Do you have a narrator that has made such an impression on you that you would listen to them read the phone book? What is about their voice that makes you want to listen to everything they’ve ever recorded? Have you ever listened to a book or author you’ve never heard of or that you’d never considered before just because of the narrator? Did you listen to a book narrated by someone unexpected (say, a celebrity) and fall in love with them (or with audiobooks in general) all over again?
I asked these questions of my fellow Book Riot contributors, and the list of answers includes tried and true narrators, British actors with diehard fandom followings, and a Tony award-winning author/composer/lyricist. My personal favorite is a total geek, and he got to drive a space ship when he was in high school. That’s right. I’m talking about Wil Wheaton.
I thought he was going to be a novelty when I first listened to him read Ready Player One, but I was quickly proven very wrong. He’s a stellar narrator, and if it hadn’t been for him, I don’t know if I ever would have gotten around to reading John Scalzi. When I heard that Wheaton narrated Red Shirts, I decided to go for it. I’ve now read (via audio) several Scalzi novels, and I’ve loved every one of them. Now, take a look at some of our other favorites.
This is a total cliche, but I do really enjoy listening to audiobooks narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch. I’m not really a fan, but his voice is undeniably soothing. The only problem is that if he’s reading in his regular voice (i.e. not a character), I start drifting off to sleep pretty quickly. I haven’t listened to all of his audiobooks by any stretch of the imagination, but I did really enjoy the short story Flat of Angles that he read for Late Night Tales. Runner up: My favorite female audiobook narrator is Kathe Mazur.
I would listen to anything narrated by Finty Williams, and not just because we share the same last name. She’s basically tailored for the job, growing up listening to her mother’s (oh just the Dame Judi Dench) majestic vocalizations and having trained in speech and drama. Give her a listen on M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts and Fellside.
The first time I heard Fiona Hardingham narrate, it was alongside Steve West for An Ember in the Ashes. They were both excellent, and I decided then that they were my favorite narrating pair. I followed them to The Fair Fight, which Justine Eyre added her voice to as well. But really, it was all about Fiona. When I was looking for things to listen to during a period where I was listening to audiobooks for six or seven hours a day, her voice would automatically jump into my head. I pored through Scribd (while I still had it) for things she’d narrated, even things I would probably never try to read otherwise. She helped me find things I might not have discovered on my own.
January LaVoy’s narration of Libba Bray’s The Diviners and its sequel Lair of Dreams is so stunning that I am willing to go anywhere with her. LaVoy, an actress and five time Audie-award winning narrator, brings to life a wonderfully diverse group of characters with a variety of backgrounds: women and men, children and elderly people, terrifying demons and hungry ghosts, to name just a few. At several points throughout the books, multiple characters are in conversation with each other and not once did I wonder who was speaking. I should also mention that The Diviners happens to be a really scary series with some of the most frightening scenes I’ve read in a while (full disclosure: I’m a bit of a lightweight) and LaVoy played no small part in making them deliciously terrifying. The Diviners books and their audio editions clock in at over 18 hours. Since I generally check out my audiobooks through my library’s digital catalog, it’s hard for me to commit to such a long story. But once I started, I simply couldn’t stop. I may have even ignored my children a little bit in the interest of finishing the audiobooks on time! Earbuds in, I wandered around my house doing chores and smiling absently whenever one of them approached with a question. Sure, I said. Do whatever you want. I’m just going to keep listening…
High-Rise by J.G. Ballard, narrated by Tom Hiddleston, is basically sex in audio form. That seductive accent, those sultry tones, that Cambridge-educated performance… all combine to take the violent chaos and destruction inherent in Ballard’s novel and makes it titillating and sensuous AF.
The first time I looked up narrators was while listening to An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir: the alternating POVs were narrated by Fiona Hardingham and Steve West. I don’t know how to explain how amazing they were other than to say that if they alternated reading me dessert menus I’d recreate the famous When Harry Met Sally scene… but I wouldn’t be faking it.
I have a notoriously hard time listening to audiobooks; I struggle to invest time in them in the same way that I do a physical book. We’re all obsessed with Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda right now, but his reading of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is absolutely phenomenal. I viscerally remember certain moments of the story – and how he said them – in a way I haven’t for audiobooks previously. His reading completely sucked me into the story and managed to distract me from the normal repetitions and nuances in writing that drive me batty when books are read aloud. I would happily listen again to that audiobook – and listen to whatever Lin chooses to read next.
I first heard Kyle McCarley’s work when I was going through the 2015 Hugo nominees. I listened to most of the novel nominees that year in audio format because I could do that while working–but his narration of The Goblin Emperor really stood out. I enjoyed it so much that I’ve relistened to that audiobook several times just for the sheer pleasure of it. After I told Kyle how awesome I thought he was via Twitter, he recommended that I give The Prince of Shadows a listen as well. I was glad that I did, because it’s a good book (a slightly fantastic alternate take on Romeo and Juliet told from the perspectives of Benvolio and Rosaline) and again, the narration was superb. I’d listen to anything Kyle McCarley does at this point.
I also really love Grover Gardner, who has narrated all of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels, for very similar reasons. Both he and Kyle McCarley are good at giving every character a distinctive voice (and an accent that makes sense)–and they treat the voices of female characters with exactly the same regard as male characters, rather than getting cutesy with higher pitched or sex-kittenish tones or grating falsettos. It’s something I’ve really come to appreciate.