When I listen to a fantastic audiobook with a new-to-me-narrator, the first thing I do after I finish reading is look up the rest of that narrator’s work. Having a list of go-to narrators is a great way to discover new audiobooks, and I’m always looking for new narrators to add to mine.
Often, I’m rewarded with an impressive catalogue of audiobooks that I know will have A+ narration. Robin Miles was one of the first narrators I knew by name, and I’ve hardly scratched the surface of her catalogue. There are so many amazing Bahni Turpin audiobooks out there that I wrote a listening pathway to help readers navigate them. Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of audiobooks my favorite narrators have recorded is a good problem to have.
But every now and then, I’ll look up a narrator and discover, to my disappointment, that they haven’t recorded many books at all. There are plenty of perfectly good reasons for this. Lots of narrators have other jobs as actors and performers. Some may take on a book project as a one-time thing. Others might just be getting started and haven’t had the time to build up their catalogues. I don’t expect my favorite authors to produce a new book every year, and I don’t expect my favorite narrators to record five new titles every year (although some of them record way more than that). But that doesn’t mean I can’t be impatient.
Here are six narrators, who, as of this writing, have each recorded less than five audiobooks. They are all so good that as soon as I finished listening to one book they narrated, I wanted more immediately. I can only hope they’re all planning on recording lots more, because their vocal talents are a gift to the world.
Audiobooks narrated: 2
Kiersey Clemons is an American film and TV actor. From the first word out of her mouth in this fantastic YA novel, I knew I was in the hands of a talented narrator. Seventeen-year old Kiera is one of the only black kids in a mostly-white school in suburban Washington. By day she studies, tutors, and hangs out with her boyfriend. But unbeknownst to everyone in her life, she’s also the developer behind a multiplayer online role-playing game, SLAY, where black people from all over the world come together to duel each other and celebrate black excellence. When SLAY suddenly hits the news, Kiera’s secret identity is suddenly all anyone is talking about. Overwhelmed, she struggles to figure out how to save the game and stay true to herself.
It’s hard to get a teenage voice just right, but Clemons does it so perfectly I can still hear Kiera’s voice in my head, months later. She captures all of Kiera’s anger and passion, as well as the black joy that infuses SLAY. Her voice carries so many shifting emotions—fear, pride, confusion, love, outrage—in a way that feels so authentic that listening is like being transported back to being a teenager.
Audiobooks narrated: 4
The book that hooked me: The Shadowshaper Cypher by Daniel Jose Older
Anika Noni Rose is an American actor known for her Tony-winning performance in the Broadway musical Caroline, or Change. She also voiced Disney’s first African American princess, Tiana, in The Princess and the Frog in 2009. With so many stage, film and TV parts under her belt, is it too much to hope that she take a break from acting to record a few more audiobooks?
In The Shadowshaper Cypher (three books), she brings Brooklyn teenager Sierra Santiago to life. Sierra is planning on a summer of painting and hanging with her friends, but then weird things start happening, and she finds herself caught up with a supernatural order that’s long been a part of her family’s history. Rose’s warm voice wraps listeners up in the magic (and ordinary horror) of Sierra’s world. Every one of her accents and character voices is perfect. Her narration flows along like a river, carrying the plot forward, deepening every emotion. It’s an absolute masterpiece.
Audiobooks narrated: 1
The book that hooked me: The Deep by Rivers Solomon
Daveed Diggs is a rapper, actor, singer, songwriter, etc., etc. He was in the original cast of Hamilton. He’s the vocalist for the hip hop group clipping. and he’s on TV. Like many of the other narrators on this list, I am sure he is very busy. But is it too much to ask that he set aside a few days a year to record another book or two? Because this is a man who knows how to use his voice. The Deep is only four hours long, and while that may be the perfect length for the story, it is not enough hours of Diggs’s beautiful, musical, emotional narration.
The novella, which is based on a song written by Diggs’s band clipping., is about a society of underwater dwellers who are the descents of pregnant African women thrown overboard from slave ships during the Middle Passage. It’s a painful, beautifully crafted story about memory and generational trauma. Diggs’s soft and evocative voice is perfect for it. You can tell he’s a musician, because his narration has a lyrical quality that is both exactly in tune with the characters and makes you never want to stop listening.
Audiobooks narrated: 2
The book that hooked me: Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Shvorne Marks is a British TV and stage actor who also happens to be absurdly good at narrating audiobooks. In Queenie, she embodies the 25-year old Jamaican British protagonist, a woman struggling to make sense of her life and the sexist, racist world she inhabits. Marks is so good that listening to this book felt a little like watching it. I could see Queenie, her friends, her coworkers, the various men in her life, and her family with movie-like clarity. Marks’s accents are flawless and her pacing is perfect. From Queenie’s group texts with her friends to her fraught conversations with her family, Marks captures the compelling voice of one Millennial Black woman with a lot of humor and heart. I can only hope she decides to bring many more as yet-unknown characters to life in the same way.
Audiobooks narrated: 3
The book that hooked me: I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver
MW Cartozian Wilson is a trans writer who recorded 3 audiobooks in 2019, which I can only hope means he’s just getting started. His performance in I Wish You All the Best is full of tenderness, anxiety, joy, and desperation—in short, all the complicated emotions that main character Ben experiences. When Ben comes out as nonbinary, their parents kick them out of the house, forcing them to move in with their older sister, who they haven’t spoken to in years. Living in a new town, Ben finds new family, new friends, and new community. This is a painfully true coming-of-age/coming-into-yourself novel about one nonbinary teenager’s experience. Wilson captures all the weight of what Ben is going through, layering exhaustion, exhilaration and relief into his voice. It’s a beautiful performance of a book that will mean a lot to many trans and nonbinary readers.
Audiobooks narrated: 3
The book that hooked me: Circe by Madeline Miller
Perdita Weeks is a Welsh actor who will forever be the voice of the goddess Circe in my head. Circe, Madeline Miller’s gorgeous feminist reimagining of the life of a Greek goddess, was the first audiobook she recorded. But you’d never guess that after listening to it, because her narration is nothing short of masterful. It’s hard to describe the accent she uses—it’s unplaceable and otherworldly, which is fitting, since the book is narrated by a goddess. Weeks’s expressive voice captures all the beautiful nuances of Miller’s prose and Circe’s complicated inner life. Her narration is by turns quiet, sad, fiercely determined, angry, sly, thoughtful. This already brilliant work of fiction is made even more so by the care Weeks takes with Circe’s character. I love this audiobook so much, in fact, that I’ve already listened to it twice.
Looking for great narrators who have recorded tons of books? Check out this list of 21 prolific audiobook narrators.