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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Aural Imaginings: Fantasy Fiction on Audio

Posted by Amanda E.
For the past 8 years, I've been working at EPL and living in rural Highland.  If it weren't for audiobooks, those 45-minute drives would have been completely unbearable.  If I’m listening to an engaging story, my commute just seems to fly by.  I pretty frequently sit in my driveway for a few extra minutes just to get to a good stopping point.

Several EPL staff members are writing about audiobooks this month, and we’re all saying the same thing:  the narrator will make or break the entire experience.  I tend to prefer British narrators because most British narrators are classically trained theatre actors.  Also, accents are great. 

My genre of choice is fantasy fiction.  Luckily for me fantasy fiction and British narrators just seem to go hand in hand.  I have no explanation for it.  I think it’s just magic.
The Gentleman Bastard Series: The Lies of Locke Lamora, Red Seas Under Red Skies, The Republic of Thieves - (Overdrive/audio CD) – Written by Scott Lynch – Narrated by Michael Page

Page embodies the excellence of the British theatre actor as narrator.  I have to be honest here-- I’m only halfway through the second book in this series.  Still, the first book was so great that I have to put the whole series on this recommendation list.  On the surface, this story seems a bit clichéd.  Orphan becomes thief; he’s obviously the best thief; bad things happen; revenge.   But there are so many other factors to this story that make it intriguing and tantalizing and amazing.  The world building for one.  Throughout the story, Lynch drops hints of this ancient civilization that used to exist.  So far not very much information has been revealed, and this thread of the story has only played a part in the setting.  (Many of the buildings in the city are made out of unknown materials from this older civilization) I don’t know if this civilization will be a greater part of the story later in the series, but the mystery of it has me hooked. 

The Harry Potter Series: Sorcerer's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hallows  - (Multiple Formats) – Written by J. K. Rowling – Narrated by Stephen Fry
If you’re familiar with Stephen Fry, you’ll immediately understand what a great match this is.  If you’re not familiar, you should make every effort to become so.  His comedic and dramatic chops are used to every advantage throughout this whole series.  I know several non-readers who devoured this audiobook series.  Even if you have read the books multiple times, I recommend giving the audio series a try.  It will bring a fresh new experience to an old friend.

Dreams Underfoot (The Newford Series) - (MP3-CD) – Written by Charles De Lint – Narrated by Kate Reading.  
De Lint is one of the innovators of the Urban Fantasy genre, along with Emma Bull and Terri Windling.  Urban Fantasy of the early 90’s was a bit different than it is defined today.  It was about daily life and the magic that we miss if we aren’t paying attention.  That is definitely the theme of this collection.  De Lint is an optimistic and sometimes saccharine writer.  If I were to pick De Lint up now, I’m not sure that I would be as willing to buy in to his stories as my 16 year old self was.  But I did buy in and now I have a lifelong love for his writing that is grounded both in talent and nostalgia.   (Kate Reading is the only non British narrator on this list.  She is theatre trained and she sometimes fakes a pretty decent British accent)

The Beka Cooper Series: Terrier, Bloodhound, Mastiff- (Overdrive/Audio CD) -Written by Tamora Pierce – Narrated by Susan Denaker
This is technically a YA fantasy series.  Don’t let that turn you off.  Pierce has been writing fantasy that features strong female leads since long before Twilight.  The point of these stories is definitely the adventure not the romance (there’s a little romance).  Beka is a slum kid who grows up to become a provost’s guard (a police officer).  She’s shy and feisty and fiercely determined.  I want to be her.  These books are kind of fantasy-lite.  There’s a magical cat, and Beka can communicate with ghosts, but those are very minor aspects of narrative.  Susan Denaker, as the narrator, perfectly captures the complex character that is Beka Cooper.

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