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The 25 Best Novels of 2017

Books Lists Best of 2017
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The 25 Best Novels of 2017

We are thrilled to list our top picks for the best novels of 2017. Tackling everything from immigration to motherhood to the origins of a giant flying bear, these books promise enthralling stories for every reader. And while these are by no means the only extraordinary books published this year, these 25 were our absolute favorites.

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1bbsevenhusbands17.jpg 25. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel is a gripping story following Evelyn Hugo, a legendary Cuban American actress haunted by secrets. And when Evelyn agrees to exclusively reveal her secrets to Monique Grant, a magazine reporter who’s low on the totem pole, everyone is shocked. Why did Evelyn choose Monique? It’s hard to believe that Evelyn is fictional, as she leaps off the page with style, grace and an unbelievable amount of pluck. You’ll pick up Reid’s book expecting to breeze through it, and you’ll be blown away instead. —Swapna Krishna

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1bbuniversalharvester17.jpg 24. Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

The second novel from The Mountain Goats’ frontman delivers an unsettling journey to the late-1990s era of video rental stores and dial-up Internet, a recent past that feels strange enough to carry this edgy mystery. In small-town Iowa, a video clerk searches for answers after discovering that someone has been splicing homemade footage into the store’s VHS tapes. With John Darnielle’s inimitable voice driving a narrative that’s both sad and frightening, Universal Harvester explores loss, grief, resiliency and the never-ending search for human connection. —Eric Swedlund

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1bbwhatwelose17.jpg 23. What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

Related in a collection of vignettes, What We Lose follows a young woman coming-of-age while losing her mother to cancer. Zinzi Clemmons’ protagonist, who is caught between two worlds with a South African mother and an African American father, navigates life, love and motherhood in a poignant tale of grief. But don’t let its subject matter fool you; Clemmons laces despair with humor and anxiety with comfort. What We Lose revels in the fact that there isn’t a correct way to grieve, resulting in an emotional story exploring the meaning of identity. —Frannie Jackson

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1bbwakinggods17.jpg 22. Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Countless authors have answered the question, “What if we’re not alone in the universe?” But Sylvain Neuvel’s response sets him apart. His Themis Files series, launched in 2016 with Sleeping Giants and continued this year with Waking Gods, begins with a deceptively simple premise: a child discovers a giant metallic hand buried in South Dakota. What follows is a global hunt for the artifact’s significance, relayed through interviews conducted by an unnamed man (who quickly becomes a favorite character) and peppered with transcripts, journal entries and other forms of media. Sleeping Giants may have debuted his thrilling saga, but Waking Gods proves that Neuvel’s scope is more daring than readers could have imagined. —Frannie Jackson

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1bbessexserpent17.jpg 21. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent was one of the most acclaimed books of 2016 in the UK—and it’s easily one of the most engrossing works of historical fiction in recent years. Released in the U.S. this summer, the novel follows Cora Seaborne’s travels to a small Essex village after her husband’s death in 1893. When she arrives, Cora learns about a mysterious beast called the Essex Serpent, which is rumored to be responsible for a recent death and other strange occurrences. Lively and brimming with eclectic characters, Perry’s novel perfectly captures a sense of time, place and peril. —Bridey Heing

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1bbillwill17.jpg 20. Ill Will by Dan Chaon

The title of Dan Chaon’s novel hails from the pervasive dread protagonist Dustin feels after his wife’s terminal illness, but that’s not the first traumatic loss in his life. Dustin’s family were victims of a horrific murder during the height of the “Satanic Panic” in the ‘80s, and his step-brother Rusty was convicted of the crime, partially on Dustin’s vivid testimony of sexual abuse and ritual violence. When Rusty is exonerated by DNA evidence almost 30 years later, Dustin, whose psychology practice is based on memory recall, is stuck assessing how his own memories have failed him. The connective tissue of the novel, which switches time periods and perspectives, is that no one can say for sure what is true and what they’d simply like to be true. Chaon succeeds at capturing the body count and darkness of the psychological thriller, but he’s uninterested in the genre’s tidy answers, arriving instead at a family drama where doom feels at once preventable and unavoidable. Steve Foxe

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1bbamericanwar17.jpg 19. American War by Omar El Akkad

Omar El Akkad’s novel imagines a future mere decades from now, one in which the U.S. is divided by a second Civil War. Opening with protagonist Sarat Chestnut’s tumultuous childhood as the fighting intensifies, American War explores how divisive ideology—and homegrown extremism—festers into a destructive cancer on society. And what’s most frightening about El Akkad’s novel is that it describes a future that could be our own. If hatred continues to gain political clout and weapons continue to be used by citizens against citizens, Sarat’s reality could be more than a haunting tale. The genius of El Akkad’s prose is that it can be read both as a thrilling dystopian novel and as a sobering examination of American society. —Frannie Jackson

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1bbthirst17.jpg 18. The Thirst by Jo Nesbø

In his 11th book featuring Detective Harry Hole, Jo Nesbø deepens the already-complex portrait of his antihero. Hole has a career’s worth of monsters haunting his dreams, even after he’s left the day-to-day investigative work behind. And Nesbø takes this even further in The Thirst, pitting the alcoholic and insubordinate Hole against the most sadistic killer yet. Nesbø’s a master of style, balancing action and tension in a plot haunted by a demonic tattoo and ritualistic blood drinking. But his greatest strength as a novelist is the way he places two opposing forces in battle: the perverse criminal and the compulsive detective. In Nesbø’s consistently excellent Hole series, The Thirst may well be the pinnacle. —Eric Swedlund

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1bbstonesky17.jpg 17. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, which won the Hugo Award for books one and two, comes to a thrilling conclusion in The Stone Sky. Beyond its creative magic (which is absolutely stunning) and its impossible stakes (the world is ending), Jemisin’s trilogy has always centered on familial relationships. And that’s why it not only succeeds, but triumphs. Our world needs more three-dimensional mothers in fiction, women who are creative and fierce and broken and driven and human. Essun, Jemisin’s incredible protagonist, is all of these things—with some of the most kickass magical abilities in the fantasy genre. The Stone Sky delivers an enthralling finale to this epic series, one brimming with adventure and heart. —Frannie Jackson

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1bbgoldenlegend17.png 16. The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

At The Golden Legend’s core is a deep understanding of the centuries-long conflict between Muslims and Christians—and how it continues to be exploited by men in power. Set in Pakistan, Nadeem Aslam’s novel follows several characters whose lives are uprooted when an American man kills innocent Muslims. It’s a narrative that insists on a very simple but terrifying fact: everything is political. God, love, family, justice, faith, power, friendship, secrets—acts of kindness and acts of evil are all informed by politics. And still, The Golden Legend dazzles as much as it devastates. As characters wrestle with the truths of their worlds, Aslam succeeds in reflecting these truths in his prose. And the reader walks away better—and with more understanding—for such an intimacy with such unforgettable characters as these. —Shannon M. Houston

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1bbriverofkings17.jpg 15. The River of Kings by Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown’s The River of Kings is an almost impossibly vivid novel, rendering Georgia’s Altamaha River and the woods that surround it with spellbinding intensity. Brown’s book recounts two Altamaha River adventures in parallel: the modern-day journey of the fractious Loggins brothers to scatter their hard-ass shrimper father’s ashes, and a fictionalized recasting of the French encounter with Timucuan natives at Fort Caroline in the 1560s. Like Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx, Brown possesses rare and wild gifts, writing with an arresting precision and unremitting intensity that can keep a reader’s jaw clenched for books at a time. —Steve Nathans-Kelly

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1bbborne17.jpg 14. Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction can be exhausting, especially in today’s political climate. But with Borne, Jeff VanderMeer has created a narrative so refreshing that it defies genre clichés. The novel follows Rachel, a scavenger in a city ruled by malevolent forces and terrorized by a giant flying bear. When she discovers a bizarre creature and chooses to protect it—against her better judgment—she catalyzes events with alarming consequences. The creature, nicknamed Borne, proves both wondrous and chilling, proving that VanderMeer has crafted one of the most compellingly original characters in years. —Frannie Jackson

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