The popularity of fantasy audiobooks is on the rise.
The audiobook market itself has been slowly gaining traction in recent years, with sales figures in 2017 seeing a bump of up to 20% on some platforms. The genre of fantasy fiction has also seen a massive leap in interest since the start of the new decade, with the number of books and audiobooks sold doubling over the 10 years prior.
Together audiobooks and fantasy fiction make for a potent combination. Audiobooks can make massive tombs of fantasy stories much more accessible to the wider market, while the freedom of the genre itself makes for an enticing entertainment opportunity that many are now finding hard to resist.
But this then begs the question, with so many options out there, which are the best fantasy books available to listen to? Some fiction translates better to the spoken word than others, while some narrators really bring worlds to life and make the listening experience an actual experience.
1. Lord of the Rings Narrated by Robert Inglis
We all know Tolkien pretty much defined the modern fantasy genre. We also all know that he did so over 80 years. In that time, the way to read has changed and the fiction we care to absorb it has also changed. Tolkien’s world is incredible. It’s earth-shattering and generation-defining, but it can also be a slog at times and isn’t necessarily an easy-to-access fantasy series.
That being said, anyone that enjoys the fantasy genre -- be they newcomers or veterans -- will have a yearning to enter the world of Middle-Earth. The audiobook, narrated by Robert Inglis, is one of the best ways of doing this. Inglis’ telling encapsulates everything that is brilliant about Tolkien’s world. His voice brings life where there should be life, eeriness where there should be suspense and gripping drama when Tolkien's beloved characters are in peril. It’s the perfect retelling of the trilogy, done so in a way that can help those who might not be willing to put the time and and effort required into navigating the books.
2. The First Law Narrated by Steven Pacey
Many would argue that Joe Abercrombie's The First Law series is perhaps the best fantasy audiobook series you can listen to. Why?
It’s a dark fantasy that explores both elements of high and low fantasy. It’s very accessible and great for newcomers to the genre, yet has plenty of depth and worldbuilding to satisfy even the most well-versed of fantasy fans. And, its story is rich and full of diverse characters that ensure there is always somebody you want to learn more about.
However, the real reason people love this audiobook series is the way Steven Pacey delivers each and every line. His voice acting is spot on, his accents bring the characters to life in a way many other narrators simply can’t, and his dramatisation of scenes is just textbook.
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3. Stormlight Archives Narrated by Michael Kramer
The Stormlight Archives, written by Brandon Sanderson, feature an epic fantasy world of staggering depth. From the word go you are plunged into a high-fantasy story of diverse magic, creatures, mythology and other concepts. Those looking for the best fantasy audiobooks will find something wonderfully immersive and creative in Sanderson’s work. Although, be warned, the detail here goes down to the minute and is offered up quickly and relentlessly. You need to pay attention at all times, this isn’t a fantasy audiobook that you can really listen to while doing other things.
What may really attract listeners to the Stormlight Archives though, is their sheer length. If you have a lot of spare time to kill, perhaps you are travelling a lot or your commute is a killer, these audiobooks are some 50 hours long per novel. That’s a lot of story to sink your teeth into!
4. Neverwhere Narrated by a Full Cast Ensemble
Neverwhere is very different from the other fantasy audiobooks on this list, for a few reasons. First, it’s actually the novelised adaptation of a BBC series written by Neil Gaiman. It’s also an urban fantasy, set in London during the 90s, intertwining magic and mythic elements with modern Britain in an exciting tale that toes the line between high and low fantasy.
What really makes this worth a listen, though, is the full cast ensemble. Featuring the voice of the legendary Christopher Lee, as well as performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer and more, this well-told and professionally voiced tale is one of the best fantasy audiobooks you’ll find, purely because it's such a dramatic and dynamic experience. Having everyone read the lines of their own characters really makes for a different kind of audiobook, and one everyone should try.
If Neverwhere isn’t your thing though, you can try other full cast ensemble audiobooks, such as His Dark Materials, American Gods or Ender's Game.
5. The Gentlemen Bastards Narrated by Michael Page
The Gentlemen Bastards offers fantasy lovers and fans of fiction alike something completely unique when it comes to the genre. This series is rough around the edges, very much focused on an adult market with some particularly grim scenes and heavy-handed use of expletives. But, that fits the story brilliantly. The book revolves around fantasy-themed heists and is set in a world modelled on a sort of dark-ages Venice. Like I said, it’s very different to your typical fantasy book.
What makes The Gentle Bastards series some of the best fantasy audiobooks though, is the fantastic work of Michael Page. As you’ll have noticed on this list, what really makes a good audiobook is the person behind the spoken word and Page’s interpretation of Scott Lynch’s series is without flaw. Like Pacey and The First Law, his mannerisms, focus on bringing dialogue to life, and attention to detail when it comes to characters really sets this one up as a must-listen.
Listened to all these fantasy audiobooks and interested in discovering something a little different? Why not try The Azrian Anthology, a free fantasy ebook collection available right here!