Evaluating the best fantasy audiobooks is a COMPLETELY different process than ranking their in-print counterparts because the listening experience is completely different from the reading experience.
For Example: have you ever been listening to an audiobook and suddenly realized you didn’t catch a single word in the last five minutes because you were thinking about something else? You and me both.
Considering that most of us listen to audiobooks while also doing something else like driving, exercising, or (heaven forbid) falling asleep, epic series with hundreds of characters and multiple intertwining plotlines are probably best reserved for their original print format.
Additionally, the impact of the narrator can not be understated. Not only do the voice actor’s intonations and characterizations significantly impact the audio experience (positively or negatively), the actor’s choices for emphasis and inflection can greatly alter the listener’s perception of events and character interactions.
Keeping the above factors in mind, here our list of the Best Fantasy Books for consumption in audio format:
The Name of the Wind
Series: Kingkiller Chronicles
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Narrator: Nick Podehl
Even with only two books published, this series has taken the Fantasy fiction world by storm. Brilliant storytelling takes readers on a ride of emotional highs and lows, all building to eventually sync the two different timelines in which we follow our protagonist, Kvothe.
What we like the most about award-winning narrator Nick Podehl are his clear character differentiations, almost making quotation labels like “said Kvothe” or “stated Devi” completely unnecessary because you already know who is speaking based on the voice Nick is using. Combine Podehl’s talent with Patrick Rothfuss’ powerful prose and the Kingkiller Chronicles becomes essential listening material.
The Way of Kings
Series: Stormlight Archive
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Voice Actor(s): Kate Reading and Michael Kramer
Stormlight Archive combines key aspects from some of the best works of all time into something completely new and utterly amazing. Epic world-building with histories spanning millennia? Check. Superior character depth built through time-spanning narratives? It’s in there. Completely original magic system? Yep, got that too. Did we also mention fight scenes and battles of monumental proportion?
Combining two amazing voice talents in Kate Reading and Michael Kramer takes the Stormlight archive to an even higher level, and having a male and female narrator works perfectly with the series’ diverse POV’s and character interactions.
Series: The Dresden Files
Author: Jim Butcher
Voice Actor(s): James Marsters
Who’s the most unlucky private detective and professional wizard in modern-day Chicago? You guessed it, Harry Dresden. Ever wonder how superheroes make money for groceries? Welcome to Harry’s world, where you have the ability to shoot gouts of flame with the power of your mind….but also have to keep your powers hidden from normal humans. The result? Unimaginable power, but you can’t pay your rent.
Narrator James Marsters captures the tone of Harry Dresden PERFECTLY, with just the right balance of gumshoe savvy, cynicism, and satire.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone*
Series: Harry Potter
Author: J.K. Rowling
Voice Actor(s): Stephen Fry
Here at Best Fantasy Books HQ we don’t spend a lot of time covering Youth or YA Fantasy, but fans of any age will enjoy the pairing of Rowling and Fry. Fry’s comedic ability delivers the feelings of wonder that made the early books great, but also captures the dark tones of the villains brilliantly.
Additionally, for anyone looking to introduce a son, daughter, niece, or nephew to the world of Fantasy, this is a FABULOUS opportunity to have them listen to the audio while simultaneously following along in the book. Helping them learn to read while also creating a lifelong fantasy fan? It may be the perfect crime.
* “Philosopher’s Stone” is the original British name of the book. “Sorcerer’s Stone” is the same book (with changes to spelling and colloquialisms), but narrated by Jim Dale.
The Emperor’s Blades
Series: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne
Author: Brian Staveley
Voice Actor(s): Simon Vance
Unhewn Throne is the unfolding story of an Emperor’s master succession plan in which he separates his three children to each be trained in different skills needed to one day rule the Empire: the daughter to master politics, the youngest son to master war, and the heir-apparent to master the powers of the mind. A seemingly perfect plan…..
When listening, it quickly becomes clear that award-winner Simon Vance has a strong emotional connection with each of the protagonists which he masterfully conveys, helping the listener to truly understand each character’s point of view.
The Blade Itself
Series: The First Law
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Voice Actor(s): Steven Pacey
The best and most accurate description of this series remains as follows: the characters include a narcissistic royal, a sadistic torturer, and a schizophrenic, murderous barbarian….and those are the good guys.
The First Law is incredibly dark while still surprisingly insightful and humorous. Narrator Steven Pacey manages to capture the spirit of each of the three “heroes” above while never seeming like he is over-reaching to do so.
The Lies of Locke Lamora
Series: Gentleman Bastards
Author: Scott Lynch
Voice Actor(s): Michael Page
The Coming of Age tale of Locke Lamora follows a different path than most. While many young heroes (possessing, of course, magical powers or a hidden royal heritage) follow wise mentors and embark on heroic quests to save the world, Locke Lamora instead finds himself adopted by a false priest who trains children to become professional thieves. While Locke may not have hidden powers, he is a natural con-artist and watching his masterful plans unfold is a true pleasure.
Award-winning narrator Michael Page’s portrayal of Locke so convincingly conveys the efficacy of Locke’s smooth-talking it becomes easy to see how his targets never stood a chance.
Bonus Option #8: Only Recommended for People who have Already Read the Series
The Eye of the World
Series: The Wheel of Time
Author: Robert Jordan / Brandon Sanderson
Voice Actor(s): Kate Reading and Michael Kramer
While we would never recommend The Wheel of Time audio format for first-time consumers due to its length and complexity, if you have already read the series the audiobooks are an AMAZING way to re-experience the epic journey of 5 naive youths from Emond’s Field.
What is your Favorite Fantasy Audiobook? Let us know in the Comments below!