23 Best Fantasy Books of 2016

Best of 2016

Fantasy writers worked their butts off in 2016, giving readers an avalanche of great stuff to read. In addition to the usual daggers-and-dragons adventures, we got robots, ticked-off old gods, and murder mysteries: a fun, genre-expanding year.

 

23
The Paper Menagerie
by Ken Liu – 2016

The Paper Menagerie is a collection of award-winning fantasy and science fiction stories by current literary supernova Ken Liu. It’s the first work of fiction to win all three of speculative fiction’s major awards: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award.

“Questions of identity galvanize the 15 stories in this outstanding collection of fantastical fiction, giving them extraordinary gravity and resonance.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

22
The Winged Histories
by Sofia Samatar – 2016

Four women—a soldier, a scholar, a poet, and a socialite—are caught up on opposing sides of a violent rebellion. As war erupts and their loyalties, agendas, and ideologies come into conflict, the four fear their lives may pass unrecorded. Using sword, pen, body, and voice, they struggle not just to survive, but to make history.

“[P]erpetually and pleasantly startling and unexpected…”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

21
Borderline
by Mishell Baker – 2016
Book 1 of 2 in The Arcadia Project Series

A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she’s sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.

For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she’ll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble’s disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.

“Fully articulated, flawed, and fascinating characters combine with masterly urban fantasy storytelling in Baker’s debut novel.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

20
The Fate of the Tearling
by Erika Johansen – 2016
Book 3 of 3 in The Queen of the Tearling Series

In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has transformed from a gawky teenager into a powerful monarch. As she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, the headstrong, visionary leader has also transformed her realm. In her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies—including the evil Red Queen, her fiercest rival, who has set her armies against the Tear.

To protect her people from a devastating invasion, Kelsea did the unthinkable—she gave herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy—and named the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, regent in her place. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign, imprisoned in Mortmesne.

“With richly developed characters who are never boring… and villains who are as fascinating as the heroes, the finale of this outstanding series will be talked about by readers.”
— Library Journal (Pick of the Month)

19
Magic Binds
by Ilona Andrews – 2016
Book 9 of 9 in the Kate Daniels Series

Kate and the former Beast Lord Curran Lennart are finally making their relationship official. But there are some steep obstacles standing in the way of their walk to the altar…

Kate’s father, Roland, has kidnapped the demigod Saiman and is slowly bleeding him dry in his never-ending bid for power. A Witch Oracle has predicted that if Kate marries the man she loves, Atlanta will burn and she will lose him forever. And the only person Kate can ask for help is long dead.

“Ilona Andrews” is the pseudonym for Ilona Gordon and Andrew Gordon, an American husband-and-wife duo.

“Kate is a great kick-ass heroine.”
— Locus

18
League of Dragons
by Naomi Novik – 2016
Book 9 of 9 in the Temeraire Series

Warning: this is the final book of a nine-book series. You may not want to start with this one.

Napoleon’s invasion of Russia has been roundly thwarted. But even as Capt. William Laurence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the retreating enemy through an unforgiving winter, Napoleon is raising a new force, and he’ll soon have enough men and dragons to resume the offensive. While the emperor regroups, the allies have an opportunity to strike first and defeat him once and for all—if internal struggles and petty squabbles don’t tear them apart.

Aware of his weakened position, Napoleon has promised the dragons of every country—and the ferals, loyal only to themselves—vast new rights and powers if they fight under his banner. It is an offer eagerly embraced from Asia to Africa—and even by England, whose dragons have long rankled at their disrespectful treatment.

But Laurence and his faithful dragon soon discover that the wily Napoleon has one more gambit at the ready—one that that may win him the war, and the world.

“A satisfying conclusion to a remarkable series.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

17
Saint’s Blood
by Sebastien de Castell – 2016
Book 3 of 4 in the Greatcoats Series

The Dukes were already looking for ways out of their agreement to put Aline on the throne. But now with the Saints turning up dead, rumors are spreading that the Gods themselves oppose her ascension. The churches are looking to protect themselves by bringing back the military orders of religious soldiers, assassins, and Inquisitors—a move that could turn the country into a theocracy.

The only way Falcio can put a stop to it is by finding the murderer of a friend. He has only one clue: a terrifying iron mask which makes the Saints vulnerable by driving them mad. But even if he can find the killer, he’ll still have to face him in battle.

And that may be a duel that no swordsman, no matter how skilled, can hope to win.

“This is a great series, that gets better with each book.”
― Tattooed Book Geek

16
Marked in Flesh
by Anne Bishop – 2016
Book 4 of 5 in The Others Series

Since the Others allied themselves with the cassandra sangue, the fragile yet powerful human blood prophets who were being exploited by their own kind, the delicate dynamic between humans and Others changed. Some, like Simon Wolfgard, wolf shifter and leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn, see the new, closer companionship as beneficial—both personally and practically.

But not everyone is convinced. A group of radical humans is seeking to usurp land through a series of violent attacks on the Others. What they don’t realize is that there are older and more dangerous forces than shifters and vampires protecting the land that belongs to the Others—and those forces are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect what is theirs.

“A stunningly original yarn, deeply imagined, beautifully articulated, and set forth in clean, limpid, sensual prose.”
— Kirkus Reviews on the Others novels

15
The Bands of Mourning
by Brandon Sanderson – 2016
Book 6 of 6 in the Mistborn world

The Bands of Mourning is another spinoff of the original Mistborn trilogy, which takes place in the late 1800s.

The Bands of Mourning are the mythical metalminds owned by the Lord Ruler, said to grant anyone who wears them the powers that the Lord Ruler had at his command. Hardly anyone thinks they really exist. A kandra researcher has returned to Elendel with images that seem to depict the Bands, as well as writings in a language that no one can read. Waxillium Ladrian is recruited to travel south to the city of New Seran to investigate. Along the way he discovers hints that point to the true goals of his uncle Edwarn and the shadowy organization known as The Set.

“Sanderson is an evil genius.”
― RT Book Reviews

14
Age of Myth
by Michael J. Sullivan – 2016
Book 1 of 5 in The Legends of the First Empire Series

Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between men and those they thought were gods changes forever. Now, only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer; Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom; and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people.

The Age of Myth is over. The time of rebellion has begun.

13
Those Below
by Daniel Polansky – 2016
Book 2 of 2 in The Empty Throne Series

For centuries beyond counting, humanity has served the Others, god-like Eternals who rule from their cloud-capped mountain-city, building a civilization of unimagined beauty and unchecked viciousness.

But all that is about to change.

Bas Alyates, a grizzled general of a thousand battles, has assembled a vast army to contend with the might of Those Above. Eudokia, Machiavellian matriarch and the power behind the Empty Throne, travels to the Roost, nominally to play peacemaker—but in fact to inspire the human population toward revolt.

Meanwhile, in the dark byways of the mountain’s lower tiers, the urchin Pyre leads a band of fanatical revolutionaries in acts of terrorism against their inhuman oppressors. Against them, Calla, handmaiden of the Eternals’ king, fights desperately to stave off the rising tide of violence which threatens to destroy her beloved city.

12
The Spider's War
by Daniel Abraham – 2016
Book 5 of 5 in The Dagger and the Coin Series

Daniel Abraham is a busy guy. When he’s not writing the science fiction Expanse series under the pseudonym James S. A. Corey (with Ty Franck), he’s finishing The Dagger and the Coin series. This whole series is good for fans of military fantasy and George R. R. Martin.

Lord Regent Geder Palliako’s great war has spilled across the world, nation after nation falling before the ancient priesthood their dragons. But even as conquest follows conquest, the final victory retreats before him like a mirage. Schism and revolt begin to erode the foundations of the empire, and the great conquest threatens to collapse into a permanent conflict of all against all.

In Carse, with armies on all borders, Cithrin bel Sarcour, Marcus Wester, and Clara Kalliam are faced with the impossible task of bringing a lasting peace to the world. Their tools: traitors high in the imperial army, the last survivor of the dragon empire, and a financial scheme that is either a revolution or the greatest fraud in the history of the world.

11
Drake
by Peter McLean – 2016
Book 1 of 3 in the Burned Man Series

Hitman Don Drake owes a gambling debt to a demon. Forced to carry out one more assassination to clear his debt, Don unwittingly kills an innocent child and brings the Furies of Greek myth down upon himself.

Rescued by an almost-fallen angel called Trixie, Don and his magical accomplice the Burned Man, an imprisoned archdemon, are forced to deal with Lucifer himself.

Now Don must foil Lucifer’s plan to complete Trixie’s fall and save her soul whilst preventing the Burned Man from breaking free from captivity and wreaking havoc on the entire world.

“Imagine if Jesse Pinkman, the young, sensitive delinquent hero of Breaking Bad, was in the soul-destroying business of dark magic instead of making meth. Drake is a bang-up job indeed.”
— Village Book Review

10
Chains of the Heretic
by Jeff Salyards – 2016
Book 3 of 3 in the Bloodsounder’s Arc Series

Emperor Cynead has usurped command of the Memoridons—Tower-controlled memory witches—and consolidated his reign over the Syldoonian Empire. After escaping the capital city of Sunwrack, Captain Braylar Killcoin and his Jackal company evade pursuit across Urglovia, tasked with reaching deposed emperor Thumaar and helping him recapture the throne. Braylar’s sister, Soffjian, rejoins the Jackals and reveals that Commander Darzaak promised her freedom if she agreed to aid them in breaking Cynead’s grip on the other Memoridons and ousting him.

If you haven’t figured it out from all those names, this is some good ol’ epic fantasy, with a bit of horror thrown in.

“I give Chains of the Heretic and Bloodsounder’s Arc my highest recommendations; it really is one of my favorite grimdark fantasy series.”
— Bookwraiths

9
City of Blades
by Robert Jackson Bennett – 2016
Book 2 of 3 in The Divine Cities Series

General Turyin Mulaghesh, the foul-mouthed hero of the battle of Bulikov, rumored war criminal, and ally of an embattled Prime Minister, has been exiled to the city of Voortyashtan (gesundheit) to count down the days until she can draw her pension and be forgotten.

At least, that’s the cover story.

The truth is that the general has been pressed into service one last time, dispatched to investigate a discovery with the potential to change the world—or destroy it.

The trouble is that this old soldier isn’t sure she’s still got what it takes to be the hero.

“Astonishingly good… a deep, powerful novel that’s worth reading and rereading.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

8
The Wheel of Osheim
by Mark Lawrence – 2016
Book 3 of 3 in the Red Queen’s War Series

All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri Ver Snagason and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued. For Jalan Kendeth, getting back out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. Loki’s creation can open any lock, any door, and it may also be the key to Jalan’s fortune back in the living world.

Jalan and Snorri face many dangers, from the corpse hordes of the Dead King to the many mirrors of the Lady Blue, but in the end, fast or slow, the Wheel of Osheim always pulls you back. In the end, it’s win or die.

“Shrewd Jalan and honorable Snorri make a marvelous team, lightening a very dark story with wry humor. The brisk adventure and black magic will leave readers eager for the next chapter in the series.”
— Publishers Weekly on previous books in the series

7
Children of Earth and Sky
by Guy Gavriel Kay – 2016

A young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. A young artist travels to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more. A fiercely intelligent, angry woman poses as a doctor’s wife, but is a spy.

The trading ship that carries the three is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east, a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif, seeking glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world.

“Kay triumphs at creating complex political landscapes and then populating them with characters who make the stakes important and the struggles real. Another magnificent ­history-that-never-was from a master.”
— Library Journal (starred review)

6
Crooked Kingdom
by Leigh Bardugo – 2016
Book 2 of 2 in the Six of Crows Series

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

“Un-put-down-able excitement from beginning to end”
― Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

5
The Waking Fire
by Anthony Ryan – 2016
Book 1 of 2 in The Draconis Memoria Series

Nothing is more prized than the blood of drakes. Harvested from captive or hunted Reds, Greens, Blues and Blacks, it can be distilled into elixirs that bestow fearsome powers on the rare men and women known as the Blood-blessed.

But not many know the truth: that the lines of drakes are weakening. If they fail, war will follow swiftly. The last hope resides in whispers of the existence of another breed of drake, far more powerful than the rest, and the few who have been chosen by fate to seek it.

Claydon Torcreek is a petty thief and an unregistered Blood-blessed who finds himself pressed into service by the Protectorate and sent to wild, uncharted lands in search of a creature he believes is little more than legend. Lizanne Lethridge is a formidable spy and assassin facing gravest danger on an espionage mission deep into the heart of enemy territory. And Corrick Hilemore is the second lieutenant of an Ironship cruiser whose pursuit of ruthless brigands leads him to a far greater threat at the edge of the world.

As lives and empires clash and intertwine, as the unknown and the known collide, all three must fight to turn the tide of a coming war, or drown in its wake.

“Ryan handily juggles draconic fantasy, espionage, and steampunk naval fiction with realism and effortless skill.”
— Publishers Weekly

4
The Last Mortal Bond
by Brian Staveley – 2016
Book 3 of 3 in the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne Series

The ancient csestriim are back to finish their purge of humanity; armies march against the capital; leaches, solitary beings who draw power from the natural world to fuel their extraordinary abilities, maneuver on all sides to affect the outcome of the war; and capricious gods walk the earth in human guise with agendas of their own.

But the three imperial siblings at the heart of it all―Valyn, Adare, and Kaden―come to understand that even if they survive the holocaust unleashed on their world, there may be no reconciling their conflicting visions of the future.

“Deeply satisfying.”
― Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

3
The Raven King
by Maggie Stiefvater – 2016
Book 4 of 4 in The Raven Cycle Series

All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love’s death. She doesn’t believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

“This is a series that is destined for greatness and The Raven King is a crowning achievement.”
— School Library Journal

2
The City of Mirrors
by Justin Cronin – 2016
Book 3 of 3 in The Passage Trilogy Series

The Twelve are destroyed and the hundred-year reign of darkness has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew—and daring to dream of a hopeful future.

But far from them, in a dead metropolis, the Father of the Twelve waits. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy—humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him.

One last time light and dark will clash, and finally Amy and her friends will know their fate.

“A thrilling finale to a trilogy that will stand as one of the great achievements in American fantasy fiction.”
— Stephen King

1
A Gathering of Shadows
by Victoria Schwab – 2016
Book 2 of 3 in the Shades of Magic Series

Four months have passed since the shadow stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Rhy was wounded and the Dane twins fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift, and into Black London.

In many ways, things have almost returned to normal, though Rhy is more sober, and Kell is now plagued by guilt. Restless Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games—an extravagant international competition of magic—a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again—and so to keep magic’s balance, another London must fall…

“This is how fantasy should be done.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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