AudioFile's 2023 Best Audiobooks in Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction feature established narrators as well as fresh voices. Here, we'll take a closer look at the honorees in each of these three genres.
Emily Woo Zeller is no stranger to our “best of” lists, and this Golden Voice narrator brings her characteristic kaleidoscopic narration skills to THE WATER OUTLAWS, a retelling of the Chinese classic “Water Margin.” Lin Chong, one of few women in the empire’s bureaucracy, is the highly talented arms instructor for the emperor’s soldiers. After fighting off sexual assault from a politically powerful man, her entire life and career are violently ripped away. She joins the Bandits of Liangshan, fierce women outlaws who fight for justice. Zeller’s intensifying pacing and passionate delivery vividly render kinetic fight scenes, keeping listeners on edge. Her voice for the optimistic Lu Da is comically rendered, hilariously bold and melodramatic.
Listeners will find Kit Griffiths’s captivating narration in GODKILLER difficult to pause. Kissen lost her family and her leg after her village allied with a fire god, burning her home to the ground. Now a godkiller, she lives in a world where worshiping gods is illegal. But Kissen can’t kill Skedi, a small god bound to the orphaned Inara. They journey along with Elogast, a knight turned baker, to Blenraden to sever Inara and Skedi’s connection. Evenly paced with perfect emotional delivery, Griffiths’s ability to embody a wide cast of diverse characters weaves powerful heroes and hissing, conniving gods.
Narrator Justine Lupe’s energetic and emotional performance immerses listeners in Stephen King's audiobook full of disconcerting horrors. Fan-favorite HOLLY, the private investigator from several of the author’s previous works, finally gets her own novel. Holly is taking time off to mourn the loss of her mother. She receives a frantic phone call from a woman whose daughter is missing, narrated with desperation that compels listeners to empathize with Holly’s choice to take the case despite the complications happening in her own life. Holly’s investigation points her toward retired professors Rodney and Emily, voiced with disturbing depravity to leave listeners disturbed. King narrates his author's note at the end, providing a fascinating look at his writing process and explaining the addition of Covid to Holly’s story.
Narrator Gisela Chípe’s dynamic, chiseled narration introduces listeners to the B-movie scene of '90s Mexico City in SILVER NITRATE. Montserrat is overlooked in a film industry dominated by men. Tristán’s acting career is slowly fizzling out, and he’s completely oblivious to Montserrat’s crush on him. Their fortunes change when they meet legendary filmmaker Abel Urueta, who recruits them to finish his final film, one he considers cursed. But their help produces terrible, supernatural results. Chípe’s masterful pacing in scenes with intensifying passion keeps tension high, portraying Montserrat and Tristán’s dread to chilling results.
Adjoa Andoh narrates TRANSLATION STATE, expertly modulating between a wide cast of characters. Enae, who uses sie/hir pronouns, is tasked with locating a fugitive translator after the death of hir grandmother. Sie is not expected to actually complete the assignment, merely to stay busy. Reet, who has never fit with his adoptive family, is quick to jump at the chance to tie himself to a mysterious family long deceased. Qven is expected to serve as a translator for the dangerous Presgr as they discuss diplomacy with humans, but fears losing themselves in the process. Andoh’s emotional portrayals authentically capture the complexities around identity and belonging, leaving listeners with a memorable experience that is sure to linger.
Daniel Henning narrates IN THE LIVES OF PUPPETS, a science fiction retelling of the classic Pinocchio. The prose on its own is beautifully written and emotional, but Henning’s performance elevates the story to a new dimension. Vic lives in the woods with his robot companions, never having met another human. Vic’s adoptive robot father, the kindly-voiced Gio, is kidnapped. Freshly repaired and reawakened, Hap, voiced with a deep-toned stutter, swears to protect Vic on his journey to rescue his father. They are joined by the vacuum, Rambo, given a goofy, melodramatic voice that matches his neurotic naïveté, along with Nurse Ratched, whose sardonic robotic articulation perfectly encapsulates her sociopathic tendencies. Henning’s dry delivery will leave listeners laughing out loud, and his passionate emotional connection weaves a unique, visceral romance.
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Daniel Henning photo by Stephen Mosher. Emily Woo Zeller photo by William Callan.