8 other native horror books to haunt your shelves at night

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I recognize and pay tribute to the Cammeraygal people of the Guringai Tribe of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the land on which I am writing this article. I pay tribute to their elders past, present and future and extend that respect to all Indigenous peoples who read this article.

Around the same time last year, our colleague Book Rioter Amanda gave us a list of Indigenous horror books to read in 2020 (you can see the list here). It was the perfect kick to my playlist, especially during THAT year. Sadly, 2021 hasn’t been much better, and again I’m on the hunt for more aboriginal horror.

Why the native horror?

Horror is one of the oldest forms of storytelling, with long roots in folklore, myths and legends. Breeding speculative fiction, its instinctive need is to create a feeling of fear, shock or loathing. It can be psychological or supernatural – or both. Unfortunately, more often than not, it is white writers who emphasize folklore and cultural symbols in their horror stories without really understanding the meaning of indigenous culture or traditions. I’ve read far too many books that have appropriated native stories to create “native horror tropes”. Writers can do better, and so can we as readers.

Native Horror Books

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones Indigenous Horror

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfeet)

You never tell your mom anything to worry her about. Moms already have enough to worry about. Yes, thank you for bringing too much realism to your characters, Jones. It begins as a haunted house story featuring a 12 year old boy who suddenly sees an unknown person walk through a door. A figure that reminds him of his father, who mysteriously died before his family left the reserve. As the boy tries to figure out what is going on, he learns the price of protecting his family. This is one of Jones’ first books and my favorite in his collection, mainly because of his characters you can relate to – it only adds to the anxiety when you feel connected with the characters.

I should note here that Jones has released a new book: My heart is a chainsaw. I hear a lot about it, especially from fans of classic horror movies. A Broken Maiden takes inspiration from classic horror movies to face the horror of her own life. It’s on my TBR list.

Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline Indigenous Horror

Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (Métis)

Dimaline delivers a book that is both rich in horror and raw in its contemporary context. The marrow thieves takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the indigenous peoples of North America are hunted and harvested for their bone marrow. This precious source of life holds the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. The “recruiters” seek out young Aboriginal people, knowing full well that the bone marrow extraction will kill them. While the horror elements are clear and strong, what really stands out is the tale of one race’s loss of culture and sense of survival over another.

Butcherbird by CS Hart

Butcherbird by Cassie Hart (Maori)

I came for the culture; stayed because I was addicted to supernatural horror themes. As Mapping the interior mentioned above, Butcher’s shop has characters you invest in. There is a family story that creeps up on every page. The environment unfolds around you as you read, and the supernatural themes slowly unravel like string, until you feel definitely tied to the story. Jena is the main character, a woman with a troubled history and a determination to live her life. Her immediate family died in a fire when she was young, leaving Jena and her grandmother Rose to survive. Rose sent Jena to live with her aunt without an explanation. Many years later, Rose is dying, and an adult Jena has questions: about that night, about the fire, about why Jena was fired. And about the darkness sitting on the edges of the farm. Butcher’s shop is subtle in its native horror, slowly blending its chilling dread with Maori heritage and traditions. This is Hart’s debut novel, released in August 2021, and I’m totally here to learn more about his writing.

Cover of Anoka by Shane Hawk Indigenous Horror

Anoka by Shane Hawk (Cheyenne & Arapaho)

Hawk’s first short story book came out in 2020 and brings a collection of bones, witches, werewolves, and enough historical facts to make you think twice about what you read. All of the stories lead to Anoka, a small town located in Minnesota known as “the Halloween capital of the world”. These are SHORT stories but they pack a punch. Hawk reveals his experience of being Native to the United States without making it a horror story in and of itself. Instead, he uses his storytelling to explore issues like identity, grief, and loneliness. From the collection, “Soilborne” is my… favorite? It makes me feel like I love him. * thrill * I think it would be more appropriate to say that it left the greatest impression.

Lisa Fuller Indigenous Horror Ghost Bird Cover

Lisa Fuller’s Ghost Bird (Wuilli Wuilli)

Sometimes the most gruesome part of the story is a reflection of real-life horror. Ghost bird starts out feeling like a detective story set in the Queensland area (Australia). The story takes a dark turn when Laney, an Indigenous teenager, goes missing in her hometown. The last location she was seen was near the property of a family with a history of violence and assault against the Indigenous community. Her “super rational” twin sister, Stacey, is determined to find Laney – especially when Stacey begins to experience supernatural events, related to her family history and culture. It is a gritty and terrifying story that makes no secret of its close ties to indigenous communities across Australia. Fuller finds the balance between supernatural and psychological horror, which makes it very difficult to sleep if you finish reading around 1 a.m.

Catching Teller Crow cover by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina Indigenous Horror

Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina (Palyku People)

Two authors bring two characters to life (so to speak) and give their unique perspective to the story. Since Beth Teller’s death, she has continued to “exist” for the sake of her father, a detective who is the only one who can still see and hear her. Beth is determined to help her with a new mystery surrounding Isobel Catching. The more they investigate, the more we learn about their small community and the story of tragedy and injustice for Indigenous Australians. Beth’s voice is clear and strong, albeit naive, while Isobel’s story is told through poetic prose. Compared to others, this is a short book with mild horror themes and most of the “heavy thinking” will be done after you are done.

Cover of A Perfect Likeness by Richard Wagamese Indigenous Horror

A Perfect Resemblance: Two Novels by Richard Wagamese (Ojibwe)

Wagamese fans will know the two short stories brought together in this unique volume: Him standing and The next sure thing. Both stories feature young Aboriginal men who dream of a better life. The common theme is their sense of identity and their need to feel connected to their world. In the first story, Lucas is asked to sculpt a spiritual mask for a mysterious stranger, using the traditional skills he learned from his grandfather. And I will never look at a traditional wooden mask the same way again. The next sure thing centers around horse racing, where Cree Thunderboy meets a powerful man who convinces Cree to trade his skills for fame and fortune. Both stories are told in the same haunting tone, however, the bonus prize is the preface by Waubgeshig Rice, a writer known for his own native horror books. Definitely a book to read twice.

Pet Cover by Akwaeke Emezi Indigenous Horror

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (Igbo)

This book has it all: it’s magical LGBTQI supernatural realism, with the right mix of real / supernatural horror to make you question your own life choices. Pet, the main character, is there to hunt a monster. Jam, the main character, is the poor soul who unwittingly released Pet from one of his mother’s paintings. Jam and all the kids in Lucille town learned that the monsters were gone. But Pet senses darkness, and he’s connected to Jam’s best friend, Redemption. Like a horror novel Animals Really scared me both with the fears of jumping and with the fact that “my brain and my heart are feeling sick”. Like their first novel, Fresh water, Emezi incorporated Igbo folklore into his storytelling with natural ease. The companion novel Bitter is developing part of the character story and is slated for release in February 2022.

If this list of native horror books doesn’t seem long enough, more are slated for 2022. At the top of my wishlist is an upcoming anthology, with Mykaela Saunders as editor. Earlier this year, Saunders received a call for speculative fiction from Native Australians, including Native Horror. I can’t wait to see what she found.

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