I don’t like horror. Except…

Horror isn’t exactly one of my favourite genres. Actually, I can’t stand it. Which is, in part, why I am writing about horror instead of reviewing a horror book. (That comes next week.) I don’t like dead people, zombies, ghouls, vampires, werewolves, animated body parts, animated goo, aliens, anything that plans to take over the world…

There are exceptions to all of these, of course (except for the animated body parts and the animated goo). But all in all, horror can just stay away. Far away.

Except…

Except for the exceptions. (For someone who doesn’t like scary creatures, I’ve sure read a lot about them.) So I thought that, as a break from the more hard-core horror book I’m sure you are all reading this month, I’d talk a bit about some sort-of-not-really horror stories that I enjoy, and then see what comes up.

To start off, I’ll confess that I loved reading Vivian Vande Velde stories when I was younger. They were my guilty pleasure, the way some people snuck romance or sci-fi. Not that anyone tried to curtail my reading, I just felt that her books weren’t as “serious” as what I was supposed to be reading. Despite the occasional awkward phrase (and the almost obligatory budding/potential romantic relationship at the end of almost every book), I liked her protagonists’ spunk, the worlds, and the humour. Read Never Trust a Dead Man or Heir Apparent and tell me you never cracked a smile, I dare you. (Although Now You See It was probably the one I reread the most. Hey – elves and dragons AND real life!)

If I hadn’t read those books and liked them, I would not have tried (albeit very dubiously) Companions of the Night.

Vivian Vande Velde - Companions of the night - 1

Yes. It’s a terrible cover. I completely agree. And the title is no better. I mean, the protagonist is sixteen. Is it a spoiler if I state that there is a vampire in this book? This IS horror month, after all – but the shadowy figure on the cover looks more like a demon to me.

Anyway. What stuck with me about this book* is that it was the first book I had read that recognized the difficulty of being an Other in a human society which no longer believes in Others, and which insists on regulating everything – ID is all-precious, hard to come by, and only works for maybe four years, if you happen to look a certain age. The other exceptional part was the ending – Kerry’s choice and the way she frames (and delivers) her decision.

Another exception is Max Turner’s Night Runner and its sequel End of Days. (And Turner is Canadian!) Which I really can’t say much about, because it would be too easy to spoil the lovely twists and turns of the plots. But another well thought out exploration of the practicalities of being, uh, non-human. (Also, the first book especially will make you want to hop on a treadmill or jump outside and start running.)

Max Turner - Night Runner     Max Turner - End of Days

(Sorry about the huge images, I’m having trouble resizing.)

That Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book belongs on this list goes without saying.

Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series is (to my mind), fantasy, not horror, although the series does contain quite a number of dead people, animated and otherwise. If you haven’t read these, get to it! Every time I go camping near a river I think of these books and start imagining the possibilities.

There are definitely other exceptions, but this is enough of a list for now. Get reading – actually, get writing! I’d love to hear what other people have discovered in the light/soft/sort-of-not-really horror section. Got anything for me to read on Halloween?

*(aside from the dreadful cover and unfortunate title, which probably go to prove that you should never judge a book by its cover. Which is true – you should read at least the first paragraph. By that time you will probably know if the whole book is garbage or not. THEN you may shove it back on the library shelf, recoil, and find something better written.)

6 responses to “I don’t like horror. Except…

  1. I LOVED Companions of the Night as a kid, and it definitely fed into my serious teenage vampire enthusiasm. Doesn’t Vande Velde say something about how nobody wanted her to use that title because it made them think of a terrible airline?

    Horror is such a strangely flexible genre. I was working on an urban fantasy project and poring over those Genreflecting guides, and horror was one of the genres whose definition just didn’t seem right. It’s about emotional response, but your examples seem to include anything with werewolves? OKAY.

  2. Ooh, I’ll have to look VVV up now to see what she said! You’re right, my definition of horror is rather flexible. Werewolves and other creatures can fit right into high/epic or urban fantasy, for instance. If I wrote about horror using a definition involving emotional response I would have to write about badly written fantasy, sci-fi, and YA paranormal romances, since those inspire a lot more disgust/fear/general creepy-crawly skin for me than anything I’ve read with werewolves in it. :p
    Joking aside, your point about horror being a genre defined by the reader’s emotional response is fantastic, since it demonstrates how fluid the “boundaries” of genre really are (or should be, at any rate). What I might call a horror story might be Yash’s soothing bedtime read.

  3. Ok, I figured it out. It’s in the intro to Curses, Inc – short story collections just blur together for me.
    Companions of the Night was my next book, and I thought the title – my own – was a good one, until somebody pointed out that it sounds as though the story is about a sleazy escort service – which, by the way, it is not.”
    Airlines, escorts, a distinction without difference to my young mind.

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