Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
We’ve written about Stephen Fry’s reading of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series before on our list the best audiobooks for children, but even there we had to note that his reading of the books is equally compelling for adults. Stephen Fry takes a simple and evident pleasure in his reading of the books that is so infectious that, even for those of us who wouldn’t describe ourselves as Harry Potter fans, it can be difficult not to get caught up.
Moreover, Fry has an excellent head for characters, and manages to keep the broad sweep of the wizarding world’s inhabitants consistent throughout his reading. It might seem like a small thing, but the degree of consistency is one of the things that makes his reading of the series such a highlight.
If you fall in love with Stephen Fry's style, he also recently lent his voice to a complete audio collection of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes' stories.
By contrast, there will always be those die hard fans who prefer Jim Dale's reading of Harry Potter. Fortunately, there's enough room in our world for both.
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The The Lord of the Rings
J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings can often prove a bit of a slog, particularly if you’ve already read through them a couple of times (or at least seen the movies enough to be familiar with the general thrust of events). Much as we might fight it, there is a tendency to skim those endless lists of names after a certain stage, and that’s a shame, given how much that background adds to the appreciation of the underlying history of Middle Earth.
Rob Ingles’ reading of Tolkien’s epic manages to hold the reader’s interest throughout, as well as lending it an oral-storytelling vibe that works surprisingly well for so long a book. Moreover, Ingles gives the books’ songs a fair shake. For those of us without a musical bone in our bodies, that’s a must when a book has quite so much lyrical content.
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The Lies of Locke Lamora
Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora is a bit of a twist on the typical tale of fantasy adventure in that it follows a structure more typical of a heist movie. As well you might expect, this puts very different demands on its narrator. It can be tricky to Fortunately, Michael Page carries the whole thing well, infusing the whole with a sense of underworld charm that would be all too easy to lose amid the high fantasy trappings and Elderglass structures.
Page’s reading is one of those charming instances in which a narrator brings something entirely unexpected to their performance of a book and adds a layer to the text. He also manages accent well, and his characterisations of Locke and Jean (the pair around whom the plot largely revolves) are excellent.
If you find yourself entirely swallowed up by Page’s voice, then you’ll be pleased to hear that he has also has provided voice for Steven Erikson’s Malazan series.
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If The Lies of Locke Lamora caught your attention, but you'd prefer to stay on the right side of the magical law, you may enjoy Storm Front. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books enjoy a stellar reputation for their careful genre-blending of urban fantasy and mystery novel, but that combination demands an awful lot from a would-be narrator. Fortunately, James Marsters (better known for his role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) breathes life into both the setting and characters, communicating the magico-criminal underworld in tones that do it justice. Given the extent to which the books hinge on Harry Dresden’s jaded outlook, having an actor like Marsters on hand for the reading works wonders.
This is one of those strange cases where, by the time you’ve listened to a few of the audiobooks, it’s very difficult to read Butcher without hearing Marsters’ voice.
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The Bad Beginning
While the world is a worse place for his appearing in fewer films, Tim Curry’s gradual move into voice acting is likely what led us to a world in which we can enjoy his excellent work on Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. For the most part, Curry may have spent the last couple of decades playing villains, but his recording of A Series of Unfortunate Events casts him in the role of sympathetic narrator. For younger readers, Curry’s clear enunciation and accent also work beautifully with the vocabulary of the Lemony Snicket books.
The series is enhanced by the fact that Curry doesn’t lend his voice to its characters. Instead, a full cast is used, as well as some excellent foley work, to bring the proceedings to life more in the style of an old radio play than a typical audiobook. For all that, though, Curry is the gel that holds everything else together, and he is irreplaceable in the role.
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If you grow to love Tim Curry's reading voice (and let's face it, who couldn't?), then you'd do well to check out his reading of Garth Nix's Abhorsen.