Best Stephen King Books to Start Your Journey Into Horror

Review & Comparison, Last Update August 24, 2017
“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” This is a quote by Stephen King himself. Seeing as how many horror novels this author created—he must have encountered quite a number of horrors in his life. However it is, the talent of this man is undeniable. Let's sneak a peek into his world with all its variety of people and creatures. ...Read more ...Read less
BEST 2017
PROS
CONS
OUR VERDICT
GENRE
BOOK TYPE
NUMBER OF PAGES
SERIES
 
PROS

The book is considerably long and will engulf you completely for quite some time.

CONS

Some episodes are said to drag out.

OUR VERDICT

If you're a lover of epic stories with a whole variety of different characters you'll love The Stand by Stephen King.

detailed parameters
GENRE

Post-apocalyptic horror,
Fantasy novel

BOOK TYPE
  • Hardcover
  • Kindle
  • Paperback
  • Audible, Unabridged
  • Mass Market Paperback
  • Audio CD Library Binding
  • Unknown Binding
NUMBER OF PAGES

1152 pages

SERIES

Standalone novel

PROS

The atmosphere in this novel is one of a kind. From the tiniest of details to the whole picture, everything is exceptionally real and, therefore, terrifying.

CONS

A bit old-fashioned for some readers.

OUR VERDICT

A must-have novel on the shelf for any vampire lover, in line with Bram Stoker's Dracula.

detailed parameters
GENRE

Horror fiction novel

BOOK TYPE
  • Hardcover
  • Kindle
  • Paperback
  • Audible, Unabridged
  • Mass Market Paperback
  • Audio CD, Audiobook, Unabridged
NUMBER OF PAGES

464 pages

SERIES

Standalone novel

PROS

One would think there's nothing connecting westerns to fantasy, yet here we are! The first novel of The Dark Tower series is in a class by itself among King's stories and in the world literature.

CONS

It's the first book in a series, you'll have to buy them all if you like this one.

OUR VERDICT

Any fan of long journeys and series will surely love The Gunslinger. You'll travel with the protagonist to the unique world created by Stephen King.

detailed parameters
GENRE

Fantasy novel

BOOK TYPE
  • Paperback
  • Kindle
  • Hardcover
  • Audible, Unabridged
  • Mass Market Paperback
  • Audio CD, Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
NUMBER OF PAGES

288 pages

SERIES

The Dark Tower

PROS

The Shining is a unique novel in a way that it raises some real social problems thus making the story more than just an average horror.

CONS

The pace is rather slow in this one.

OUR VERDICT

A perfect book for those who love a mix of outer and inner conflicts with an immersing journey to a human's essence, mind, and psyche.

detailed parameters
GENRE

Psychological Horror,
Gothic novel

BOOK TYPE
  • Hardcover
  • Kindle
  • Paperback
  • Audible, Unabridged
  • Mass Market Paperback
  • Audio CD, Audiobook, Unabridged
  • Unknown Binding
NUMBER OF PAGES

450 pages

SERIES

Standalone novel

PROS

A coming-of-age story that revolves around friendship and overcoming hardships together, told against a bone-chilling eerie background with a terrifying plot.

CONS

Some critics claim parts of the novel to be "stretched" and not-believable.

OUR VERDICT

This is one of the best Stephen King books in the horror genre believed to be paramount. Hardcore horror lovers worship it.

detailed parameters
GENRE

Coming-of-age story,
Horror novel

BOOK TYPE
  • Paperback 
  • Kindle,
  • Hardcover
  • Audible, Unabridged
  • Mass Market Paperback
  • Audio CD, Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged
  • Unknown Binding
NUMBER OF PAGES

1168 pages

SERIES

Standalone novel

What is it about Stephen King?

The King of Horror, The Master of Mystery, Stephen King is one of the brightest and most recognized authors alive. His multi-faceted, deeply psychological horror, mystery, and fantasy works are translated into more than 30 languages, every new movie adaptation is bound to incite huge craze among fans and has high chances to tear down cinemas with overflowing viewers. Stephen King is not just an author anymore, his talent and hard work made him into a cult. Every horror fan has a collection of Stephen King books on their shelves and in their e-Readers. Many of us fell in love with the genre thanks to this man.

Being almost 70 years old, Stephen King's been officially published for 50 of them, and many of his books were published multiple times throughout the years. Here is this review, we would like to talk about 5 novels many readers believe to be the best Stephen King books. We'll talk books plot (no spoilers, we swear!) and movie adaptations, publication peculiarities and a little bit of history behind some of them. Prepare yourself, for these monsters are real.

What Features to Compare

GENRE
Stephen King is primarily known to the world for his horror novels, however, there is more to his works, they expand the genre horizons. Take The Dark Tower, for example. First and foremost, it's a fantasy novel series but it also has western elements, some sci-fi, and, of course, a bit of horror. The psychological thriller is another forte of King's. We live the lives of the characters, follow their internal struggles and changes in their psyche due to all the circumstances they find themselves in. We love together with them, we get scared, we believe. Then we crash together with them. The author himself says this:

“I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”

Maybe, this is what makes King's stories so good—he knows his readers. Be it a thriller, a fantasy, a fairy tale, or a crime story without an ounce of supernatural, we are known to the author enough for him to make us hooked. And we love it. This makes Stephen King a writer for almost any reader.

BOOK TYPE
Today, there are a number of ways to read. Reading is not even strictly limited to, well, reading—you can now listen to audio books when you go jogging, for example, or travel, in the airplane, on the beach, anywhere. Another modern option is an e-Reader like Kindle, which offers a whole library in your pocket. At the same time, if you're more of a traditional reader and enjoy the smell of printing ink and the feeling of typography paper on your fingers, hardcovers and paperbacks are still out there. A paperback is a cheaper and lighter version perfect to carry around whereas hardbacks make wonderful gifts and look great on a shelf.

SERIES AND COLLECTIONS
The last thing to check before you buy and start reading is whether the story is a standalone novel or a part of a wider series. Speaking about Stephen King books, his only established cycle series is The Dark Tower consisting of seven main novels and two "additional" books. However, many novels in the list of Stephen King books bear a connection to The Dark Tower universe and to each other, although they are completely separate stories you can read separately. Additionally, there are around ten collections of stories published by the author and several non-fiction books.

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Stephen King "The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition"

Help Us to Stand

The Stand, a novel first published in 1978, brings us a dystopian world where due to an error in the US Defence lab computers, a morbid virus went loose and most of the human population is no more. Those left form groups to create the world anew.

The Stand is one of the longest individual novels in a Stephen King book list so it isn't a surprise that throughout the story we meet approximately a hundred characters. What is notable, they are all convincing and "alive", so much so that, getting to know them, we emphasize with them, support them, no matter is they are good or bad. In fact, there are no strictly good and bad characters here, which we believe to be another plus side and maybe even the main idea behind the plot. In this story, Stephen King presents us with the concept that people are much more complex than just good and bad and assuming they are can be a grave mistake. Leave some space to get to know them and their motivation. And never forget that the world will not survive without compassion and fortitude.

The book is really multi-faceted, full of philosophy, metaphors, and religion, yet it is still an undeniably one of the Stephen King books, rich in his unique style. It is also one of his most monumental works. King himself mentioned that he believes The Stand to be one of the few works by him that might become his literary heritage and will be in demand even after he passes away.

Review of Stephen King "The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition"

Full Story

It might be not widely known but when Stephen King first published The Stand in 1978, his publishing company, Doubleday, made him shorten the novel. The reason was quite simple if a bit silly (as we think now, almost 40 years later): the printing presses weren't ready to print a novel this huge, they could break down. So King had to make it 400 pages shorter until in 1990 he had the opportunity to release a whole version. Seizing this chance, he had not only added the previously removed parts but also moved the timeline to 10 years later, changed some cultural references, rewritten some chapters, and added some completely new data. The new version was released as The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition.

Stephen King "The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition" in the use

To Each Their Own One Ring

Rumors have it that when Stephen King started writing The Stand he was planning to create a huge epic story akin to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. His story would have taken place in the USA instead of in Middle-earth, Frodo the hobbit would be a Texas-born man, and the Dark Lord would be a madman.

Well, whatever happened and however it turned out, The Stand and The Lord of the Rings definitely share one trait—they are both stories about an endless battle between good and evil.

Detailed review of Stephen King "The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition"

Eternal Struggle

The above-mentioned clash is depicted on the cover of the very first book release where two figures, one black and the other one white, fight what looks like a battle of two equals.

Stephen King "The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition" application

Stephen King
Stephen King "The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition"
 

Stephen King "Salem's Lot"

The Town Knew About Darkness

Salem's Lot is the second published Stephen King's book believed to be significant to his future trademark style. Here, he starts to explore the twists and hooks that will be still capturing his readers years and years later. It is also the first of his novels with a writer as a protagonist. According to King, Salem's Lot was intended to be a curtsy to Bram Stoker's Dracula and a step into an ever-popular vampire trope. Evidently, Salem's Lot has more similarities with the Stoker's Dracula than with modern-era romanticized vampires image.

In the story, we get to know one Ben Mears, a writer who comes back to his hometown in hope to cast away his old demons and instead finds a flock of new ones. People go missing and then they come back. It would be better if they didn't. Thus, the terror starts...

This is a book for those in awe with classic King horror, it is full of despair where the last glimmer of hope is left. And of course, it is for those who prefer the true and scary vampires that breath danger instead of shining with sex appeal.

Review of Stephen King "Salem's Lot"

Movies

One of the most exuberant writers alive, it's not much of a surprise that Stephen King is also one of those whose novels get onto our screens most often. Salem's Lot was adapted to screens twice—as a movie in 1979 and as a two-episode TV series in 2004. The movie is even considered a classic among vampire movies and has inspired quite a few other films. The TV series has received fairly good reviews, too.

Stephen King "Salem's Lot" in the use

Background

The author had once confessed that while writing Salem's Lot he was reading poetry by James Dickey and that it had an impact on his style in this novel. You could try it for better immersion!

Detailed review of Stephen King "Salem's Lot"

Before and After

We've said it before but Stephen King books tend to overlap quite a bit. Thus, the town of Salem's Lot is mentioned twice in different stories: Jerusalem's Lot tells us about the happenings of hundred years before Salem's Lot plot takes place and the One for the Road is about post-Salem's Lot town. Both stories were published as part of Night Shift collection in 1978. Also, you'll meet someone from this novel later on in The Dark Tower series.

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Stephen King
Stephen King "Salem's Lot"
 

Stephen King "The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger"

A Drop of Hell, a Touch of Strange

The Gunslinger is the first installment in the only official series in the Stephen King book list. King had been writing the series for almost 30 years, starting with short stories published in Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine that were combined into a book in 1982. That book was The Gunslinger. This is where the long journey began. 

In this novel, we follow the last of the gunslingers, Roland Deschain on his quest to find a mysterious Man in Black who is supposed to know the road to the Dark Tower, the nexus of all universes. Throughout the story, Roland meets various people and we gradually learn his story and background.

Although the story was officially published in 1978, there are hints to it in King's earlier works. In 1969, the author (a college student at that time) wrote The Dark Man poem where we first meet the future antagonist of The Gunslinger. A year later, in 1970, King also wrote a short story titled Slade where we meet Jack Slade, a character some readers believe to be a test run for Roland.

Review of Stephen King "The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger"

Corrections

In 2003, when the whole Dark Tower series was nearing its end, Stephen King released a second edition of the novel, revised and corrected according to the changes the world had seen throughout the years of writing. The original edition was different from the other books in the series both stylistically and in realia and it was harder to read.

Stephen King "The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger" in the use

Inspiration Source

Among the works that influenced or inspired The Dark Tower a poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" by Robert Browning and "The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R.Tolkien as well as so-called spaghetti westerns, a subgenre of westerns that were popular in the 1960s. In the Afterword to the first edition of The Gunslinger King wrote that he was also inspired by Clifford D. Simak's “Ring Around the Sun”.

Detailed review of Stephen King "The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger"

Roland

Originally, the image of Roland Deschain was created based on Clint Eastwood, an actor and filmmaker famous for his roles in westerns. However, in the upcoming 2017 movie, the role will be played by a black actor, Idris Elba.

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Stephen King
Stephen King "The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger"
 

Stephen King "The Shining"

This Inhuman Place Makes Human Monsters

The Shining is one of the most famous Stephen King books and his first bestseller. The story takes us to the Overlook Hotel where an ex-teacher and aspiring writer Jack Torrance works as the off-season caretaker while his wife and son accompany him. But the hotel is not exactly a normal hotel and weird things happen there which affect Jack in not the best of ways.

The novel was highly praised by the critics for being "more than your average horror" and highlighting a severe alcoholism and domestic violence problems that do exist in our society.

The Shining has a story behind its creation. The idea of it had struck King during his stay in the Stanley Hotel where he and his wife Tabitha went to have some rest. The hotel stood on a ridge and, as it was late fall, was empty but for them two. King and his wife were also told that heavy snow can sometimes cut the hotel from the civilization for days.

The King family had only spent a single night in the hotel but on that night Stephen had a dream of his son running the corridors escaping a fire hose. Waking up with a jolt, King had an idea for a novel. Many interior elements that we see in the story are replicas of those the Stanley Hotel had that time.

Review of Stephen King "The Shining"

Iconic Movie for an Iconic Book

The Shining had two adaptations on screen, a movie and a TV-series. The TV-series was closely monitored by Stephen King himself as he was not overly pleased with the 1980 movie directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Jack Nicholson. However, the movie was (and still is) more popular, Easter eggs and parodies to it can be found in many other movies, cartoons, TV-shows, music videos, and games even today.

Stephen King "The Shining" in the use

What Happened After?

In 2009, touring for the book Under the Dome, Stephen King had teased the fans with a possible sequel to The Shining. True to his word, in 2013 he released Doctor Sleep, a story that takes place years later after the first book. But oops, no spoilers for The Shining here! Go read it.

Detailed review of Stephen King "The Shining"

Mark in a Horror History

One of the most quoted parts of the Kubrick's movie was the word "MURDER" written backward. It's already a part of the culture.

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Stephen King
Stephen King "The Shining"
 

Stephen King "It: A Novel"

Want a Balloon?

One of the most terrifying among King's horror stories has a really succinct, short yet powerful name—It.

We get to know the town of Derry, Maine, where a serial killer hunts children. When seven kids form the Losers club they find out that the murderer is not a human being but a creature able to change its looks to whatever the person fears the most. It's preferred appearance is none other than a clown, chosen to lure little ones to death.

The story is told in two parallel time periods with a gap of 27 years, we meet the characters as kids and as adults. We see them being horrified and traumatized but holding onto their faith and friendship. It is a coming-of-age story told by Stephen King using his childhood fears. Although the novel received mixed reviews from critics, It is considered one of ten best Stephen King books by readers. The writer was nominated for several prestigious awards and won the British Fantasy Society August Derleth Award in 1987 with It.

Review of Stephen King "It: A Novel"

What is <i>It</i>?

Stephen King's It was born when the writer lived in Boulder, Colorado. Once, crossing an old wooden bridge, King had recalled a tale "Three Billy Goats Gruff" about three goats and a troll. He had found the idea of a modern adaptation of this trope quite interesting.

By the time the writing process had started, the main evil had been changed to incorporate all the monsters in existence—a werewolf, Dracula, an alien, etc. And It's hiding place had changed too, from under the bridge King moved It deeper down, to the darkest parts of sewers.

Stephen King "It: A Novel" in the use

It in the Movies

A story as great and popular as It was doomed to have a movie or ten. In 1990, there was a 2-episode series directed by Tommy Lee Wallace that had a huge response, and starting roughly with 2010th, we've been constantly hearing rumors about a possible remake. Finally, the time has come, the It movie directed by Andrés Muschietti is coming on cinema screens on September 8, 2017.

Detailed review of Stephen King "It: A Novel"

Nobody Likes a Clown at Midnight

In fact, no matter the time of day, fewer people like clowns at all compared to 10–20 years ago, the 2008 research by the University of Sheffield claims. High chances are that King's "It: A Novel" and the 1990 movie have something to do with this.

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Stephen King
Stephen King "It: A Novel"
 
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Publish Date: 2017-06-26 11:19:52