8 Grim and Gruesome Medical Horror Books

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“Jessica has been a voracious reader since she was old enough to hold chapter books right side up. She has an MA in English from the University of Maine, and has been writing about books online since 2015. She started out writing about the Romance genre, but in recent years she has rekindled her love for Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy, with an emphasis on works of queer fiction. You can follow her on Twitter, Bluesky, and Instagram.

One of my favorite parts of getting back into horror fiction a few years ago has been slowly refining my tastes and preferences within such an expansive and dynamic genre. One of the subgenres that has become a favorite of mine, much to my surprise, is medical horror, a horror niche that I find myself coming back to again. So today, I have for you eight fantastic works of medical horror, broken into three categories, depending on whether your preference is for medical experimentation gone awry and the people it harms; starry-eyed young doctors in terrible situations; or extremely questionable medical practitioners who should probably not be practicing anything anywhere near a living, breathing person.

Readers be duly warned! Medical horror books are not for the faint of heart. Obviously, I assume that if medical procedures and medical gore make you unpleasantly uncomfortable (as opposed to the pleasantly uncomfortable feeling that many horror readers enjoy), you’re probably not going to pick up any of these titles anyway. But if you’re new to medical horror and think it might be the subgenre for you, just keep in mind: body horror is the name of the game, dead bodies are seldom left undisturbed, and the content warning for medical violence, both voluntary and involuntary, is to be taken extremely seriously.

Also, given the loaded nature of medical history with regard to matters of race, gender, sexuality, trans identities, etc., you can expect to encounter some degree of racism, misogyny, homophobia, and/or transphobia in many works of medical horror as topics of discussion within, or themes being interrogated by, the story.

Medical Horror in which Experimentation Always Ends Badly

Lakewood by Megan Giddings book cover medical horrorLakewood by Megan Giddings book cover medical horror

Lakewood by Megan Giddings

Inspired by the story of Henrietta Lacks and a long and terrible history of medical experimentation on Black bodies, Lakewood begins with death and debt. Lena Johnson drops out of college after her grandmother dies in a bid to help support her family as they navigate the family debts revealed by her grandmother’s death. When a high-paying job opens up in the little, isolated town of Lakewood, Michigan, promising not only a place to live but also full coverage of medical expenses, the offer is too good to refuse. The only catch? Lena can never tell anyone, friend or family, about the strange experiments she’s being paid to undergo. She’s been told that the work being done at Lakewood could have massive, positive impacts on the world. But the longer the testing goes on, and the risks of participation increase, Lena will have to make a choice between her family’s financial security and her own life.

cover of transmuted by eve harmscover of transmuted by eve harms

Transmuted by Eve Harms

Part of the retro horror-inspired Rewind-or-Die novella series, Eve Harms’ Transmuted is about Isa, a minor celebrity whose fans helped to fundraise her gender-affirming facial reconstruction. But Isa sacrificed her surgery funds to try and save her dying father. Now, sans funds and trapped between her followers’ expectations and her crushing gender dysphoria, she risks it all on an extremely suspect ad offering a free, experimental feminization treatment to willing volunteers. What ensues is a tale of transformation, both desired and monstrous, as, in the hands of the gruesome Dr. Skurm, Isa goes from a satisfied patient to a rapidly mutating creature. Isa is becoming less human by the minute, and if she can’t find out why it’s happening—what Skurm has done to her—she may be stuck that way forever.

Cover image of Unwieldy Creatures by Addie Tsai medical horrorCover image of Unwieldy Creatures by Addie Tsai medical horror

Unwieldy Creatures by Addie Tsai

Addie Tsai’s queer, biracial retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (that legendary medical horror novel of an experiment in creation gone horribly wrong!) is a fantastic example of how a retelling can stay true to its own plot and themes while still being in conversation with its source text. Unwieldy Creatures is the story of three people: Dr. Frank, our Frankenstein figure and a talented, renowned embryologist; Plum, Dr. Frank’s intern to whom Dr. Frank conveys the story of her genetic experiment gone awry; and Dr. Frank’s creature, whose abandonment – as with Frankenstein’s creature – has shaped all that they know of and want from the world. But, unlike Shelley’s novel, the story doesn’t end when Dr. Frank is done regaling Plum with the story of her previous failure. Because Dr. Frank isn’t done yet. She hasn’t learned anything from her last experiment except how to do better next time. And for the next phase of her work to be successful, she needs Plum.

Medical Horror Featuring Aspiring Medical Students in Concerning Circumstances

cover of anatomy a love story by dana schwartzcover of anatomy a love story by dana schwartz

Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz

Dana Schwartz’s Anatomy is a YA historical medical horror novel with a Frankenstein twist. A bit of gothic romance, a whole heap of body horror, and piles of dead bodies. What’s not to love? Hazel Sinnett’s only desire in life is to be a surgeon, healing bodies and maybe even finding a cure for the terrible Roman Plague that claimed her older brother’s life. She will do whatever it takes to overcome the barriers in her way, even dressing as a boy in order to attend classes on anatomy. When her ruse is discovered, however, Hazel finds herself thrown out of the classroom, leaving her no choice but to continue her studies of the human body in private—by any means necessary.

cover of my dear henry by kalynn bayron medical horrorcover of my dear henry by kalynn bayron medical horror

My Dear Henry by Kalynn Bayron

My Dear Henry (which I absolutely loved!) is Kalynn Bayron’s queer retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic medical horror novella, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. When Gabriel Utterson was sent to London by his father to study medicine, he fell head over heels in love with fellow medical student Henry Jekyll. But it’s hard to hide a love that burns that bright, and before long rumors and whispers begin to follow Henry and Gabriel, forcing them to separate. When Gabriel returns to London after a long summer away, it becomes instantly clear that something has changed. Something is wrong with Henry, and Gabriel is certain that it has to do with the strange young man, Hyde, who has been seen coming and going from the Jekyll household. If Gabriel cannot discover the truth about what has happened to Henry, he may be at risk of losing the boy he loves forever.

the cover of The Spirit Bares Its Teeth medical horrorthe cover of The Spirit Bares Its Teeth medical horror

The Spirit Bares its Teeth by Andrew Joseph White

Set in 1883, The Spirit Bares Its Teeth is about a 16-year-old named Silas Bell, whose violet eyes have doomed him to a life as a medium for the Royal Speaker Society, married against his will and consigned to the role of Speaker wife. But all Silas wants is to be able to live his life and pursue his dream of becoming a surgeon, and he will do whatever he must to escape the life society has planned for him. Things go from bad to worse when his resistance results in him being shipped off to a “sanitorium” masquerading as a finishing school. It’s a place full of suffering and the ghosts of those who could not be “reformed” into proper wives. If Silas wants to survive, he’ll have to expose the darkness hiding beneath the school’s respectable facade.

Medical Horror Featuring Doctors of Dubious Repute

book cover with two hands and the title book cover with two hands and the title

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

Sometimes marriage isn’t about love. Sometimes marriage is about the security of marrying a wealthy doctor who is, for some reason, willing to accept your proposal despite never wanting you to set foot in his house, which means you can maintain your independence and pursue your own life’s work unimpeded by your incipient matrimony. That’s all that Jane wanted from married life. But when the reclusive Dr. Augustine Lawrence agreed to a marriage of convenience between them, Jane probably should have stopped and asked herself whether, just maybe, it was too good to be true. Certainly, Augustine goes through with the marriage, but when an accident on their wedding night finds Jane stranded outside his home at Lindridge Hall, the very house she was never supposed to visit, it soon becomes clear that he hasn’t been entirely honest with her. The talented surgeon she thought she married has transformed into a haunted man living in a house full of secrets that Jane is determined to get to the bottom of. At any cost

cover of Leech by Hiron Ennes; image of a glass bottle full of black smoke that forms a castle medical horrorcover of Leech by Hiron Ennes; image of a glass bottle full of black smoke that forms a castle medical horror

Leech by Hiron Ennes

Oh look at that, Jessica is talking about Leech again. Oops. I should clarify the category, however, because the main character of Leech is actually a good doctor. The institute, however? Seriously suspect. Leech is a queer medical Gothic horror novel set in a fictional northern town locked in the depths of a terrible winter that keeps the residents trapped in their homes out of fear of the deadly cold. In the estate that overlooks the town, the house doctor has died violently by his own hand, and it’s up to the newly arrived doctor, a member of the Institute just like the deceased, to discover the cause. In fact, all of the bodies of the Interprovincial Medical Institute are doctors because, for centuries, the Institute has been systematically replacing all the unreliable human doctors with its superior bodies, whose interlinked minds can overcome any challenge or puzzle the Institute might encounter. Until they can’t. Because the parasitic creature that our Doctor discovers lurking in the cold might finally be a problem beyond the Institute’s ability to solve.

Ready for even more chilling medical fiction? Don’t miss this list of 9 Macabre Medical Mystery Books. Or, if the books on this list have whet your appetite for more body horror, you can read all about the subgenre of body horror in this Book Riot post about The Rise of Body Horror Novels.

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