laura47 was asking on Facebook for recommendations of awesome audio narrations, and I might have gone a little crazy on her. Most of what I read, I consume in audiobook form, and I have developed some strong likes and dislikes.
I guess generally I would put the audiobook readers I’ve experienced into three categories: The first is truly great audiobook narrators, who bring something to the narrative besides just narration, whose voices become the characters for me.
This category is fairly long. I was going to make a comment about how authors shouldn’t narrate their own books, but then I realized that there are several examples of that in here, and they’re all amazing. (I've heard tales of Zelazny's truly abysmal narrations of the Amber books, however).
Basic format here is author (books I’ve listened to by them). Followed by comments:
- Neil Gaiman (his own The Graveyard Book). I hear lots of people would listen to Gaiman read the phone book. I don't love him quite as much as some people do, but he’s still quite quite good.
- James Marsters (Jim Butcher's Dresden Files — I've only listened to Storm Front and Side Jobs myself). As I have often said, his voice IS Harry Dresden to me.
- Martin Jarvis (various Wodehouse: Carry On Jeeves, Heavy Weather, My Man Jeeves, etc)
- Jonathan Cecil (more Wodehouse: The Inimitable Jeeves, Leave it to Psmith, Something Fresh)
- Kevin Stillwell (Steven Brust's Khaavren Romances). He brought a poignancy I didn't imagine existed to the scene in The Phoenix Guards where Kathana and Uttrik reach the Pepperfields and finally have to duel. Also he makes the worst of Paarfi tolerable. If I have one complaint, it’s that to portray the vast number of disparate voices, he sometimes uses... unexpected accents. So we get the occasional Australian bandit, or Scottish Dragonlords.
- Mary Robinette Kowal (her own Shades of Milk and Honey, Glamour in Glass... I haven't gotten any further in the Glamourist Histories). While Mary is overall excellent, I must dock her some points for her French pronunciation in Glamour in Glass. As a result I still have no idea how any of the French/Belgian names are spelled. Is the family Jane and Vincent stay with the Chastains? The Chassetemps? Who knows!
- Casaundra Freeman (N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms). She is amazing. As Laura told me when we were talking about her, "I want her to narrate all the sex scenes I read. Or at least the ones with gods." Unfortunately, Laura's post came about because there appears to not be a narration of the final volume of the Inheritance trilogy on Audible, which is sad.
- Michael Page (Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards sequence). When Scott appeared on Writing Excuses this season, and they did Lies as the book of the week, he made the joke that Michael Page gets more fan letters than he does. With good reason! When I read GB fanfic, it’s Page’s voice I hear in my head for Locke and Jean and all the rest. I'm also impressed that he manages to return to characters in RoT that he hasn’t voiced since Lies, with perfect consistency.
- Lauren Fortgang (Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy). Mostly, I just love her sexy Darkling voice. I would like her voice, with select Darkling quotes, to lull me to sleep every night. She also does very well with Bardugo’s idiosyncratic pseudo-Russian pronunciations, so I’m pretty sure she must have consulted with her. (She pronounces "Genya" as "Jenya," for example, which is incorrect for Russian transliteration but correct to how Bardugo wants it pronounced, from what I understand). It's funny because I'm reading--not listening to!--Ruin and Rising right now, and I still hear those damn voices. Even minor character’s...Zoya’s haughtiness, David’s flat affect, the Apparat’s wheedling "Sankta Aliiiiina"s.
The second category is serviceable narrators. They get the job done, and don’t annoy me, but I’m not sure they add much to the story.
- Steven Pacey (Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself)
- James Saxon (Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle). I can’t remember anything about him, so he must not have been terrible.
- Jeremy Sinden (Wodehouse’s Full Moon). Same as above.
- Michael Kramer (Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series). Perfectly cromulent, but unmemorable.
- Claudia Alick (Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead).
- Simon Slater (Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall).
- Emily Bauer (Kameron Hurley’s God’s War). I can’t tell the voices of Nyx’s team members apart very well, which, combined with the fact that Hurley tends to have a light hand on tagging conversation, can be trying.
- Stephen Thorne (Simon Schama's A History of Britain). History narrators have a hard task. He does fine.
- Jeffrey Woodman (Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time).
- Bernard Setaro Clark (Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos books). There’s nothing wrong with Clark’s narration, but... I dunno. I had high expectations for the inside of Vlad’s head, and this doesn’t quite do it for me. I feel like Clark just can’t muster up the enthusiasm for this narration that is required to bring Vlad’s dark humor to life. Matt and I will always joke about the fact that Loiosh sounds like Peter Lorre. Occasionally we turn to each other in the middle of Vlad/Loiosh conversation and say, "Hide me, Boss!" That said, I do like how he sets up a divide between Easterners and Dragaerans by the use of highbrow, RP-style British accents for the Dragaerans, versus American accents for Easterners. Kragar sounds aggressively English, and it’s surprisingly perfect.
- MacLeod Andrews (Steven Gould's Jumper). Perfectly fine, and yes, he is the voice of Davey for me, but... I’m just not that excited about it. Also I spent a lot of time wondering if he was Nick Podehl. Speaking of which.
- Nick Podehl (Pat Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle). Again, Podehl is the voice of Kvothe, but I just don’t care that much. He did a nice job with the interminable Felurian sequences in book two; I’m not sure if those are as obviously verse in text as they are in audio, but it was a pretty cool effect. I like his Devi voice. I wish he didn’t decide to change the pronunciation of "Devi" between book 1 and 2, though. Maybe I should promote this guy, because anyone who can bear up until 72+ hours of Rothfuss' (beautiful, but sometimes complex) prose deserves a cookie.
- Jonathan Davis (Fritz Leiber's Swords and Deviltry). I literally remember nothing about this narrator, only the awfulness of the book. (Sorry, classic fantasy fans). Despite the promise that Neil Gaiman is one of the narrators, that is a damn dirty lie—this is part of a series where he collated his favorite books, and while he has a brief introduction, he does not actually narrate.
- Ellen Kushner (her own Swordspoint). This was actually a special audio edition, a dramatization with a cast and some sound effects. That part was pretty neat, and there’s nothing wrong with Kushner’s narration, but I’m just not excited enough about it to put it in the upper category.
The third--thankfully rare on Audible--category is for really terrible narrators. I've only come across a few of these.
- John Wells (Wodehouse's Summer Lightning). Just… ugh. His female voices are painfully high-pitched, and Lord Emsworth sounds like a toothless octogenarian. Do not recommend.
- Various LibriVox readers. LibriVox: our motto is, hey it’s free! I mean. The dramatization of Pride and Prejudice was okay; some readers were better than others (I still have painful memories of the flat Russian-accented Charlotte Lucas, though). Most of the The Three Musketeers readers were just dreadful, though. I kept wondering who this guy "Monjour" around the siege of La Rochelle was, and then realized it was an awful mispronunciation of "Monsieur."