The best books to introduce the dark delights of folk horror

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in an isolated rural pub in England. My love of folk horror was born of a strong nostalgia for that time and it has fed into both my writing and my reading. I understood isolation, small communities, the effect of strangers, as well as the sense of ‘otherness’ in the atmosphere of the countryside – the calm before the storm, the liminal twilight. It also meant that I could tell when a writer had captured the ‘essence’ of folk horror. When the author weaves a story between the landscape and man, blends traditions and mythology they take me to that place I know.

I wrote...

The Five Turns of the Wheel

By Stephanie Ellis, Kenneth Cain (editor),

Book cover of The Five Turns of the Wheel

What is my book about?

Welcome to the Weald. The Five Turns of the Wheel has begun. With each turn, blood will be spilled, and sacrifices will be made. Pacts will be made…and broken. Will you join the Dance?

In the Weald, the time has come for the Five Turns of the Wheel. Tommy, Betty, and Fiddler, the sons of Hweol, Lord of Umbra, have arrived to oversee the sacred rituals … rituals brimming with sacrifice and dripping with blood. Megan Wheelborn, daughter of Tommy, hatches a desperate plan to free the people of the Weald from the bloody and cruel grip of Umbra, and put an end to its murderous rituals. But success will require sacrifice and blood as well. Will Megan be able to pay the price?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Harvest Home

Stephanie Ellis Why did I love this book?

Think folk horror and you think rural setting, pretty cottages, white picket fences, and lurking ritual. Harvest Home is a folk horror classic and hits these expectations spot on.

A city couple escapes to the village of Cornwall Coombe to give their daughter a better quality of life. Everything is perfect until the husband discovers they were welcomed for a very specific reason. This discovery, becoming more evident as the harvest ritual approaches, leaves him in fear of losing his life and his family.

I loved this gradual teasing out of horror, subtle nuances that build to the awful climax. The ending is chilling, contrasting so sharply as it does against the background of a rural paradise, giving me one of those ‘oh!’ moments.

By Thomas Tryon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Harvest Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A family flees the crime-ridden city-and finds something worse-in "a brilliantly imagined horror story" by the New York Times-bestselling author (The Boston Globe).

After watching his asthmatic daughter suffer in the foul city air, Theodore Constantine decides to get back to the land. When he and his wife search New England for the perfect nineteenth-century home, they find no township more charming, no countryside more idyllic than the farming village of Cornwall Coombe. Here they begin a new life: simple, pure, close to nature-and ultimately more terrifying than Manhattan's darkest alley.

When the Constantines win the friendship of the town…

Book cover of The Wicker Man

Stephanie Ellis Why did I love this book?

I love the film The Wicker Man (released in 1973) and was delighted to discover this novelisation from its director and screenwriter.

Full of pagan religion and ritual sacrifice on remote Summerisle, it is wonderfully creepy. Nor is it a flat retelling of the film but an expansion of the character of poor Sergeant Howie. Set up by Lord Summerisle to be the May sacrifice, he is tormented and abused as he searches for a missing child and on film is shown as priggish and cold.

Yet in the book, he is brave, vulnerable, doggedly trying to do the right thing in the face of adversity. He also performs a touchingly heroic act at the end of the book even as he suffered - I admit to shedding a tear. 

By Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

First published in 1978, five years after the release of the classic horror film from which it is adapted, The Wicker Man by director Robin Hardy and screenwriter Anthony Shaffer, is a gripping horror classic.

A novelization of the haunting Anthony Shaffer script, which drew from David Pinner's Ritual, it is the tale of Highlands policeman, Police Sergeant Neil Howie, on the trail of a missing girl being lured to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle. As May Day approaches, strange, magical, shamanistic and erotic events erupt around him. He is convinced that the girl has been abducted for human…

Book cover of Starve Acre

Stephanie Ellis Why did I love this book?

I have a real thing about needing the setting to be pretty much a character in itself in the folk horror I read.

For me, it is that which brings out the atmosphere, the sense of otherworldliness, critical to such stories. Starve Acre, a haunting tragedy, set in bleak moorland offers no rural idyll. The desolate setting perfectly mirrors the disintegrating marriage of a couple who are trying come to terms with the loss of their young son.

Whilst the wife turns to the spirit world, the husband researches a legend, uncovering the sinister story of the demonic Jack Grey as he does so. Bringing the legend to life and turning it into delusion, culminates in one of the most disturbing final scenes I’ve come across, certainly gave me chills. 

By Andrew Michael Hurley,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Starve Acre as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The worst thing possible has happened. Richard and Juliette Willoughby's son, Ewan, has died suddenly at the age of five. Starve Acre, their house by the moors, was to be full of life, but is now a haunted place.

Juliette, convinced Ewan still lives there in some form, seeks the help of the Beacons, a seemingly benevolent group of occultists. Richard, to try and keep the boy out of his mind, has turned his attention to the field opposite the house, where he patiently digs the barren dirt in search of a legendary oak tree.

Starve Acre is a devastating…

Book cover of The Ceremonies

Stephanie Ellis Why did I love this book?

I have a real weakness for ‘doorstopper’ books. Mighty tomes in which you can lose yourself and this is a folk horror that allows you to do just that.

Klein’s The Ceremonies takes place in an isolated farming community where their religion is central to their way of life. Into this mix you bring two outsiders whose arrival trigger the attempts of the Old One to bring back his supernatural master.

Again, nature and setting are at the forefront of the story, adding to the atmosphere which, combined with certain demonic characters, brings in that sense of otherworldliness and isolation. It is an utterly absorbing read and of the sort of length I like to read when I want to disappear.

By T.E.D. Klein,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Ceremonies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Graduate student Jeremy Freirs and aspiring dancer Carol Conklin, summering in the New Jersey village of Gilead, are trapped in a nightmare of terror, with an evil force emanating from a place once called Maquineanok, the Place of Burning

Book cover of Grimoire of the Four Impostors

Stephanie Ellis Why did I love this book?

Coy Hall is a newer writer on the scene but the work he has produced so far has been of exceptional quality.

This particular book contains short stories which interlink yet standalone. Hall’s Grimoire of the Four Imposters has its folk horror set against the historical backdrop of the 16th and 17th centuries. I freely admit to being a history fan and seeing this mixed with a favourite subgenre is a delight.

The stories are dark and menacing, vibrant with character, and melding folklore and the occult into a showcase of storytelling. They show that folk horror can be done differently. 

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Ballad for Jasmine Town

By Molly Ringle,

Book cover of Ballad for Jasmine Town

Molly Ringle Author Of Sage and King

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Novelist Editor Sociolinguist HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) Good witch

Molly's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A human child raised by the fae is an uncommon thing. But Rafi was such a child.

Now grown, half-fae but mortal, he lingers on the edge of human society in Miryoku, a nearby town sharing a border with fae territory. He doesn’t want to join the human world properly; he just wants to play music with a local cover band and avoid the cruelest members of his fae family.

Then, he meets Roxana, and his world shifts. She’s a human metalworking witch, up for a friendly fling with Rafi before she and her twelve-year-old daughter move away from Miryoku at summer’s end. But Rafi and Roxana grow too fond of each other to let go easily, and worse still, they soon become enmeshed in a much larger storm of prejudice and violence between fae and humans.

Ballad for Jasmine Town

By Molly Ringle,

What is this book about?

A law-abiding metalworking witch and a form-shifting half-fae musician embark on a secret romance, but soon become caught in escalating tensions between fae and humans that threaten their hometown. The second story after the popular Lava Red Feather Blue comes alive in Ballad for Jasmine Town.

The town of Miryoku has ocean views, fragrant jasmine vines, and a thriving arts scene, including a popular nineties cover band. It also sits on the verge, sharing a border with fae territory, a realm of both enchantments and dangers.

Rafi has been unusual all his life: a human born to a fae mother,…

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