Aural Explorations | Spectacular SFF Audiobooks

Imagined realms and future landscapes come alive in audio.

Harrow, Alix E. Starling House. Macmillan Audio. Oct. 2023. 12:26 hrs. ISBN 9781250882783. $26.99. FANTASY

Harrow’s eerie (A Mirror Mended) latest is a genre-bending Southern gothic set in a small Kentucky town haunted by its past. Bad luck seems to follow Opal’s family. Since their mother’s accidental death, Opal and her brother have been on their own. When an opportunity for extra income arises at the mysterious, decaying mansion known as Starling House, Opal jumps at the chance, despite dire warnings to stay away. Her new employer, Arthur Starling, is a lonely, brooding man, and the two quickly develop a complicated love-hate relationship. As Opal becomes more attached to Starling House and ominous forces threaten the town, she and Arthur must examine their painful pasts to save their futures. Natalie Naudus narrates wonderfully, maintaining a perfect tempo and performing a range of character voices and raw emotions. VERDICT Harrow weaves an intricately plotted gothic fairy tale featuring emotionally complex characters, brought to life through Naudus’s skillful narration. Fans of T. Kingfisher’s gothic fiction, dark academia like Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House, and grim fairy tales in the vein of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber will find themselves right at home.—Meghan Bouffard

Kadrey, Richard & Cassandra Khaw. The Dead Take the A Train. Macmillan Audio. Oct. 2023. 12:59 hrs. ISBN 9781250856623. $26.99. FANTASY

A collaboration between two well-known speculative writers births a savagely fun romp through a grimy, magical New York City. Most of the city’s elites are at least aware of true magic, but Julie Crews is no elite. She’s at the bottom of the magical ladder, taking odd magical jobs to make ends meet. Julie’s hard-living lifestyle gets complicated when an old friend decides to visit, an ex-boyfriend makes a power play, and whatever entity Julie just summoned threatens reality. She might not be the best at what she does (she can barely hold her own life together), but she might be what the world needs. Kadrey (King Bullet) has shown he can write two-fisted urban fantasy, and Khaw (The Salt Grows Heavy) has demonstrated a knack for beautifully describing the most disturbing horrors. Their combined efforts have created a kinetic urban noir that brims with terrifying eldritch monstrosities and human bodies defying their anatomy. Natalie Naudus’s performance anchors the unreal with her grounded portrayals of flawed heroine Julie and wide-eyed neophyte Sarah, especially as the old friends slowly become closer. VERDICT Fans of urban fantasy, cosmic weirdness, and tough-as-nails protagonists should enjoy this work that’s the best of both authors.—James Gardner

Kraus, Daniel. Whalefall. S. & S. Audio. Aug. 2023. 8:09 hrs. ISBN 9781797158525. $19.99. SF

Kraus’s (The Ghost That Ate Us) latest follows 17-year-old Jay Gardiner, who dons his scuba gear in search of his father’s remains in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Monastery Beach. The two were estranged and hadn’t reconciled before his father’s suicide the year prior. The guilt is eating Jay alive, and despite his unresolved anger, he hopes to make amends with his mother and sisters by returning with his father’s remains. However, his endeavor quickly becomes a fight for survival when, upon encountering a sperm whale, he is swallowed alive. With his oxygen depleting, Jay must not only free himself from the whale but also his oppressive past. Kirby Heyborne’s impassioned narration intensifies Kraus’s fast-paced and action-packed writing. Heyborne’s authentic portrayal of Jay’s physical pain and mental anguish puts listeners in the belly of the whale alongside Jay. More than a tale of survival, this book reflects on fathers and sons and love and loss while providing a stirring look at the beauty and harshness of the natural world. VERDICT Both heart-wrenching and hopeful, this gripping production takes listeners on a nerve-wracking nautical odyssey. A suspenseful and scientifically accurate survival thriller further enhanced by the outstanding audio experience.—Meghan Bouffard

Worrell, Dwain. Androne. Brilliance Audio. (Androne, Bk. 1). Sept. 2023. 11:45 hrs. ISBN 9798400132315. $42.99. SF

Sergeant Paxton Arés originally left the military after an attack that vaporized all military installations on Earth. The identity of this enemy is highly classified and unknown to most. Paxton is joining up again as a remote android drone pilot to provide for his grandfather and pregnant girlfriend, and he’s mostly content to patrol the empty desert from behind a screen. But he soon spots people in that desert—people who don’t look like anyone he’s seen before. And as he starts to rise in the ranks, the stories he’s being told don’t make sense. Who and why are they fighting? Worrell’s debut, the first in a duology, marries military sci-fi, spycraft, and grounded realism to examine the meaning of modern warfare. Mundanities like office duty and sleep deprivation keep Paxton off-kilter, and while there are some mecha action scenes, the most exciting points are investigating the secrets of the base and the collaborator. Narrator Gary Tiedemann’s long experience comes through with unique voices and cadences for each character. VERDICT Jarhead meets All You Need Is Kill in a refreshing look at near-future warfare. A superb recommendation for military sci-fi fans.—Katherine Sleyko

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