I had always enjoyed audio-books but until recent years had not really listened to that many, always preferring print over audio. But when life left me with less and less reading time, then took me off the train and put me behind the wheel of a car, I found that I had on average two hours every single day that the car radio and music albums couldn’t satisfactorily fill. And so I turned to audio-books and it has now become a source of entertainment that I simply cannot now live without. The earliest audio-book I can remember listening to was Watership Down by Roy Dotrice (who currently reads George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books) and I found it a wonderful – but abridged – reading (on cassette) of Richard Adams’ classic tale and I have since managed to get hold of it in mp3 format and it will always remain very special to me. I then purchased the BBC radio adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which are both very good, but I had still not yet listened to a full, unabridged reading of a novel. But this was soon remedied and a quick glance at my Audible library shows I now have more than 130 titles and the vast majority of them are excellent. The audio-book that initially converted me fully to the charms of the format was Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, read by the wonderful Simon Prebble. It was a book I liked but was finding it a bit of a struggle to read at a healthy pace as it is as a bit of a daunting read to be honest. But thanks to Prebble’s amazing array of voice talent I was suddenly having this book brought to life and read to me for over two hours a day and I loved every minute of it. I didn’t just listen to it on my commute, I listened to it at lunch, for a sly five minutes here and there during the work day, while I was washing up and last thing at night (of course using the 15 minutes timer so I wouldn’t be lost in the morning). And from this time I have since listened to some of the very best audio-books in the fantasy and fiction genres and this is what this page is all about. I’ve learnt a few important things along the way, like how epic/high fantasy can be problematic in audio-format due to the amount of invented names and places (the Wheel of Time, Sword of Truth and Shannara books being three good examples) and that urban fantasy is often a much better bet. Unabridged is always best, the only exception being The Bartimaeus Trilogy, which was abridged but did not appear to lose anything. So here are the narrators that have impressed me the most over the years. They have of course been gifted wonderful source material by some very talented authors but still, what they have done with it is truly memorable.
I would love for visitors to make more narrator recommendations do please use the comment box at the bottom of this page to do so.
Frank Muller, who sadly died in 2008, was a classically trained actor whose background included many years on the New York stage at the Riverside Shakespeare Company, the Roundabout Theater, and the New York Shakespeare Festival. His numerous awards include the Audio Publishers Association’s 1996 Consumer’s Choice Audie Award for Best Unabridged Fiction, the 1997 Best Unabridged Fiction Audie Award, and nine AudioFile Magazine Earphones Awards. His finest moment came in 1999 when he was awarded the top achievement in audiobook narration, the AudioFile Lifetime Achievement Award.
I first heard Frank Muller read on the second book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, The Drawing of the Three. I was stunned, he had managed to recreate the voice of Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger, from within my own mind and he had managed to take Stephen King’s magnum opus and make it even better to listen to than it was to read, which is no mean achievement. King and Muller are perfect together (I believe Muller was always King’s narrator of choice) and their collaborations together are must-listens for all fantasy audio-book lovers.
Recommended audio-books read by Frank Muller:
Dark Tower II: Drawing of the Three (Stephen King)
Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands (Stephen King)
Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass (Stephen King)
The Green Mile (Stephen King)
The Talisman (Stephen King and Peter Straub)
John Chancer is an award-winning narrator of many audio books who has a long association with the theatre on both sides of the Atlantic. He has also been heard on many radio dramas, documentaries and cartoons in Britain and US.
I don’t know if John Chancer is British or American – and this is as big a complement as I can give. I first came across Chancer when listening to the excellent Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, a classic of the dystopian genre that he reads magnificently. And so I had absolutely no hesitation in then downloading the Haruki Murakami book Norwegian Wood when I saw he was the man doing the reading. Chancer is very fine narrator indeed.
Recommended audio-books read by John Chancer:
Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood)
Norwegian Wood (Haruki Murakami)
The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) – non fantasy but I would still like to recommend
George Guidall has recorded over 900 (yes, nine hundred – I’m not sure I’ve read that many books) unabridged novels, bringing a consistent artistry to his readings and delighting listeners for over 20 years. His recordings have garnered uniformly excellent reviews from Audiofile, Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and a variety of national newspapers and magazines. Guidall received an Audie Award for best unabridged narration of a novel for his recording of John Irving’s A Widow For One Year, an honor he captured again for his rendition of Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True. He holds the record for the most “Earphone” awards (over 70) given by the magazine to any narrator for excellence in narration.
As with Frank Muller, I first encountered George Guidall thanks to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. He reads the first book, The Gunslinger and then returned to complete the series by reading books six and seven. But it was on Neil Gaiman’s American Gods that I found him at his very best, bringing the award-winning story to life with brilliant portrayals of the large cast. I would not hesitate to listen to any book read by Guidall.
Recommended audio-books read by George Guidall:
Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (Stephen King)
Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah (Stephen King)
Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (Stephen King)
American Gods (Neil Gaiman)
As a child Sean Barrett appeared on BBC children’s television and in films such as Bang! You’re Dead, War and Peace, The Genie and Four Sided Triangle. Then, in the early 1980s, Barrett went on to voice acting and subsequently performed many voices including Tik-Tok in Return to Oz, a Goblin in Labyrinth and UrSu the Dying Master and UrZah the Ritual-Guardian in The Dark Crystal.
Rumour also has it that Barrett appears on the cover of a single by The Smiths… I think that Sean Barrett is probably my favourite voice actor/narrator because he creates such a wonderful atmosphere, has such a powerful, yet soothing voice and brings across the humour of any book extremely well. By way of a compliment I will happily admit that I would probably not have finished Paul Hoffman’s Left Hand of God trilogy but for the excellence of his readings. Indeed, I was so impressed by Barrett that I went looking for other works read by him and I was led to Kafka on the Shore, which is now by far my favourite Murakami novel and one that Barrett reads brilliantly. I was also introduced to Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole crime thrillers through Barrett, which he reads with such relish. If you see Sean Barrett’s name alongside a book you like, do not think twice and begin listening immediately.
Recommended audio-books read by Sean Barrett:
The Snowman (Jo Nesbo)
The Left Hand of God (Paul Hoffman)
The Last Four Things (Paul Hoffman)
The Beating of His Wings (Paul Hoffman)
Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami)
Roy Dotrice is an award-winning actor who has earned two places within the Guinness Book of Records. The first being for the greatest number of solo theatre performances (1,782), and the second for having recorded the highest number of character voices by a single actor in the first book in the series (A Game of Thrones, in which he voices a total of 224 characters).
I first encountered Roy Dotrice in the 1980s when my sister received the audiobook edition of Watership Down as a present. Before long ownership had passed to me by virtue of borrowing it and never giving it back. I have listened to Dotrice tell the stirring tale of Hazel, Bigwig, Fiver and company at least once a year for the past three decades. He managed to bring as much life and individuality to the characters that it was like listening to a full cast dramatisation. When I learned that Dotrice would be reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series I was delighted, and the verve and skill with which he delivers these large books is mightily impressive considering he has recently passed his ninetieth birthday. One of my favourite narrators.
Recommended audio-books by Roy Dotrice:
Watership Down (Richard Adams)
A Game of Thrones (George R. R. Martin)
A Clash of Kings (George R. R. Martin)
A Storm of Swords (George R. R. Martin)
A Feast of Crows (George R. R. Martin)
A Dance With Dragons (George R. R. Martin)
To all of her performances, Karen Archer brings a seamless fluidity and humanity combined with precision and attention to detail. These qualities have made her a familiar voice in the many documentaries she has recorded for National Geographic and Discovery Channel. Karen has made numerous broadcasts for BBC Radio, twice being a member of BBC Radio Drama Company. Her work in the theatre includes classics such as Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts and contemporary roles such as Annie Wilkes in an adaptation of Steven King’s novel Misery. Her extensive television work has included Assistant Chief Constable Anne Stewart in the police drama series The Chief and Queen Elizabeth I in David Starkey’s acclaimed historical series, Elizabeth. Karen has read a biography of Queen Elizabeth I for Naxos Audio Books. For Craftsman Audio Books she has recorded the complete Snow-Walker trilogy by Catherine Fisher and A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin.
The Earthsea books are amongst my very favourites. They are beautifully written, imbued with such a sense of calm and thoughtfulness that reading them can instil a feeling not unlike meditation. Karen Archer reads them perfectly, matching precisely Le Guin’s masterful prose. A must listen for all fantasy fans.
Recommended audio-books read by Karen Archer:
A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula Le Guin)
The Tombs of Atuan (Ursula Le Guin)
Simon Vance caught the acting bug while attending the Brighton School of Music and Drama on Saturday mornings. He was given a reel-to-reel tape recorder and started recording funny voices and silly noises. In the 1970’s he began a broadcasting career at BBC Radio Brighton. In the 1980’s he became a newsreader and presenter for BBC Radio 4 where he discovered a knack for narrating audiobooks when working for the Talking Book Service of the Royal National Institute for the Blind. In the 1990’s he began doing audiobooks commercially for the first time and has since has received 7 Audie nominations and received 27 Earphone awards.
My first encounter with Simon Vance came when I began listening to his reading of Tigana, one of my favourite books of all time, which he delivers perfectly, doing the book complete justice. And it is for the reading of Tigana that Simon Vance appears on this page and I look forward to listening to him read the story to me once again in the not to distant future.
Recommended audio-books read by Simon Vance:
Tigana (Guy Gavriel Kay)
The Fionavar Tapestry (Guy Gavriel Kay)
River of Stars (Guy Gavriel Kay)
Weaveworld (Clive Barker)
Bring Up the Bodies (Hilary Mantel) – non fantasy
Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
Tom Stechschulte is a prolific audiobook reader, having read, amongst others: Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and The Road, James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island.
I now associate Tom Stechschulte with the very best dystopian fiction, namely The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Swan Song by Robert McCammon. His reading voice is the very epitome of sonorous, the voice he uses for the Man from The Road and Joshua from Swan Song being absolutely perfect. I could – and will – listen to him narrate The Road every year, it is a perfect book read beautifully.
Recommended audio-books read by Tom Stechschulte:
Swan Song (Robert McCammon)
The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
Steven Pacey is a versatile actor and narrator who balances audiobook work with a busy theatre career. He is often recognized for his skill with characters and the scope of his talents in audiobooks for both adults and children. He is brilliant at bringing out the unusual British blend of suspense and humour in audiobooks for older children. His narration of Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris won an Earphones Award.
Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy is brilliant fantasy but also very, very funny, especially when read by Steven Pacey. His portrayal of the irascible djinni is a joy to listen to and he capture the sardonic wit to perfection. And a sign of his versatility is how comfortably he then turns to something far darker in John Lindqvist’s Let the Right One in, a modern take on the vampire novel set in a bleak Scandinavian setting. His reading of Gentlemen & Players is on my must-listen-to-next list.
Recommended audio-books read by Steven Pacey:
The Bartimaeus Trilogy (The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye and Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud)
Let the Right One in (John Lindqvist)
British born performer Simon Prebble is a stage, film and television actor who has played everything from Soaps to Shakespeare. As a narrator of some 350 audio book titles he has received critical acclaim from both fans and peers. He is one of Audiofile’s ‘Golden Voices’ and Voices of the Century’, and has received over 24 ‘Earphone’ awards, 5 ‘Listen Up’ awards and has been nominated 11 times for the ‘Audies’, the industry’s own ‘Oscars’. In 2005 he was named ‘Narrator of the Year’ by Publisher’s Weekly.
Simon Prebble may well be the individual I have most to thank in regards to my conversion to the love of audiobooks. I was reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and while finding it a very good book I was having difficulty making much progress, often reading little more than 10 pages a night. It was a dense read (in a good way). So I downloaded the audiobook and from that moment on I listened to it at a rate of about 4 hours a day (about 120 pages) and so was finished in less than a week. And what a story it was, and what a feat of narration, to bring a large cast to life using brilliantly sounding, and authentic, voices. I was sorry when the reading finished and have since listened to it twice again. Prebble is also excellent at narrating the Sherlock Holmes stories. His Narrator of the Year award was well deserved.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)
The Pickwick Papers (Charles Dickens)
Sam West is a British narrator, actor and director. He has recorded over fifty audiobooks, among which are the Shakespeare plays All’s Well That Ends Well, Coriolanus, Henry V, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Richard II and Macbeth, the Wind on Fire trilogy by William Nicholson, the Arthur trilogy by Kevin Crossley-Holland, five books by Sebastian Faulks and two by George Orwell.
It was on John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids that I first heard Samuel West narrate and I was very impressed by how he managed to perfectly encapsulate the era in which the book was set. He told that story with such skill and aplomb that when I saw that he has also narrated George Orwell’s 1984, a book I had long wanted to read, I didn’t hesitate to download it straight away. And the book itself, and the reading, are just as magnificent as I hoped they would be. West read dystopia very, very well but judging from the list of the works he has also done he appears to be as comfortable and as skilled across all genres. If there was a book that appealed to me and it was available as an audiobook read by West I would not hesitate for one second to download it immediately.
1984 (George Orwell)
The Day of the Triffids (John Wyndham)
Stephen Fry is a comedian, actor, writer, presenter, and activist who needs little introduction, especially here in his native UK where he has achieved national treasure status. To me he is best known for his comedy work with Hugh Laurie, his long-running television series QI and for his roles in the ever-popular Blackadder comedy series.
His is also a narrator of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and boy does he do it justice. Not all actors have a varied array of voices and accents. In fact, in my experience, famous actors do not often make the best narrators due to their lack of vocal diversity but Stephen Fry does not fall into this category. His reading of the seven phenomenally successful novels is perfect, from his Harry, Ron and Hermoine through to his – in my opinion – fond homages to the great British actors from the film adaptations, namely Robbie Coltraine, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, this is a collection of audiobooks to, well, treasure.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (J. K. Rowling)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J. K. Rowling)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J. K. Rowling)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J. K. Rowling)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J. K. Rowling)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J. K. Rowling)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J. K. Rowling)
And so that brings to an end a list of the best narrators I have so far encountered. The criteria for inclusion is a minimum of two excellent readings and this has naturally led to the exclusion of several other fantastic narrators. So I have listed some other great fantasy audio-books and their readers below:
Robin Hobb’s Soldier Son Trilogy, read by Jonathan Barlow
The BBC adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
Stephen King’s The Stand, read by Grover Gardner and Under the Dome, read by Raul Esparza
Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer, read by Jonathan Davis
Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain, read by Ron Perlman
Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, read by Allan Corduner
The Graveyard Book, read by the book’s author Neil Gaiman
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, read by the author and full cast
J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, read by Martin Shaw
Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, read by Sir Ian McKellan
Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, read by William Hope and Lauren Lefkow
Raymond E. Feist’s Magician, read by Peter Joyce
I am always on the look out for more audio-book recommendations so please let me know what else I should be listening to by leaving a comment below. I hope you have found this list useful.