Sara Hildreth is a reader, writer, and educator, as well as the co-host of Novel Pairings—a bookish podcast dedicated to diversifying the canon and putting contemporary literature into conversation with the classics. Find her on Instagram at @fictionmatters!
Fantasy is a genre that avid readers often either know they adore or tend to avoid, but I tend to think a love for fantasy is all about finding the right book in the right format. I’m an intermittent fantasy reader myself. I may go months without the epic escape that fantasy provides, but when my mood tells me it’s time for a fantasy read, absolutely nothing else will do, and I’ll find myself devouring book after book in a series.
I often turn to audiobooks for my fantasy consumption. Something about a good narrator helps me fully immerse myself in a fantasy world and lose myself in the story. Whether you’re a seasoned fantasy reader or novice looking for some encouragement, there are lots of reasons to give fantasy on audio a try.
1. The right narrator brings the world to life.
In addition to spirited adventures and epic journeys, fantasy novels offer readers the very best of world-building. The genre’s best authors are incredibly skilled at crafting entire lands complete with their own customs, rules, languages, and politics. For me, these details are what take a fantasy book from good to great, but sometimes I struggle absorbing the minutiae of complex world-building on the page. Listening on audio has helped me slow down and appreciate the intricacies of magical places like Nevermoor’s Hotel Deucalion (by Jessica Townsend) and Children of Blood and Bone’s Orïsha (by Tomi Adeyemi).
Not only do they allow readers to take in all the delightful details, a great audiobook narrator can add to the novel’s sense of place through their voice and accent work. It is truly remarkable to hear a professional narrator bring to life the regional dialects of an invented world. And while fantasy might not be known as a character-driven genre, the best fantasy stories depict complex heroes and villains who inspire strong feelings in readers. A good audiobook narrator can make these characters leap off the page, making the story’s heroes sound all the more noble and its villains deliciously sinister.
“It is truly remarkable to hear a professional narrator bring to life the regional dialects of an invented world.”
2. You hear the names and places the way the author intended.
One thing I love about experiencing a new world on audio is getting to hear how the author intends the names and places in their world to be pronounced. Stumbling over character names and places in my head can slow me down, and hearing a professional reader pronounce an author’s creations lets readers immerse themselves fully and confidently in the world. Whether the regions and surnames are completely invented by the author like in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones or are based on mythic lore like Signe Pike’s The Lost Queen, knowing how to correctly pronounce the proper nouns you encounter can help you feel like you understand the places you’re exploring.
3. It feels like someone’s telling you a legendary tale.
From alternating points-of-view to stories within stories, many fantasy novels include inventive storytelling devices and narrative structures. These structures remind me of oral storytelling traditions, which makes them perfect for listening to on audio. N.K. Jemison’s use of the second person in The Fifth Season might feel challenging on the page, but on audio it directly invites the reader into the story. Similarly, in A Hero Born, Jin Yong’s narrator directly addresses the reader which makes for a highly engaging listening experience. I love listening to these types of narrative forms on audio in part because I find them more compelling and less distracting, but mostly because I love the feeling that I’m being told a legend from a faraway time and place.
“I love the feeling that I’m being told a legend from a faraway time and place.”
4. The epic lengths are more manageable.
Much like classics, fantasy literature can be epic in length. This can be daunting—especially for new fantasy readers. Trust me, once you get into fantasy you’ll be more excited than daunted by the epic lengths! Fantasy authors use their many pages to unfurl wondrous places filled with magic systems, political history, and fascinating legends. But audiobooks can help overcome that initial trepidation or make you feel like it’s okay to listen to that 4th book in the series even when you have lots of other books on your to-be-read pile. While choosing an epic tome on audio doesn’t necessarily decrease the reading time, it does allow you to chip away at the page count while you’re folding laundry, driving to work, or taking an evening walk. I’m not sure I would have made it through Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander or Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf without the assistance of audiobooks.
Nothing beats conquering a 1000+ page book while simultaneously tackling your to-do list. And as an added bonus, downloading a 30-hour audiobook is a great way to make the most of your Libro.fm credits!
“Nothing beats conquering a 1000+ page book while simultaneously tackling your to-do list.”
5. Audio allows you to be swept away.
There’s no doubt that the very best fantasy books do an incredible job of addressing pressing real-world issues in their works of imagination. While I love a work that allows me to examine my own society through the lens of an invented world, I do also read fantasy for the sense of escape. Getting to immerse yourself in an entirely new world is one of the great pleasures of being a reader, and the main reason that I prefer my fantasy on audio is the sensory experience that audiobooks provide. Reading on audio heightens the experience of adventure and escape, and intensifies that unbeatable feeling of being swept into another world.
Getting to immerse yourself in an entirely new world is one of the great pleasures of being a reader, and fantasy novels provide the ultimate escape. Reading fantasy on audio is all the better. It heightens the experience of adventure and escape, and intensifies that unbeatable feeling of being swept into another world. Here are 20 fantasy novels to add to your Libro.fm queue now!
What are some of your favorite fantasy audiobooks?
Let us know in the comments below!