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5 Horror Books Featuring Ladies Who Kill


5 Horror Books Featuring Ladies Who Kill

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5 Horror Books Featuring Ladies Who Kill


Published on October 24, 2023


My teen daughter recently voiced a complaint: Why are all the hot serial killers in popular media dudes? Because, yes, we’re both big into Hannibal. And after some thought, I had to admit that most real-life serial killers are male, and thus we have Hannibal and Dexter Morgan and Joe Goldberg and Norman Bates.

To combat this problem, I wrote a book about a hot female serial killer—and dedicated it to my daughter. And to further combat this problem, I hereby present a list of five books about ladies who kill.

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Three words: little girl psychopath!

We so rarely get to enjoy the chilling insight into a twisted young female mind, but this book goes hard as we alternate between seven-year-old Hanna, a nonverbal genius who hates anything that threatens the attentions of her doting father, and Suzette, the mother who loves her desperately but is coming to understand that her beloved child isn’t really the angel she pretends to be.

Hanna lives in a world of fantasy, where she imagines herself a giant tree, killing all the other children at school or a scary witch with enough powers to finally get rid of her weird mother who only pretends to love her. She attacks her mother’s hair with shears while she’s asleep and tampers with her medicine, silently gaslighting her into wondering if she’s going crazy. As the creative and sensitive but utterly diabolical Hanna experiments with her schemes, Suzette slowly begins to realize that her only child is actually, secretly, cunningly trying to kill her. But it’s so hard for a small child to kill, isn’t it? Good thing Hanna is growing—and tenacious.

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

Lizzie Borden took an axe
She gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

Which, okay, Lizzie was acquitted… but no one else was ever taken to task for chopping up the elder Bordens with an axe. And that brings us to the pitch for Maplecroft: What if Lizzie wasn’t crazy or angry about real estate inheritances but was instead fighting Lovecraftian monsters from the sea?

Written in an epistolary style with Priest’s delicious knack for turning historical prose into art, Maplecroft is creepy and pretty and, well, briny. The elder Bordens didn’t die because of Lizzie, but because of what they were becoming. Creatures from the sea are killing the neighbors and trying to claw their way into the Borden household, madness is engulfing the quaint town of Fall River, and Lizzie and her sister Emma must fight this eerie onslaught with the only weapons at their disposal: Emma’s science and Lizzie’s iron axe, plus the help of their family doctor, Seabury. Even if this version of Lizzie is trying to kill ancient, squelchy monsters beyond our ken, she still, technically kills.

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

Here we have another young girl sociopath, but this one is a little older and wiser. Instead of selecting a family member as her own personal antagonist, Rosa considers her older brother Che to be the only person who truly sees her. It’s the world Rosa wants to hurt—other children, badly behaved adults, anyone who stands in her way and doesn’t see her as the perfect and beautiful math prodigy she is.

Rosa is almost more chilling because while Hanna from Baby Teeth lives in a world of her own imagination, Rosa is constantly running calculations and testing the waters around her to see how bad she can be without getting caught. Instead of really leaning into his own coming-of-age story, her brother is forced to become her warden while their parents turn away and pretend that all is well. And then, a little girl dies, but it couldn’t be Rosa’s fault. Could it? Of course, psychopathy runs in families, and it turns out Rosa isn’t alone.

Daphne by Josh Malerman

So many of the slashers from my youth were dudes—tall, masked, damaged men who didn’t so much run as steadily stalk their prey with knives or axes or chainsaws. Heck, my own dad used to put on an army jacket and creepy mask and carry a knife to try to scare me when I was little. But then there’s Daphne.

Daphne is seven feet tall. She wears all and only denim, covered with the patches of the heavy metal and hair bands she loves. She paints her face like Kiss, at first as a tribute and later to hide the fact that her skin is blue and dead. And after some kids on the basketball team got mad at their local unfriendly giant for refusing to play on the team, they went after her with baseball bats while she was rocking out in the garage, and she died, and now she’s the town boogeyman. Think about Daphne too much, and she’ll come for you, hunting you, invisible to everyone else.

This book is Malerman’s love letter to anxiety, a diagnosis I share. It’s not only about a legendary local slasher, but also about the terror of crossing the gulf from child to adult while dealing with panic attacks and self-doubt and waiting around every corner for your own death. This book hit home for me, and now… let’s just say I try not to think about Daphne too much.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Some kill for fun, some kill for money, and some kill for revenge. And in the case of the killer in this haunting story by one of the current masters of horror, she’s not even human. She’s the spirit of an elk cow killed unlawfully with her calf by four friends, long scattered to the wind, and she’s determined to ruin their lives as surely as they ruined hers. There’s tension, there’s paranoia, there’s gore, and there’s even a beautiful redemption. This one will stick with you for a long time, and you’ll probably want to go pick up everything Stephen Graham Jones has written, which is a very good idea.

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Delilah S. Dawson is the author of the New York Times bestseller Star Wars: Phasma, Hit, Servants of the Storm, the Blud series, the creator-owned comics Ladycastle and Sparrowhawk, and the Shadow series (written as Lila Bowen). She lives in Florida with her family and a fat mutt named Merle.

About the Author

Delilah S. Dawson


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