True confession: when asked to write an article about my favorite horror series, I was originally going to write a lead in about the difficulties of writing my second Ashley Parker novel, and the performance anxiety that comes from Second Book Syndrome. You know, discuss issues like how do you ensure your characters not only live up to expectations created by the first book, but how do you increase the stakes, make them more interesting, and make sure the readers are even more invested after Book Two?
These are all valid questions, but as I was trying to come up with my favorite books and authors, I was surprised at how difficult I found it to come up with my list, especially considering how many horror novels and stories I've devoured since old enough to read.
It's not because of a shortage of awesome horror writers out there. It's just that most of the horror novels I've read over the years have been standalones as opposed to episodic novels in a series with continuing character. A few exceptions I remembered right off the bat were The Dark Tower books by Stephen King, Jonathan Maberry's Pine Deep trilogy, Ray Garton's Live Girls, and the first three in Brian Lumley's Necroscope series.
And other than Walking Dead and a little bit of the 30 Days of Night series, I haven't really followed a lot of comics over the last decade (listening for the loud KATHUD as my geek cred hits the ground.)
Most of the series I've read in recent years are a combination of genres; urban fantasy, paranormal romance, techno thrillers with monsters, and so on. The most prevalent straight up horror series these days are ones with zombies as the Big Bad, vampires and werewolves having moved into the urban fantasy and paranormal romance territory.
I will probably offend some horror purists by including some of these mixed genres in my list of favorites. But as long as the characters are interesting and sympathetic, the world building done with consistent internal logic, and there are plenty of horrific/scary moments and monsters, it works for me.
And now onto my list, with the caveat that there are so many excellent writers out there, having to choose pains me. So in my normal fashion, the ones listed are, in no particular order, the first seven that came to mind.
Dana Fredsti is the author of the Ashley Parker series. The second book in the series, PLAGUE NATION, is out now.
We will start with the most obvious and one of my best beloved series. I admit the last Walking Dead graphic novel pissed me off with what seemed like a retread of Seven Samurai and the killing of a much beloved character for what seemed like shock value only. That being said, the series has paid off with solid (and sometimes unexpected) character arcs and a relentless "don’t get too attached to anyone or anything" story development style over its ten year run. Having read it long before the television series, it's been both fun and frustrating watching the show zig when I expected it to zag, bringing in totally new characters and killing familiar ones without any concern that in the books it wasn't suppose to happen that way!! Now that Dale is dead, I'm placing bets on the best replacement for the story arc with the cannibals. Yup, Walking Dead is the best thing to happen to zombies since Shaun of the Dead and World War Z.
I started at the beginning with Patient Zero (hey, it had zombies!) and fell in love with the titular hero. Joe Ledger is a sympathetic tough guy, a hero with flaws and vulnerabilities, lots of cool weapons, a diverse band of "co-workers" and team-members, and yes, he has a cat and a dog. How could I not love him? The action is kickass, the story fast moving, and the plots gleefully filled with the stuff conspiracy theorists live for. I've read the subsequent books in the series (currently on Extinction Machine) while happily suspending all disbelief over some of the delightfully over-the top Bondian plot devices and gadgets used. As much techno-thriller as horror, these books are some of the best escapism fiction ever written. I just got into his Benny Imura series and suspect they also deserve a place on this list.
If you're a writer, you may have experienced what I call "I wish I'D written that!" envy. That's how I feel about this series. Smart, funny, and so much more than a zombie series, yet such a kick ass zombie series. It has humor and a savvy pop cultural awareness, such as using the term "Irwins" when referring to bloggers who take great physical risks to get a good story (if you're not familiar with the late, great Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter, I can't help you); and making George Romero a worldwide hero for helping prepare people for zombocalypse survival via his movies. The characters, while not always likeable, are complex and interesting, and the thought and care that went into the world building blew me away. A thinking person's zombie series.
Dead City, the first of Joe McKinney's zombie novels, was one of the earlier entries in what eventually became a glut of entries (entrees? ha-ha!) in the zombie genre. It was also one of the first ones that stood out in both quality and originality, taking a huge step away from the glut of disenfranchised-teenaged-boy-with-gun survival porn stories, into a smartly written story for adults and gun-happy teens alike. Each book in the series takes place in a different Texas locales (he gleefully destroys Austin, Galveston, Houston, and San Antonio), but is loosely connected by the same plague origin, starting with a series of devastating hurricanes. Mutated, the fourth in the series brings back characters from one of the previous novels, tying everything together most satisfactorily.
Again, my definition of horror novels tends to drift into and meld into urban fantasy and paranormal territory. Part of the reason for this is that I love humor in my horror (the offset of humor makes the horror that much more … er… horrific), so when it's combined as effortlessly as Jim Butcher does in his Harry Dresden novels, what's there not to love? Harry has to deal with vampires, lycanthropes, zombies, assorted nasty-ass monsters, demons, evil fae and relatives. I love the humor, I love the fact that Dresden, while kick ass, is not invulnerable, and there are some wonderfully gory, creepy, and scary stuff in all of the books. The stakes are always high for Dresden and those he cares about, which makes each book that much more satisfying.
Part horror, part alternate history, and part "I'm going to include every fictional and real life character I've ever liked, by thunder, and make them all interact AND make it work!" the Anno Dracula series is just too much fun. Begin with the premise that Van Helsing and buddies failed to destroy Dracula outside of Dracula's castle, and Dracula is now sitting on the throne of England as Queen Victoria's consort. Vampirism is now a part of daily life; to some characters in high society, it's a question of being the fashionable choice. The integration of familiar characters from Stoker's original novel combined with historical and fictional figures such as Jack the Ripper, Oscar Wilde, Dr. Moreau, and Dr. Jekyll, with the addition of Newman's original characters makes for an awesome read. The second book, The Bloody Red Baron, is set during World War One, with continuing characters from the first book, and includes some of the best horror based aerial battle sequences ever.
I love Jack. From his first appearance in The Tomb, through all the remaining books in the series, he is consistent in his ethic, sense of honor, and total ability to kick ass. Jack falls off society's grid after the senseless death of his mother (he takes revenge in a horrific but entirely justified eye-for-an-eye type method) and opens up shop as a "repairman." He fixes things no one else can or is willing to fix, with an ability to think outside of the box that makes me worry a little about anyone who might piss F. Paul Wilson off. The supernatural elements kick in with the first book, and Wilson deftly restructures his Adversary series (first book was The Keep) to tie into Jack's world. Watching Jack come to terms with the supernatural, then continue to deal with the onslaught of horrific events and threats to his loved ones in each ensuing book is extremely satisfying. I'd say "fun" but that would make me seem like kind of a sick person, don't you think?
Other authors/series I'd give more time to if I were not nearly out of word count: The Autumn series by David Moody (haunting, creepy, and unforgettable); The Becoming series by Jessica Meigs (excellent characters, compelling storyline, and a willingness to kill favorites that rivals Joss Whedon); As the World Ends by Rhiannon Frater (probably my single favorite opening scene in any series ever); and The Greywalker books by Kat Richardson (atmosphere, horror, humor, and one of the most original protagonists and 'origin stories' I've read).