldly change.

These and other stories await in Bleedthrough and Other Small Horrors, the debut collection of dark short fiction…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in dreams, fairy tales, and magic-supernatural?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about dreams, fairy tales, and magic-supernatural.

Dreams Explore 53 books about dreams
Fairy Tales Explore 243 books about fairy tales
Magic-Supernatural Explore 503 books about magic-supernatural

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Holy Bible, The Chronicles of Narnia, and 'Salem's Lot if you like this list.