The best woman-led horror novels

Alison Ames Author Of To Break a Covenant
By Alison Ames

Who am I?

I'm a horror writer based in Colorado, and I spent my childhood in a variety of wild, untamed places. Horror that uses location as its antagonist is one of my favorite things because I understand how quickly–and easily–a beautiful place can become sinister. It’s not enough to go to a scary place; these books are about what happens when the scary place starts to grow roots inside you, how it changes you. I have written two books that deal with this to some extent, the first about an abandoned coal mine, and the second about Antarctica, and if you like any of these, I hope you’ll consider trying one of mine! 

I wrote...

To Break a Covenant

By Alison Ames,

Book cover of To Break a Covenant

What is my book about?

Moon Basin has been haunted for as long as anyone can remember. The ex-mining town relies on its haunted reputation to bring in tourists, but there’s more truth to the rumors than most are willing to admit.

Clem and Nina form a perfect loop―best friends forever, and perhaps something more. Their circle opens up for a strange girl named Lisey with a knack for training crows, and Piper, whose father is fascinated with the mine in a way that’s anything but ordinary. The people of New Basin start experiencing strange phenomena―sleepwalking, night terrors, voices that only they can hear. And no matter how many vans of ghost hunters roll through, nobody can get to the bottom of what’s really going on. 

The books I picked & why

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The Hollow Places

By T. Kingfisher,

Book cover of The Hollow Places

Why this book?

The Hollow Places follows Kara, who has returned to her childhood home in North Carolina, as she takes over running her uncle’s museum of eccentricities after he’s injured. If you love nature-based horror as much as I do, this is a must-read–when a portal opens up in the museum, Kara goes through it into a willow-filled, marshy world of rivers and doors and terrifying, hungry creatures. She has to find a way to protect her home from this new world, which seems desperate to spill into hers and consume it, leaving it hollow. 

And the Trees Crept In

By Dawn Kurtagich,

Book cover of And the Trees Crept In

Why this book?

This is almost a novel in verse; the way it’s written is beautiful and haunting and just slightly off-center in the best way. The chapter titles alone read like poetry. Silla and her sister Nori move to their ancestral home–a house the color of blood, set in the midst of dark woods–to escape abuse and war, but they quickly realize the horror they’ve left behind is nothing compared to what lives in the trees. This gothic read gets more and more claustrophobic, drawing you into the house and the way it changes its occupants as the forest closes in around them.

The Luminous Dead

By Caitlin Starling,

Book cover of The Luminous Dead

Why this book?

As a writer who also loves to explore the idea, What if caves were terrifying, this is one of my all-time greats. Gyre is a cave diver who wrangles a difficult job mapping an unexplored area miles below the surface. She is sealed into a bio-suit that keeps her alive, and her only human contact is the voice of her handler, Em. The isolation, darkness, and closeness of the cave are mirrored in the way Gyre’s story unfolds; as the reader, you are trapped with her, stuck in the story the way she is stuck in the cave. The horror is unrelenting, both from the physical world of the cave, which is not as deserted as Gyre wants to believe, and from the cracks that form in her mind as she goes deeper and deeper. 


By Catriona Ward,

Book cover of Sundial

Why this book?

Sister relationships are tense and intimate and lifelong, and the one at the heart of Sundial is no exception. Rob tells the story of her childhood to her daughter Callie in the middle of the desert where she grew up, surrounded by buried bodies and a legacy of torture. Callie, accompanied by the ghost of a puppy and a transparent girl she calls Pale Callie, is struggling to understand herself, and the truth of her strangeness lies in her mother’s past. The life Rob shared with her twin sister Jack–raised in the wild by scientists who surgically alter dogs–unfolds in haunting, halting revelations, and the layers of the story go so much deeper than you’d expect. 


By Jeff VanderMeer,

Book cover of Annihilation

Why this book?

It is impossible to quickly describe the organic, seething horror of Area X, the strange place at the heart of the Southern Reach trilogy. A team of four women makes up the 12th expedition into the area, which has been closed for years, and they soon find out why firsthand. The way the terror of the book creeps over you is not unlike the strangling, fungal moss that grows all over Area X, sending spores into the lungs and minds of those who enter, changing them from the inside out. The team fractures as each woman tries to survive. The story is told through the biologist’s field journal, recovered after the expedition, and the contrast between the clinical, scientific writing and the increasingly bizarre, frightening things it describes makes it truly, lastingly unsettling. 

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