A great audiobook narrator takes already excellent stories to the next level, breathing life into characters and transporting listeners to faraway realms and across the expanses of the galaxy.
Of course, everyone has a different preference for what makes an incomparable storyteller; some love narrators that give each character a distinct voice, some prefer a more straightforward approach. Many swoon for British accents, others can't stand them. Below are just some of my favorite audiobook narrators, but ultimately these selections just come down to personal taste. Listen to the audio samples below to get a sense of each narrator's distinct style, then sign up for Audible's 30-day trial and listen to two books for free. And if we missed one of your faves, let us know in the comments!
Dale's most renowned audiobook work is his Grammy Award-winning narration of the Harry Potter series, but he’s also brought his incredible talent to countless other sci-fi and fantasy audiobooks, including Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. In addition to his audiobook work, Dale is an accomplished singer and actor of both stage and screen.
RELATED: 16 of the Best Audiobooks for Sci-Fi and Fantasy Fans
The Night Circus audiobook sample:
Stephen Fry is listed below Jim Dale on this list, but that in no way means I esteem Fry below Dale! Comedian and actor Stephen Fry narrated the U.K. edition of the Harry Potter audiobooks; but I personally love both narrators' performances. Fry’s other notable sci-fi and fantasy audiobooks include his excellent reading of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy audiobook sample:
Tim Gerard Reynolds
A winner of multiple AudioFile Earphones Awards, Tim Gerard Reynolds brings a gravitas and humanity to all his narration. Most recently, I fell for his reading of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy. (And, if you’re interested in a non sci-fi and fantasy title, I also highly recommend Reynolds' work on the audiobook of Tana French’s Irish detective novel The Faithful Place.) For high fantasy, check out Reynolds' narration of Michael Sullivan's The Riyria Revelations.
Red Rising Audiobook sample:
Audie Award-winner Robin Miles began her performance career as a writer and dancer, and was drawn to narration through her work for America Foundation for the Blind. Now, she's a decorated narrator and audiobook director. A few of her most notable sci-fi and fantasy audiobook performances include Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin’s multiple Hugo Award-winning Broken Earth Trilogy, and The Shadow Series by Lila Bowen.
The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, Book One) Audiobook Sample:
Winner of the 2006 Audie Award for Best Female Narrator for her work on A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Davina Porter’s elegant readings of Diana Gabaladon’s Outlander series have been widely celebrated and deserve a spot on your preferred device. She’s also narrated numerous historical novels as well as mysteries.
Outlander Audiobook sample:
Tim Curry could read an instruction manual and I'd find it compelling. He does an excellent job of bringing stories to life, and the audiobooks he narrates are very well paired with his distinctive growl. Curry displays his considerable narrative abilities on Garth Nix’s Sabriel series, as well as Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. His deep timbre is also well suited to his performance on the audiobook of Stephen King’s Nightmare and Dreamscapes, as well as Bram Stoker's Dracula, which he co-narrates with Alan Cumming.
The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book One) Audiobook Sample:
Turpin's most well-known audiobook performance might be her reading of Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer and National Book Award-winning alternate history novel The Underground Railroad. Sci-fi and fantasy fans should also check out her work on Borne, a post-apocalyptic story from Jeff Vandermeer, author of the acclaimed Southern Reach Trilogy.
Borne Audiobook Sample:
Actor and geek multi-hyphenate Wheaton narrated the audiobook of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One (in which he himself is also a character) to great acclaim. If you liked Wheaton's performance of Cline's breakout novel, you should also check out his other narrations. Wheaton has narrated the audiobooks of much of John Scalzi's work, and many of Scalzi's stories share Ready Player One's self-referential nature and pop culture literacy. Wheaton also narrated Ernest Cline's Armada; co-narrated the terrific steampunk zombie novel Boneshaker along with Kate Reading; and co-narrated Joe Hill's latest short story anthology Strange Weather.
Redshirts by John Scalzi audiobook sample:
I fell for Julia Whelan and her silky voice while listening to her reading of Michael Crichton's Congo (I am a sucker for Michael Crichton's science fiction), but she's also lent her talents to a number of great urban fantasy books. Check out her work on Lindsey Fairleigh's Kat Dubois Chronicles.
Ink Witch (Kat Dubois Chronicles, Book 1) Audiobook Sample:
Featured photo: Siddharth Bhogra / Unsplash