I listen to a lot of audio books. I decided to make a list that I wish I had when I started listening to them. So this is for you, person like me a couple years ago. I will update it as I finish more books. Note: Many of these books are good for teens and some tweens, but if I call one dark, it’s dark.
Also, this list doesn’t contain classics (read years ago) so check out the comments section for those recommendations. And please add your own favorites to round out the list.
Favorites for Most – Most sci-fi/fantasy fans will love these
These books are some of the best fantasy out there. The protagonist is brilliant, in part because he works at it, not because he’s some chosen one. I liked the second book even better than the first. The narrator Nick Podehl is fantastic. He has a younger voice (rare in audiobooks) that nails the main character. These books have more amazing quotes in them than any other books I’ve read. Everyone should read these. Note: the third book is not written yet.
Wonderful story, as everyone knows, and great narration. But be warned: Book 4 was originally read by John Lee and the fans rioted. Finally they recorded it again with Roy Dotrice but the new reviews say he did a terrible job. So I have not listened to book 4 by Roy Dotrice. As far as the other books go, Roy Dotrice is amazing, as long as you don’t mind the occasional bad female voice or comical pirate voice. Also, Roy Dotrice makes a little cameo in the HBO show as the pyromancer (and he’s adorable!)
This was my first taste of true high fantasy and it blew my mind. I instantly became a Sanderson fan. Michael Kramer is phenomenal. Kate Reading drove me a little crazy with her strange accent that isn’t really an accent, but it grew on me and when her story line got going, it really got good. It’s super long (bonus!) and all of it is amazing. Book two starts out a bit young adult, but it matures as it goes and does not disappoint.
Favorites for Many – Many sci-fi/fantasy fans love these
After reading The Way of Kings I looked up what else Sanderson had written. I found Mistborn and a couple books at the end of the Wheel of Time series. Well, the Wheel of Time series is 15 books long, so no way in hell will I ever read that. So Mistborn it was! And it was fabulous! It was less polished than The Way of Kings, but it was nice seeing Sanderson’s path in it. Mistborn also has one of the most creative and well thought out universes and systems of magic I have ever heard of. It’s so brilliant. As usual, Michael Kramer is amazing.
These books are freaking clever. Brilliant in many ways. They hit on all the themes I love in my sci-fi/fantasy: War, gray characters, and an innovative magic system. Pete Bradbury is wonderful. After the second book, Bradbury became one of my favorite narrators. I highly recommend these books. — Update: I am re-reading these books. They are even better the second time around. Also, the characters are almost all adults, which is rare in fantasy.
These three books are beautifully written, easy to listen to, and almost entirely PG. That said, there are some real deaths, and it’s main characters are (awesome) adults. I highly recommend these to anyone that doesn’t need some serious dark in their fantasy. Reynolds masterfully narrates these, with perfect voices for the two main characters.
These books are all about the characters, their internal struggles and their relationships to each other. Robin Hobb’s style is unique and engaging, with beautiful insight into how we humans think. Paul Boehmer is amazing. One of the best narrators ever. So much diversity in each voice without sounding exaggerated. Brilliant.
Ready Player One starts out like an 80’s geek encyclopedia, but then the story kicks in and it’s wonderful. It is a very fun read and it’s dystopian future is fabulous. It’s a perfect book to listen to with friends and family (I think tween’s and up.) Note, there is a short but powerful atheist paragraph in the beginning that might offend some families. Wil Wheaton was perfect for the narration.
My friends all told me to skip a bunch of the Discworld books and get to The Night Watch. They gave me this handy little graphic to help me figure out the order. If you are looking for witty humor mixed with some very appealing characters, these are for you. It’s an intelligent, funny read with some great quotes/thoughts that will stick with you. The narrator, Nigel Planer, is freaking stellar. My god he’s so good.
Update: The narrator changes at The Fifth Elephant to Stephen Briggs, who is just as brilliant. I mean blow you away good, just like Planer.
James Marsters was a perfect narrator for this book. But it was just not for me. I am not into crime stories. If you are, you will love it! Lots of carcasses and sexual innuendo. And some not innuendo sex.
This is a great book for anyone that likes magic+children+horror. I am glad I read it for Gaiman’s take on death and the soul. He did an impressive narration. He even did distinct voices and accents.
If you are looking for a mind bending, crazy fun, sci-fi book, this would be a great choice. Wil Wheaton does a great job narrating though he doesn’t make any attempt at female voices, which makes it hard at first since they go by last names in this book (hard to remember who’s a woman.)
Off to be the Wizard – by: – Narrated by:
This is a very clever, charming and funny book. One of the more genuinely funny books on this list. Luke Daniels does a superb job with the comedic timing and the voices are great.
Chronicle of the Unhewn Thrown series – by: - Narrated by:
I am pretty picky when it comes to Asian accents, so this audio book was hard for me to get into. I am glad I stuck with it though. It really is a wonderful set-up, with powerful and unique characters. I look forward to the rest of the series. Other than me not liking a couple of the accents, Simon Vance was a really great narrator.
Raven’s Shadow series – by: – Narrated by:
A very well written and mature story, even though it is a coming of age story (at least in Blood Song.) The magic system is thoughtful, the females are strong, and the main character has depth. I look forward to the rest of the series. Steven Brand is a good narrator.
The Lies of Locke Lamora – by: – Narrated by:
Locke Lamora’s setting is surprisingly unique, and it’s main thief relies more on his wit than his blade, which is refreshing. Michael Page does a fine job narrating.
The Martian – by: – Narrated by:
This book is perfect for anyone in science or engineering since it really geeks out on space survival. It’s an excellent man vs the elements adventure with a really likable main character. R. C. Bray narrates perfectly. He cusses quite well, too.
The Lives of Tao – by: – Narrated by:
A great take on aliens visiting the planet. I would recommend this to anyone that is looking for a charming, kind and fun sci-fi read. Mikael Naramore does a great job narrating. Note: I didn’t like the second one in the series that much, but you might!
Favorites for Some – These are favorites for many hardcore sci-fi fantasy fans, but have elements that might not work for everyone. I try to note why without spoilers.
I shivered just a bit as I came to this one on my list. This series stands apart from all of these books. It is very dark. One of the main characters is a lovable torturer. It changed the way I look at the world forever. It’s also one of my favorite series on this list. All other books will feel sugar coated after these. If this sounds good to you, you must listen to these books. Steven Pacey narrates them beautifully. Perhaps one of the best narrators ever. His women don’t sound like men trying to sound like women, they have their own voices and they are stellar. Stupid pink.
Ok, I couldn’t help myself. I just finished the series. Michael Kramer was stunning again. And I am now a full on fan of Kate Reading. She was amazing. Keep in mind though that this series has some horrible parts. I mean really bad. It has some strange themes (sexist yet feminist at the same time?) It has a million characters. A million PoV characters. But at the end of them all I was crying my eyes out with joy and sadness. Sanderson really nailed the last books.
I do not recommend the Wheel of Time unless you are looking to spend 455 hours listening to a book series. There are some real gems in here, and I hope my kids listen to them when they are in their early teens. But light, it’s exhausting.
There are few protagonists like Jorg. Sure, many claim to “break all the rules” but Jorg takes it to his own eloquent level. These books are extremely clever and very, very dark. Lawrence has a writing style that is elegant and honest. James Clamp doesn’t do too many voices, but his Jorg voice is perfect, so it works out.
A good magic system and great narration puts the Warded Man on this list. As I listened to the book I could picture the wards (and the man) in vivid detail. Moments in it are dark, but in it’s own unique way (some hard for me to read). It’s worth reading the first book to see if it’s your style. Many people love this series. As I said above, Pete Bradbury has a kind of old warrior voice. He doesn’t do a million voices, which is fine, because his base voice is very good.
Another amazing book by Abercrombie. The narration by Pacey is stellar as usual. This book is dark yet hilarious. Shy is one of the most bad-ass female characters I’ve read. The voice of Nicomo Cosca is so good I can’t believe it.
A brilliant and dark story but the narration made me a bit sleepy. John Lee’s voice is lovely but it has a rhythm to it that doesn’t keep me engaged. That said, I’m still really glad I listened to it. The stuff in Perdido Street Station is crazy in a good way. It was quite dark too, and made me hate society.
This book had a great magic system and godly themes like most of Sanderson’s work. It wasn’t my favorite of his work, but the breath concept is worth a listen. James Yaegashi narrates in a very “dude” fashion, which worked for the characters, but some reviewers had a problem with it. I recommend you listen to a sound clip before buying.
I loved the ideas in this book. I think of energy (calories) in different ways after reading it. That said it might not be for everyone. There’s one extremely dark scene. Davis is a wonderful narrator with a perfect voice for the main male character and some of the best Asian accents I’ve heard in an audio book.
This book is romantic and charming. It is also part historical fiction (early NYC). However, it won’t work for everyone, since it reads more like a fiction novel than fantasy (even though it has a healthy dose of fantasy). The narration is brilliant. I thought George Guidall was perfect for the Jewish and Arab voices. His female voices were really good too, which surprised me.
I didn’t mean to buy this book. I realized after I got it that it was a young adult novel. It felt like it as I listened to it too. But then it kept getting better, and at the end I found it profound. I highly recommend it for any young ones, and some of us adults. The narrator is the author, which is nice and all, but it was a bit like having a friend read to you. I am used to a bit more performance. Still, she was good and, well, she wrote the dang book.
These books are worth reading just to learn about the Powder Mages. Guns and magic combined perfectly. The entire magic system is wonderful. Christian Rodska is an amazing narrator. His characters are great, with thought, emotion, and flawless delivery.
This is a different kind of fantasy book. It’s sarcastic, a bit dark and totally refreshing. Based on the reviews I’ve read I think this is a love it or hate it book (I loved it) so you might want to read some reviews first. Also, it is not dark due to terrible murder scenes, but instead due to college style living (sex, drugs/drinking, ennui). That said, they are nerds, so it’s not jock-college style living. Mark Bramhall was a great narrator. Handsome, unobtrusive voice.
That’s it so far. I’ll add more as I read them and please add your own in the comments section (which already has some great ones!) And thank you for introducing me to new books in the comments too (which I add above as I read them.)