Alma Katsu’s Favorite Historical Horror Books


It’s impossible to discuss historical horror fiction today without mentioning author Alma Katsu, whose books often inject supernatural elements into real events that were already dark to begin with. In his 2018 novel Hunger, the members of the Donner Party are plagued by a mysterious ailment in addition to the harsh weather and lack of food that doomed them in real life. His follow-up 2020 the abyss uses a ghost story to connect the shipwrecks of the Titanic and British.

Katsu’s Next Novel fervor, due for release April 26, 2022, examines the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II through a similar lens. As anti-Asian sentiment sweeps across the country, an inmate and her daughter find themselves dealing with a different kind of epidemic that is mystical in nature. Although Katsu has written reimagined historical fiction in the past, she tells Mental Floss that she took a slightly different approach to Fervor.

Hunger was very close to the story… Aside from the horror element, it was pretty close to everything I could learn about the characters and stay on the map and the dates and everything,” she says . “Then when I did the abyssI realized that I could really paint myself in a corner, because there are legions of people who spend their whole lives studying the Titanicand there’s no way you’re making everyone happy… i [felt] a little uncomfortable taking big liberties with real people’s lives.

For fervor, she gave herself some flexibility by making the internment camp characters entirely fictional. But other elements, like the camp in Idaho where the story takes place, are very real.

“What happens in the camps, the feelings of the internees – all of that is largely based on my understanding hearing these stories from people who were in the camps, watching documentaries, reading things,” she says. .

Katsu heard stories about the Japanese-American experience in World War II long before she started researching her book. His mother immigrated from Japan to the United States after the war, and her husband’s family was interned. And as a former senior US intelligence analyst, she has also seen first-hand how governments use the demonization of “the other” as a political tool. These themes were on Katsu’s mind when she crafted the story, and they haven’t lost their relevance.

“When [The Fervor] was being considered, there was this wave of anti-Asian hatred – and still is – that was going through the country. There was all this political manipulation,” she says. “People don’t often think about the historical component of what’s happening today. We’ve seen this before and hopefully if you try to bring it out again and again people will understand that this is nothing new. It’s a pattern and we have to break those patterns.

This, she says, is the special power of historical fiction. In addition to exposing readers to a part of American history that is often mentioned only briefly in textbooks, she hopes to draw a clear line between the events of the past and those of today.

“They say that art is the mirror held up to life, isn’t it? It helps you understand the truth,” she says. “As a good teacher will explain to you and pull the threads together and show you the big picture and really make it resonate with you, I think that’s what fiction can do.”

Fiction can also scare you into turning off the lights at night, as is the case with the historical horror novels Katsu recommends below. fervor mixes these two genres in a straightforward way, but other books are subtle in how they mix horror with history, and vice-versa. “I think [there are] more books that you can consider historical with horror elements that most people probably don’t know about,” she says.

Ahead of the release of his latest supernatural take on historical events, here are Alma Katsu’s favorite books that tell a chilling tale in the past.

These entries have been edited for clarity.

1. Terror //Dan Simmons

“I first heard about it when I was working on Hungerand I deliberately put it aside and only read it after Hunger was done. And I was blown away and thought, “Oh my God, what a pitiful attempt I made up!” Because this book was so fabulous. Then I saw the TV series on AMC and they did a wonderful job. Whereas I think it’s like the perfect book. And that really sets the bar really high because the writing is so wonderful and the literary sensibilities are so good.

Buy it: Amazon

2. winter people // Jennifer McMahon

“This one has a dual timeline. The historical component dates from 1908, but it is told more or less today. It is the story of a family that is affected by what happened in the past. And it’s a very popular book and it’s gotten a lot of acclaim, so it’s the one I think people should check out, especially for the dual timeline aspect.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Perfume // Patrick Suskind

“[Perfume is not] horror in the sense that he has a supernatural character, or a bloodthirsty psychopath (although there is a bloodthirsty psychopath in it). It’s set in 18th century France, and it’s about this man who has this magical sense of smell, and that makes him the celebrity du jour. But he also has a pathological mindset, and the question of the book is kind of about this combination of freak and genius. Does being brilliant make you a monster? Or was he already one? So it’s a great book to read for that kind of non-obvious response to history and horror.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Like meat loves salt // Maria McCann

“I think [As Meat Loves Salt] came out around the same time as Perfume or maybe a few years later, but it’s kind of the same thing. It’s set in 17th century England in the midst of the Civil War, and the main character is on the verge of madness for many reasons. It’s a bit the same thing: did circumstances create the monster or was he always this kind of psychopath who was just waiting for his ability to do evil? It shows the horror that could exist right next to you and you don’t even know it.

Buy it: Amazon

5. The little stranger // Sarah Waters

“The next book is my favorite horror story. Again, for the same reason: it’s literary first and then it’s a ghost story. I think it’s a fabulous ghost story, and it doesn’t get resolved until the very end of the book and then you suddenly realize what’s going on. only found out years later, and for a time I reread this book every year – that’s because she originally intended it as historical fiction. There was no ghost element to it. And that It’s only by rewriting that the ghostly element has crept in. It’s a prime example of just how literary horror can really be.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Between two fires // Christophe Bühlman

“The next one I haven’t read, but it’s from a friend of mine: Christopher Buehlman. I’ve heard so many people recommend it and I absolutely have to read it. This is Between two fires, and it takes place during the Black Death. A knight finds himself caught between good and evil, and God and the devil. And I just heard so many wonderful things about it that I have to think it’s a pretty good contribution to historical horror. Everything written by Christopher Buehlman is really, really good.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Unbury Carol // Josh Malerman

“I love Josh’s work. I admire him so much; he is such an artist. And it’s interesting, because even if you consider it historical – it’s set in a western city – it’s actually a completely stylized story. He himself said it was like a twisted version of the Sleeping Beauty Fairy tale. It’s the story of a woman who can’t die, but it’s set in the West. So you have a sense of history even if it’s a completely false story.

Buy it: Amazon


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