Killing machine or romantic lead? Cursed, born, or bitten? Are you Team Jacob or more of an American Werewolf in London fan? These days, werewolves have range. So however you like your lycanthropes, there’s something out there for you. Whether you’re looking for a scary thrill, a misunderstood monster, or a guilty pleasure, we’ve compiled a list of 20 books that bring something new to the werewolf game.
1. The Wolf-Leader, by Alexandre Dumas
Did you know that the author of The Three Musketeers wrote a werewolf book? The Wolf-Leader is a fascinating early werewolf novel first published in 1857. Dumas was inspired by folk tales he’d heard as a child, which will intrigue connoisseurs of werewolf lore. He even sets the story in his hometown of Villers-Cotterêts. There Thibault, a resentful shoemaker, makes a deal with a wolf-shaped devil and wreaks his vengeance upon a local noble. If you’re a Dumas fan, you’ll also enjoy the framing device as teenager Alexandre is taken on a wolf hunt. The Wolf-Leader is more Faustian than Hammer Horror, but for all the tragic overtones, there’s still some sly humor to savor. And as a time-capsule of nineteenth century French superstitions, it’s hard to beat.
2. The Book of Werewolves, by Sabine Baring-Gould
Thanks to notorious “monsters” like the Beast of Gévaudan, popular fascination with werewolves really took off in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, inspiring Baring-Gould to pen this iconic work in 1865. It is still considered an authority on werewolves to this day. A compendium of folklore and history, The Book of Werewolves reviews everything from Greek myth to serial killers and contemporary “cases” (possibly of clinical lycanthropy, a psychiatric disorder). In the process, it firmly establishes much of the lore that has become standard for werewolf fiction. You can also check out Curious Myths of the Middle Ages for more general Medieval content, but The Book of Werewolves is the perfect place to start a deep dive into lycanthropy.
3. The Were-Wolf, by Clemence Housman
Statistically, women were more likely to be accused of lycanthropy, so you’d think there’d be more fictional pre-twentieth century female werewolves. Instead, Clemence Housman’s The Were-Wolf was an outlier. Published in 1896, it follows Christian, a stalwart young man who tracks a giant wolf all the way to his front door. Inside he finds a beautiful stranger charming his whole village and particularly his beloved brother, Sweyn. The Were-Wolf flips the savage (male) werewolf stereotype on its head with its beguiling antagonist, White Fell. She’s gorgeous and feminine but cunning and deadly, a textbook femme fatale. Housman was a dedicated Suffragette, so it’s no wonder she wrote such a subversive, physically strong, and independent villainess. White Fell would be inspiring… if she wasn’t a literal man-eater.
4. The Werewolf of Paris, by Guy Endore
The Werewolf of Paris has been dubbed the Dracula of werewolf novels and has been hailed as a classic since its publication in 1933. It introduces us to Bertrand Caillet, a descendant of an evil family who was born on Christmas Eve and is therefore cursed to be a werewolf. Though his guardian attempts to keep him under lock and key, he escapes and runs away to Paris, where he joins the National Guard and embarks on a sado-masochistic romance. Set during the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune, the novel’s historical backdrop offers plenty of opportunities for Endore’s political commentary, but it’s most remembered for its groundbreakingly frank violence and sexual themes.
5. The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter
For more modern literary werewolves, look no further than The Bloody Chamber. Angela Carter’s collection of dark, feminist retellings covers a number of classic fairy tales, but the last three all feature werewolves. The Company of Wolves is the longest and probably the best known of these. It references lots of obscure werewolf lore (never trust a naked man in the woods!) and inspired a deeply creepy 1984 film. Meanwhile, The Werewolf adds a lycanthropic spin to Little Red Riding Hood and Wolf-Alice is a kind of reverse werewolf story featuring a feral child raised by wolves and her monstrous guardian who might be a werewolf, a vampire, or just insane.
6. Cycle of the Werewolf, by Stephen King
Cycle of the Werewolf is short but bloody, telling the tale of a small town plagued by gruesome serial murders in Stephen King’s inimitable style. Some of his other novels may be better known, but it’s hardly surprising that the King of Horror tried his hand at writing werewolves back in 1983. The novella evolved from a calendar and is still blessed with illustrations by Bernie Wrightson and monthly werewolf attacks falling on public holidays. Wrightson’s artwork is iconic and Marty, our 10-year-old paraplegic protagonist, still stands out among heroes of horror. Psychological suspense, small town paranoia and, of course, lots of violence makes Cycle of the Werewolf a perfect initiation in werewolf scares for preteens or anyone else.
7. Skin Trade, by George R. R. Martin
Forget dragons, George R. R. Martin wrote about werewolves over a decade before Game of Thrones arrived on the scene. Skin Trade is a crime/supernatural thriller starring Randi Wade, a tough private detective investigating a serial killer who skins his victims. Her own father’s death could be connected and, worse still, her friend Willie may be the next target, and he seems to be hiding something… A cool female protagonist, surprise werewolves, red herrings, Big Bads, and an unlikely team-up keep the plot moving. The Skin Trade won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella in 1989. It’s just a shame Martin never returned to what could have been a great series.
8. The Wolf’s Hour, by Robert R. McCammon
For something a bit different, try The Wolf’s Hour by Robert McCammon. It’s a World War II espionage novel about a British secret agent behind enemy lines on a mission to stop the launch of a mysterious Nazi weapon. The catch? The agent is a werewolf. It’s as awesome as it sounds. Think a mix of James Bond and Captain America souped up on lycanthropy. On the spectrum of werewolves, Michael Gallatin falls more on the tragic end as he wrestles with his dual natures, but he’s heroic and saves the day while doing it. The inhumanity of war makes an interesting backdrop for all the werewolf soul searching, and since it’s a war story, there’s plenty of action and violence, too, so there’s something for everyone.
9. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
Back in 1997, supernatural teen romance was still niche, but Blood and Chocolate helped pave the way for the genre’s meteoric growth. Its main plot points—a teenage girl with a secret starts at a new school and immediately finds herself in a werewolf/human love triangle—are now classic tropes of the genre. But there’s original werewolf lore, too; our protagonist Vivian is a “homo lupus,” a different species with its own mythology. Rejecting the “lone wolf” stereotype, Klause’s werewolves live in packs, which means there’s political drama, a (sort of) arranged marriage, and quite a bit of violence alongside Vivian’s classic coming-of-age arc. Blood and Chocolate still stands up as a quintessential teen werewolf fantasy.
10. The Fifth Elephant, by Terry Pratchett
In The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett turns his satiric eye on werewolves. Sam Vimes, Chief of Police, is forced to turn diplomat when he is dispatched to Überwald, which is essentially Transylvania on steroids. There he unearths a fiendish plot to instigate a dwarfish civil war, but with werewolves on his tail, will he be able to get the message out and stop the war? These werewolves are intelligent and deadly, making the action genuinely thrilling. The Fifth Elephant is a fan favorite thanks to its comedy, darker tone (for Discworld), and delicious digs at horror tropes and especially werewolves. It also gets points for originality for bringing up the concept of “yennorks,” werewolves trapped permanently in either wolf or human form.
11. Bitten, by Kelley Armstrong
If you review werewolf literature, you might notice a lycanthropic gender imbalance. Kelley Armstrong certainly has, and it shows in Bitten. Elena is the only female werewolf in her pack (if not the world). In Elena’s world, werewolf genes are passed father-to-son, and she is the only known woman to have ever survived a werewolf bite. Before long, she’s caught between her pack (and werewolf love interest) and the normal human life she’s supposed to want. Bitten is the first book in the Women of the Otherworld series, which introduces us to witches, clairvoyants, vampires, demons, and necromancers frequently clashing for fun supernatural drama, but with a consistent focus on complex female characters.
12. The Sacred Book of the Werewolf, by Victor Pelevin
The Sacred Book of the Werewolf was a smash hit in Russia when it was first published in 2004. Its heroine A Hu-Li appears to be a teenage prostitute, but is actually a millennia old were-fox who seduces men with her magical tail and drains their life force, succubi style. It’s a great business model, until she meets and falls for Alexander, an Intelligence Officer who also happens to be a werewolf. Pelevin plays brilliantly on Eastern and Western shapeshifter mythology, serving philosophical musings and surreal fantasy with an edge of social satire.
13. Kitty and the Midnight Hour, by Carrie Vaughn
After answering a call from a vampire on air, Kitty’s late night radio show transforms overnight into a hit chat show for supernatural creatures. Great, right? Except she’s secretly a werewolf and her sudden success ends up attracting the worst kind of attention from detectives, werewolf-hunters, and her own disapproving alpha… Unlike many kickass supernatural heroines, Kitty is initially a timid protagonist, but that’s what makes her character arc all the more satisfying as she breaks free from her controlling pack. The chat show is also a fun concept and its bizarre callers balance out all the drama, murders, vampire politics, and assassination attempts in Kitty’s personal life.
14. Sharp Teeth, by Toby Barlow
Werewolves and poetry rarely mix, but Toby Barlow’s brilliant free verse novel effortlessly proves that they are not mutually exclusive. Sharp Teeth follows warring packs of werewolves in modern day Los Angeles, with a special focus on Anthony, a kind (human) dogcatcher who falls in love with a runaway female werewolf. Barlow’s verse is meaty and by turns beautiful and violent, tinged with wistful romanticism thanks to its central couple. Apart from horror, there are hints of noir in Peabody, the hardboiled detective investigating gruesome “animal attacks.” And the werewolves themselves read strongly like gangsters, with their vendettas, territory disputes, drug dealing, and other criminal enterprises. Sharp Teeth is an eminently readable page-turner, whether or not you’re a poetry buff.
15. Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater
Maggie Stiefvater attempts to do for werewolves what Stephanie Meyer did for vampires. The Wolves of Mercy Falls series never quite matched Twilight’s success, but Shiver is still a respectable outing into the werewolf subgenre. Stiefvater is a talented writer, so the story whips along as Grace obsesses over the wolf who saved her as a child. Said wolf is Sam, a 17-year-old werewolf who is equally drawn to Grace. There are some worthy ecological messages (save the wolves!), but the werewolf lore is the series’ main draw. Transformations are triggered by intense cold (hence the title) and gradually erase a werewolf’s humanity over time, adding an expiration date and buckets of angst to the teen romance.
16. Those Across the River, by Christopher Buehlman
Those Across the River is an old school horror oozing with Southern menace. It’s also a period piece set in Depression-era Georgia, so brace yourself for period typical attitudes. To escape scandal, Frank decides (against advice) to move into the old plantation house he’s just inherited with his already-married beloved, Eudora. But when the nearby town decides to cancel its ritual “sacrifice” of pigs to the woods across the river, they accidentally unleash whatever lives there… Despite the fairly typical horror movie set up, Frank is more sensible than your average gung-ho protagonist, only getting involved once the killings start. Between creepy rituals, cursed towns, and things that go bump in the night, Buehlman builds a sinister atmosphere and slow-burn horror culminating in violent shocks.
17. Clean Sweep, by Ilona Andrews
If you like the sound of sci-fi werewolves, Clean Sweep and the rest of the Innkeeper series will be right up your alley. The “Innkeepers” are a fantastic concept: magic wielding guardians of sentient hotels hosting an array of “fantasy” creatures that are actually intergalactic aliens. Dina is an innkeeper tasked with protecting her alien guests and maintaining the secret of their existence. So when something supernatural starts killing the neighborhood’s dogs, she takes it upon herself to investigate. Luckily, she has her trusty inn and monster shih tzu, a vampire knight, and the annoyingly buff local werewolf to help. Andrews’ sci-fi take on fantasy archetypes is creative and affectionately mocks paranormal romance tropes. With its gorgeous illustrations, snappy dialogue, and kickass heroine, Clean Sweep is a must-read for fantasy fans.
18. The Devourers, by Indra Das
Eastern and Western mythology meet in Indra Das’ 2015 debut novel. The Devourers is set in modern day Kolkata, India, but its storyline spans centuries as Professor Alok meets a “half-werewolf” and agrees to transcribe his treasure trove of documents. From these emerge a strange life story stretching from seventeenth century Mughal India and a secret history of soul-devouring shapeshifters, better known as rakshasa, djinn, werewolves, and vampires. Das’ poetic writing doesn’t shy away from some pretty gross imagery and violent themes like rape, but that doesn’t stop The Devourers from being a fascinating mishmash of world mythologies. If you want to read more non-Western fantasy, The Devourers is a great place to start.
19. Mongrels, by Stephen Graham Jones
Stephen Graham Jones plays up the “outsider” aspect of werewolf lore, delivering a poignant meditation on marginalization in the process. The unnamed protagonist of Mongrels is a kid from a poor family, evading the authorities and constantly on the move in the American South. They also happen to be werewolves. But has our protagonist inherited the werewolf gene? Graham Jones has a gift for reinventing old mythology and for imagining the minutiae of werewolf life. We’re treated to lots of fascinating tidbits about the perils of werewolf living (pantyhose are the devil!). There’s body horror and some hairy moments, but at heart, Mongrels is a coming-of-age story and family saga with clear real world parallels as the protagonist and his aunt and uncle struggle to stay together and survive.
20. Lobizona, by Romina Garber
“Werewolf” literally means “wolf-man,” and “lobizon,” the Spanish translation, is another masculine word. Romina Garber has things to say about that in Lobizona, her debut novel inspired by Argentinian folklore. Manuela Azul has spent her whole life in hiding. But when her mother is arrested by ICE, she’s left alone to discover her magical heritage at El Laberinto, a school where girls are brujas (witches) and boys are lobizones (werewolves). Except Manu isn’t a witch and her very existence seems to challenge the rules of magic. But is magic truly defined by gender? Hogwarts fans will enjoy El Laberinto, but it’s the magic itself that steals the show. Lobizona’s commentary on gender roles, colonialism, and the immigrant experience will make you think.