10 Survival Thrillers That Test Human Endurance

Amazon PublishingTheBoyInTheIronBox 6Covers

An ancient secret never meant to be unleashed. From Academy Award–winning filmmaker and writer Guillermo del Toro comes a nightmare six-part horror serial. A plane carrying a team of mercenaries crash-lands on a snowy summit. In search of shelter, the mercenaries soon come across a maze-like stone fortress, but what they discover deep inside can stop the heart. As terror takes a new shape, the real battle for survival begins in this unrelenting six-part collection from Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Read and listen to The Boy in the Iron Box free with Prime.

We’re all drawn to the challenge of survival. That’s why shows like Survivor, Naked and Afraid, or even those that push the boundaries of imagination, like The Walking Dead or Lost, have such dedicated followings. Films like 127 Hours and The Revenant delivered such powerful performances from leading actors James Franco and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively, that they both earned Academy Award nominations. DiCaprio even claimed the statue that year for his portrayal of Hugh Glass. Whether it’s an absolutely horrific situation like a Saw trap or The Hunger Games, these forms of media keep us on the edge of our seats, prompting us to ask ourselves, “What would I do in such a situation?”

Another intriguing aspect of this genre is its tendency to overlap with others, such as sci-fi, fantasy, or horror. However, sometimes, the most compelling survival thriller is one that feels within reach. This is because everyone’s strategies and capabilities for survival are unique. For instance, I know that I’d be toast in a high-stakes environmental scenario, but I truly believe I could hold my own in the face of an alien apocalypse. Resilience manifests in various ways, and these books explore a wide range of suspenseful and perilous situations. Let’s get to the list.

cover of the beach by alex garlandcover of the beach by alex garland

The Beach by Alex Garland

The Beach is like the younger sibling of Lord of the Flies, sharing themes of isolation, conflict, and tension. It follows Richard’s adventure in Thailand with a fellow traveler, “Daffy Duck,” as they discover a supposedly self-sufficient society on a remote island. However, they soon realize the community is hiding a dark secret, and their bonds begin to erode as human nature takes over. Richard fears for his life in this backpacking trip gone wrong.

The Deep by Alma Katsu book coverThe Deep by Alma Katsu book cover

The Deep by Alma Katsu

Set against the backdrop of two real maritime disasters, the Titanic and the Britannic, this book combines supernatural threats and natural threats where the characters are forced to demonstrate resilience to navigate the imminent dangers. In this book, Annie, a stewardess who survives the Titanic, starts experiencing apparitions. Years later, as a nurse on the Britannic, similar events occur, forcing her to confront her past to survive.

cover of the river at night by erica ferenickcover of the river at night by erica ferenick

The River At Night by Erica Ferencik

Friends Winifred, Rachel, Pia, and Sandra decide to go on a white-water rafting adventure in Maine. The trip quickly goes downhill as the women are separated from their knowledgeable guide, forcing them to survive against the wild waves, animals, and other natural elements. The four friends need to tap into their power of friendship as much as their will to survive.

Zone One book coverZone One book cover

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

For a trip into the speculative, this book taps into the post-apocalyptic setting of a world that has collapsed after a deadly zombie outbreak. We follow Mark, a civilian volunteer who is part of a group known as the “Sweepers,” who is tasked with battling zombies in Manhattan, aka Zone One. Not only is the presence of zombies still a constant threat, but Mark’s real-life trauma continues to add layers working against his survival in this world.

cover image: a forest with a night sky and the title letters in mistcover image: a forest with a night sky and the title letters in mist

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Harper taps into the age-old struggle of man v. nature and man v. man conflict in this book. Set in remote Australia, agent Aaron Falk is hired to investigate the disappearance of Alice Russell, who went missing during a corporate team-building retreat with the rest of the employees from BaileyTennants. When they dig deeper, Falk becomes suspicious that something more is going on, especially among their male colleagues. As the group begins to dismantle from within, the stakes for survival escalate.

cover of Out by natsuo kirinocover of Out by natsuo kirino

Out by Natsuo Kirino

This book takes on another aspect of “survival,” using Japan as the setting and the world of the yakuza as the threat. After Yayoi murders her deadbeat, abusive husband, she enlists the help of two co-workers to cover it up. Yayoi and her friends are pulled into the dark, underground world as they evade police suspicion and the yakuza. Yayoi is desperate to survive, not just physically but also emotionally, as she fights to keep herself and her accomplices safe.

cover of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordoncover of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

When nine-year-old Trisha gets lost in the woods, she begins hallucinating conversations with her idol, Red Sox pitcher Tom Gordon, as a way to cope with her fear. She continues to experience the typical survival challenges, such as lack of food and water, but also psychological challenges as her hallucinations intensify and she’s forced to make more drastic decisions to survive.

cover of When No One Is Watchingcover of When No One Is Watching

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole

For another psychological thriller angle, Sydney is a Brooklyn native who is disheartened to see all the changes made to her neighborhood. All of her close friends and neighbors have decided to move out to the suburbs, only to be replaced by wealthy and well-to-do individuals and families. Sydney and new neighbor Theo do a deep dive into the neighborhood’s history and stumble upon disturbing information that is too much of a coincidence to ignore. They may be coming for Sydney next.

cover of This Wretched Valley by Jenny Kiefer; illustration of a climber hanging from a cliff face shaped like a skeletoncover of This Wretched Valley by Jenny Kiefer; illustration of a climber hanging from a cliff face shaped like a skeleton

This Wretched Valley by Jenny Kiefer

When Claire goes missing while on a solo hiking trip in the remote wilderness of Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains, her friend Wes and a park ranger jump into action to find her. The harsh terrain poses a challenge, and as we learn about events leading up to Claire’s fateful trip, tensions rise within the rescue party. Claire’s past also comes into play, adding to the conflict as they search for her.

cover image of Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby, a photo of an old car with a driver-side mirror of another car in the foreground, featuring the head and shoulders image of a Black man at the wheelcover image of Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby, a photo of an old car with a driver-side mirror of another car in the foreground, featuring the head and shoulders image of a Black man at the wheel

Blacktop Wastleland by S.A. Cosby

Bug leads a seemingly normal life: he has a steady job as a mechanic and is surrounded by a loving family. However, unknown to most, he used to be the top getaway driver on the East Coast. Bug is determined to live an honest life, but when a former associate offers him a role in the heist of a lifetime at a jewelry store, he finds it hard to resist. As he tries to keep his family safe, Bug is thrown into life-threatening situations involving high-speed chases and the dangerous criminal underworld.

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