The 16 Best Fiction Books of 2016 (So Far)

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The 16 Best Fiction Books of 2016 (So Far)

When it came time to choose the best fiction books of 2016 (so far), Paste’s writers nominated a diverse array of titles. From bestselling sci-fi epics to compelling short story collections, the narratives hailed from different genres yet shared one common trait: they were utterly captivating. So whether you adore historical fiction or prefer to curl up with contemporary thrillers, we promise that every book on this list will deliver an enthralling read.

16. The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales

Two years after publishing a fascinating short story collection (The Miniature Wife), Manuel Gonzales returns with an entertaining debut novel that defies genre labels. The Regional Office Is Under Attack! introduces a shadowy organization of female assassins who may—or may not—be the "bad guys." As the title suggests, the organization's headquarters is indeed under attack, and what follows is a thrilling narrative that jumps between the action-packed siege, the events preceding the attack and the Regional Office's chilling origin. Gonzales spins a web of intrigue and misdirection from page one, ensuring you'll be captivated from start to finish. —Frannie Jackson

15. Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

Part gothic spine-chiller, part backwoods road novel, Mr. Splitfoot tells the tale of two foster siblings cast into a sadistic world of evangelical weirdness. As children they conduct séances for other resident orphans, summoning "Mr. Splitfoot" to contact the kids' deceased parents. Samantha Hunt ultimately intertwines one of the sibling's childhood and adult adventures into a ghost story that's as confounding as it is compelling, spanning the modern-day Burned-over District along New York's Erie Canal. In Hunt's 21st century tale, you can hardly swing a dead cat without hitting a religious cult leader or member, wielding influence that spreads like contagion. —Steve Nathans-Kelly

14. Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Red Rising, the first book in Pierce Brown's sci-fi trilogy of the same name, introduces readers to an interstellar caste system made of nightmares. From the all-powerful Golds who rule the universe to the lowly Reds who toil beneath the Martian surface, everyone is born into a specific role in society. When Darrow discovers the horrifying truths behind his existence as a Red, he joins a plot to obliterate the Golds' rule. Golden Son continues the saga, following Darrow as he infiltrates the Golds' society in a story that's as violent as it is captivating. With Morning Star, Brown delivers a brilliant conclusion to the epic series, proving that the Red Rising Trilogy deserves a place among the best narratives in science fiction. —Frannie Jackson and Eric Smith

13. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

Helen Oyeyemi, the celebrated author of Boy, Snow, Bird, uses magical realism to charm readers into a whimsical realm, cloaking real world stakes with light shades of the sublime. Each of the nine short stories in What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours feature keys or locks—some organic, some digital, some even more obfuscated. While pop culture dictates that keys lead to "success" or to someone's "heart," Oyeyemi's stories reveal that the "turn" of said keys often complicates a situation (like in "Books and Roses," when a key to the past only succeeds in disrupting the future). As entertaining as they are diverse, the tales in Oyeyemi's collection feature a rich blend of compelling narratives. —Jeff Milo

12. The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon

The Pier Falls' mesmerizing short stories reflect disparate settings, tones and perspectives, yet they form a powerful examination of universal human truths—namely the struggle for connection. Mark Haddon, author of the bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, places his characters in life-altering situations, then combs through the rubble for insights into how people live—and live with each other—in the aftermath. In its impressive scope and emotional resonance, The Pier Falls is a certain contender for the year's best short story collection. —Eric Swedlund

11. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley delivers a thriller that begins with a plane crash and only grows more captivating with each page. Of the eleven people on the private flight from Martha's Vineyard to New York City, the only survivors are artist Scott Burroughs and the young son of cable news heavyweight. While investigators become increasingly desperate for answers as to what brought down the plane (Engine failure? Foul play? Terrorism?), Burroughs finds himself in the crosshairs of conspiracy theorists. Brimming with three-dimensional characters, Before the Fall leads the reader down rabbit hole after rabbit hole in an electrifying mystery. —Bridey Heing

10. The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

As the curtain rises on Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's debut novel (soon to be adapted by Amazon Films and Transparent creator Jill Soloway), the eldest of four adult siblings catalyzes a series of events that will cost all of them an inheritance. Tracing the fractured lives of Leo, Beatrice, Jack and Melody Plumb, The Nest showcases the tension between dreams and reality, with the promise of money warping both decisions and relationships. The book delivers heart as well as humor, weaving together a saga that centers on the complex nature of a family's love at its harshest and most tender. —Eric Swedlund

9. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

In The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, Dominic Smith removes the barriers between the artist, their work and their audience in a moving exploration of the way art impacts us. Jumping through time and across the globe, Smith's narrative interweaves the fates of a lawyer and a forger who spend years engaging with fictional artist Sara de Vos' painting, At the Edge of a Wood. It's a stirring piece—one of only a few painted by Dutch women during the Golden Age—that is at once a manifestation of each person's defining moments and a representation of the obstacles they must overcome. Tense and human, Smith's novel introduces the art world as one of vibrancy rather than buttoned-up academia and elitism. —Bridey Heing

8. The Yid by Paul Goldberg

In Paul Goldberg's action/comedy, February of 1953 is fading into March and uniformed ruffians are making conspicuous midnight arrests of Jewish citizens around Moscow. A retired thespian and an aging surgeon—both former Red Army specialists—along with an expatriated African American engineer and a vengeful young woman fall into an unpredictable alliance. Each of them commit, for obvious reasons as well as their own, to unite and stop a second Holocaust. The Yid's magic is in how it combines the screwball gallows humor of its grizzled protagonists with the prestige of the theater, segueing the narrative into the format of a play at points of elevated action. Goldberg's breezy, descriptive voice amidst the spitfire dialogue is a comfort, despite the chills of our drama's stage and the dangers in every other scene. —Jeff Milo

7. Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

In Chris Cleave's World War II drama, young Brits are brought together as the Blitz on London begins. Tom and Mary join the war effort on the home front, falling in love as they educate the children left behind in the evacuation. But when Tom's roommate is home on leave en route to Malta, he and Mary are drawn to one another in a way they both find unsettling. Set against the horror of the War's early years, when victory over Hitler's Germany was far from a foregone conclusion, Everyone Brave is Forgiven weaves humor, stoicism and violence into a gripping narrative. Cleave succeeds in making a well-worn story—that of English strength during World War II—feel fresh and urgent. —Bridey Heing