Emily from BookswithEmilyFox recently posted a video called Weirdest Books I’ve Read about…you guessed it…the weirdest books she’s read. I watched the video and I thought, hey, that’s fun.
Weird, of course, is a matter of taste and opinion; one person’s weird is another person’s pedestrian. But, going off a generic interpretation of weird, I’d say that I don’t read too many weird books! Mainly, this is because weird books are often weird because they don’t make sense, and I really dislike books that are confusing and have no satisfactory explanations. But there are exceptions! To that end, I’ll mostly stick to books I really liked!
I’m going to try to avoid most of obvious contenders and super popular books, but I would still like to start out with six of those types of books as honorable mentions:
- The Pisces: Messy Woman falls for a merman. I liked the merman erotica bits, hated everything else.
- The Monster of Elendhaven: A monster and a killer joins up with a nobleman to wreak revenge on the denizens of a strange city. I thought it lost the plot a bit but it has disturbingly visceral writing, which I enjoyed.
- Gideon the Ninth: Lesbian necromancers in space. Irreverent. Genre hybrid. Lots of memes. I like the idea of it it more than I like the actual book, though there are bits and pieces of dialogue that are pure gold.
- Annihilation: New weird. Group of scientists explore a strange forest with bizarre biological phenomena. Nothing is ever explained.
- The Vegetarian: After a bad dream a woman decides to stop eating meat, and she slowly starts becoming more and more bizarre, and maybe turns into a tree? Who knows.
- Deathless: An alternate history retelling of Koschei the Deathless and Marya Morevna set during the Russian Revolution. Extremely weird and confusing but gorgeously written.
The Library at Mount Char
I read this book last year and still have not managed to formulate a proper review for it. I spent the first half of the book with no idea what was going on, but I was also reeling from the very visceral violence. I’d probably call this contemporary horror fantasy. Essentially, it’s about a girl named Caroline, who lives with a bunch of other kids in what she calls a “library” with a guy they all call Father, who isn’t really their father at all, and who is teaching them each specific things. Caroline is learning all the languages of the world, another kid is learning about violence, another about death, etc. Unfortunately for some of these children, some of these topics involve a great deal of pain and torment, and Father is an exacting and terrifying taskmaster (there is a particular scene in this book involving a brazen bull that has permanently traumatized me).
I struggled at first with this because I was trying very hard to make it fit inside a box I was familiar with, but once you let go of any preconceived notions and forget about things making sense within a context you’re familiar with, it’s much more enjoyable. With this mindset, I was very satisfied with the end, even if it didn’t necessarily explain everything in a way that answered all my questions, but the things I wanted to know weren’t the point. Anyway, I gave this book five stars and it’s going to stick with me forever.
The Stars Are Legion
Honestly, any of Kameron Hurley’s books could easily be on this list, but this is the one I like best, and it’s also the one that’s most out there. It takes place in space, and basically the “Legion” is a system of ships in space. These ships, also called “worlds,” are sentient creatures that are some kind of cephalopods? I think? Anyway, for these ships to survive, the people living on them must be “recycled,” that is, fed to the ship’s parasites who then defecate those People Nutrients so that the ship can absorb it and continue surviving. But most of these worlds are dying for some reason that was never really explained, and the two POV characters, Zan and Jayd, have a plan to save the worlds.
Also, the world is made up only of women, who get pregnant all the time and can give birth to random things like toothy fish-slugs, cogs, or even actual worlds (cephalopods). Some can give birth to normal children, but it seems to be as rare as birthing worlds. It’s implied that these women are impregnated by the ship, somehow (spores?), and the ship decides what they give birth to based on what it needs. I don’t know. None of this was ever made super clear.
Lots of weird, biopunk, gory shit goes down as Zan, who has been recycled, works her way up the ship with a ragtag band of women who have been…living in the ship’s dumpster? I think? I’m still not sure I entirely understood this, but I did really like the characters and just seeing all the weird stuff going down. I wanted some more explanation of why things were the way they were, but man, it was still a trip.
A Cosmology of Monsters
This is what I would call “literary horror”; when it begins it feels a lot like more like a family saga than a horror novel. It’s about a haunted family, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it Gothic, it definitely has elements of Gothic family sagas. Noah, the youngest member of the Turner family, is the narrator: he begins the story with his parents’ meeting one another in 1968, and writes on until sometime in the late 2000s, detailing the terribly sad dissolution of his family as a result of some sort of monster that seems to be on their trail.
This monster is easily the least developed part of the book, and its origin is never truly explained; it seems Hamill isn’t altogether concerned with that, but rather with the effect of this monster on the Turner family. The monsters feed on pain, and the Turners encounter a lot of it. There’s a lot of allusions to horror writers, particularly Lovecraft, and the “City” that repeatedly features in the narrative definitely feels like something Lovecraft would have created.
The concept is bizarre in a lot of ways, but there’s so much human depth here too. I didn’t think this book was scary, but I found it deeply, deeply sad, and kind of exhausting to read, but I loved it, and found it very memorable.
The Girl in the Road
I read this way back in 2015, so I don’t remember too many details, but the fact that the general plot has stuck with me, and that the book continues to give me FeelingsTM to this day, should tell you a lot.
This is definitely a very strange book. Meena, a young woman living in some sort of dystopic Mumbai, decides to embark on a journey to Ethiopia to learn about her origins. She will do this by way of The Trail, a kind of…energy bridge spanning the Arabian Sea, and it is its own weird little world. In another timeline, we follow Mariama, a young girl from Western Sahara, who is also making her way to Ethiopia, along with an enigmatic woman who calls herself Yemaya, who might just be the goddess of the seas. Eventually, Meena and Mariama’s storylines converge in a way that I don’t recall the tiny details of, but that I remember being absolutely explosive.
I don’t usually enjoy books that feature journeys, like Meena’s trek along The Trail, but I gave this book five stars, which should tell you a lot. It’s got a rather low rating on Goodreads, as most weird books do, but I thought it was beautifully written and incredibly moving.
Under the Pendulum Sun
The epitome of all creepy fae stories, in my opinion. This Kafkaesque novel is one of the most dense, erudite stories I’ve ever come across. The novel takes place entirely in Gethsemane, a classic Gothic castle that perfectly captures the claustrophobia of traditional Gothic settings. And indeed, the influence of the Gothic literary tradition is blatant: from the Brontes to Udolpho, this book delights in paying homage to Gothic classics. Even the writing feels properly Victorian; the amount of research Jeannette Ng put into this book is evident in how realistic the writing and dialogue feel for the time period.
Under the Pendulum Sun is a novel replete with theological underpinnings that touches heavily on colonialism, imperialism, and the morality of missionary work. As someone completely unfamiliar with Judeo-Christian mythology, many of the references flew completely over my head. I do think one can still enjoy the novel without this knowledge, but the experience will be much less rich. After all, our two main characters are a Victorian missionary and his sister.
In addition to the various theological references and allusions there are also plenty of theological debates discussed, such as the meaning of souls, the actuality of transubstantiation, the parentage of Jesus, the question of Othering, and more. There is also, towards the end of the book when the reality of Arcadia is revealed, musings on the origin of God Himself. These musings wonder at the loneliness of God before his Creation and ponder whether God may have Himself been the last remnant of some inestimable race of beings, defined by mankind only by his one act of Creation. And why has God never again created? These particular musings had chills running down my spine.
It’s a complex, multilayered story that really deserves to be featured in some sort of academic publication for the sheer complexity and density of its intellectual underpinnings. It’s also an utterly strange but masterful blending of neo-Victorian and secondary world fantasy, culminating in a book that is just plain odd; there is so much weirdness inherent in the story that at some point it becomes futile to try to understand it all. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it.
The Dead House
This YA horror novel is creepy as fuck. It’s also incredibly sad, gory, and brutal. Told in mixed media format, it tells the tale of Carly and Kaitlyn, two souls sharing one body, with one getting the day and one getting the night. One of the central questions of the book is whether Carly is just deeply disturbed, or if Kaitlyn truly exists. This definitely toes the line between psychological and supernatural thriller, but ultimately it wants you to decide for yourself what is going on. There’s a ton of ambiguity and the ending doesn’t really answer very many questions, but the experience of reading this was a spine-tingling thrill. My skin was literally crawling reading this.
The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray
In an AU Victorian London, creatures known as wych-kin exist, and they are basically a smorgasbord of demonic entities. No one knows where they came from or what they want. Thaniel Fox and Cathaline Bennett hunt them down. On one of his hunts, Thaniel stumbles upon Alaizabel Cray, seemingly possessed, and he and Cathaline must unravel the mystery of her possession, which leads back to a Lovecraftian cult. The Lovecraft vibes are suuuuuuper strong here. This is almost a kind of retelling of various Lovecraft tales, with some creative twists. The Gothic horror vibes are also intense. This is the best thing about the book: its atmosphere. I mean, it fucking delivers on the creep factor. There are lines in this book that made my skin crawl, mere concepts that made me shiver. The descriptions of London covered in fog were enough all by themselves to generate a spooky Gothic atmosphere that made me want to stay the hell away from this world’s London; the author does a spectacular job making the city menacing.
While I didn’t love the structure, pacing, or execution of this book, it was just weird and creepy enough to hook me. The ideas in this, while not exactly original, were portrayed in a way that enthralled me. And I really enjoyed that this book was just willing to go to to so many dark and brutal places.
When the Sea is Rising Red
At first this book really does seem like standard YA fare, but there’s so many details in it that make it different, and odd. The main character, Felicita, abandons her life of privilge when her best friend Ilven kills herself rather than be forced into an arranged marraige, and Felicita must adjust to living in the slums of Pelimburg, which features unruly gangs, vampires, and bizarre monsters.
It is incredibly atmospheric. It’s rich in its own world and mythology. The “romance” is realistic and doesn’t take over the plot. It contains one of the best and most fascinating platonic/romantic relationships I’ve ever seen. The heroine is flawed and likeable and realistic. There is diversity of race (insomuch as it is represented here) and sexuality.
There’s just so much here that could have been boring and standard but the author chooses to take the road less traveled, which makes this an unusual and somewhat confusing read, but one that I absolutely loved. There is also a wonderful sequel that takes the aforementioned platonic/romantic relationship to new levels. Highly recommend the series if you’re looking for a YA fantasy that’s just Different.
The Ghost Network
This book does one of my favorite things, which is feature faux-academic and faux-historical material! But it blends it deftly with actual history, specifically that of the Situationist International, an organization of Marxist social revolutionaries made up of intelligentsia, primarily focused in Europe from 1957 to 1972. This is all wrapped up in the disappearance of Molly Metropolis, a famous pop singer, the journalist who is hot on her trail, and an abandoned Chicago subway system.
This book has…a shockingly low Goodreadgs rating (3.10!), which I don’t really understand, because I loved this book. It’s bizarre and weird but also incredibly compelling in the way it crafts a mystery, and expert in how it blends real history into its fictional narrative. It also asks a lot of intriguing questions about fame, intellectualism, morality, etc, and it’s a book I would really like to re-read again soon!
Dreams of Shreds and Tatters
Another book that has a bizarrely low rating (3.23) that I don’t understand! Downum’s urban fantasy centers on the city of Carcosa and the King in Yellow, both of which are based in a short story written by Robert W Chambers, who is said to have inspired Lovecraft. Indeed, the cosmic horror is definitely strong here. We follow Liz, who has been plagued by strange nightmares ever since her best friend disappeared. Her quest to find him leads her to a strange lost city and its bizarre king.
While I guess this book could be a bit meandering at times, it was also very creepy and very diverse. I remember this is one of the only books I’ve ever read to feature an Arab character, even though she had a very minor role. In that same vein, there’s also a focus on a particular artsy subculture full of eccentric characters, which was very intriguing! This also got me really obsessed with Carcosa and the King in Yellow. Lots of creepy, spine-tingling vibes here!
Have you read any of these books? Interested in reading any of them now? Let me know!