SFF in Audio | 13 Titles To Try

SFF choices that create sound landscapes.


Abraham, Daniel. Age of Ash. Hachette Audio. (The Kithamar Trilogy, Bk. 1). Feb. 2022. 14:35 hrs. ISBN 9781549119460. $26.98. FANTASY

Kithamar is an ancient city of blood and secrets. Its citizens make their livelihoods as best they can, some honestly, some not. But one secret at the dark centers of power in the city draws in characters, who will hold the power to make or break the future. Alys was born and bred in Longhill, a slum district, and when her brother is murdered, she sets out on a perilous quest to find who killed him. But what will she lose along the way? Interesting characters and clever worldbuilding help anchor a plot that sometimes seems billowy and unmanageable, and Soneela Nankani provides a smooth, pleasant narration, even if sometimes character voices bleed together without much distinction between them. VERDICT This first in a trilogy from Abraham (The Spider’s War; coauthor of “The Expanse” series) is a must-buy for audio collections where grimdark and epic fantasy are popular, and is a solid choice for other collections because of its cross-genre appeal for mystery and sci-fi fans.—Chrystopher Lytal

Blake, Olivie. The Atlas Six. Macmillan Audio. (The Atlas, Bk. 1). Mar. 2022. 15:59 hrs. ISBN 9781250860460. $32.99. FANTASY

Blake’s dark fantasy, first self-published in 2020, achieved viral fame through millions of TikTok views and is now available in audio. This book, the first in a planned trilogy, follows six medeians, magicians with powers ranging from telepathy to the ability to manipulate nature, who are selected to join the Alexandrian Society. The Society is a secret body that safeguards the treasures of the Great Library of Alexandria and serves as a stunningly powerful magical think tank. Eight narrators—James Patrick Cronin, Siho Ellsmore, Munirih Grace, Andy Ingalls, Caitlin Kelly, Damian Lynch, David Monteith, and Steve West— give voice to the characters as they learn that only five of their original six members will make it to initiation. The brutal choice of whom to eliminate is theirs to make. The audio version may be challenging for listeners, for while the narrators provide solid performances, their sheer number, combined with different characterizations and interpretations, increases the complexity of the already sprawling story. Additionally, inconsistencies in volume and sound quality may be distracting for some. VERDICT While steadfast fantasy lovers will be eager for the next installation in this series, others may wish that worldbuilding and action better matched the hype.—Sarah Hashimoto

Blake, Sarah. Clean Air. Workman Audio. Feb. 2022. 7:46 hrs. ISBN 9781649040831. $23.95. SF

In her second novel, after the award-winning Naamah, Blake combines dystopia, supernatural, suspense, and a serial killer to create an unusual listen that includes the COVID pandemic as a historical event. It’s been a decade since The Turning, when all the trees on Earth over-pollinated and polluted the air. Millions died. Izabel and her husband Kaito survive by living in a dome in Philadelphia with their young daughter, Cami, masking every time they leave the house. When a serial killer begins slashing domes to kill families, Izabel becomes obsessed with keeping hers safe, even while her daughter talks in her sleep and mysteriously reveals the killer’s secrets. Argentine narrator Sol Madariaga shines when Izabel sings to her daughter in Spanish, and although some phrases are rushed and a few words are mispronounced, there are no major audio or production errors. Listeners will want to find out who the killer is, even if the plot is wrapped up a bit too nicely in the end. VERDICT A quick listen offering a unique twist on apocalyptic climate fiction.—Sarah Hill

Carrick, M.A. The Liar’s Knot. Hachette Audio. (Rook & Rose, Bk. 2). Mar. 2022. 23:13 hrs. ISBN 9781668608050. $29.98. FANTASY

Set in Nadežra, a city resembling historic Venice, Carrick’s sequel to The Mask of Mirrors features con artist Ren, who has been adopted by a noble family. She becomes aware of a darkening situation caused by a secret cult manipulating a set of magical medallions owned by some of the city’s noble houses. Against a backdrop of violence caused by an underclass yearning to break free of the foreign nobility that conquered Nadežra centuries ago, Ren must disempower these medallion holders with the help of a crime lord and a vigilante. The accents of actor Nikki Massoud create a rich tapestry that enlivens the story. By shifting her accents, Massoud conveys the multiple characters that Ren plays in her long game, and she handles the worldbuilding, including complex names, and the intricacies of numinatria, an esoteric magic system of numerology and sacred geometry, with ease. VERDICT Recommended for those who enjoy dark fantasy and worldbuilding. Fans of Six of Crows and The Lies of Locke Lamora would also enjoy.—David Faucheux

Fu, Kim. Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century. Penguin Random House Audio. Feb. 2022. 6:27 hrs. ISBN 9780593588550. $17.50. FANTASY

Twelve impossibly unique tales make up Fu’s (The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore) story collection about things that go bump in the night, lurk in the shadows, and cavort in the daylight. Each of the unlinked stories introduces a different “monster” and takes place in the modern world—at a vendor show, in a suburb, at a dinner show, in an old house. Fu delights in giving us wholly new and imaginative monsters that defy expectations. There’s a career woman who can fall asleep at night only if she is visited by the sandman; a haunted doll that gives nightmares to neighborhood children; a preteen who sprouts wings on her ankles to the delight of her friends; and a bug-infested house that steadily grows more unstable. Piper Goodeve and Sean Patrick Hopkins narrate with calm, earnest deliveries that make the stories even more intense. VERDICT Thrilling, sexy, scary, and daring, this is a gem of a short story collection.—Erin Cataldi

Harkin, Jo. Tell Me an Ending. S. & S. Audio. Mar. 2022. 16:21 hrs. ISBN 9781797135571. $29.99. SF

Harkin’s debut novel is an ambitious piece of speculative fiction about the importance of memory, especially in a world where it’s disposable. In an alternate present, the Nepenthe corporation discovers a way to remove unwanted or traumatic memories, even making sure some people don’t remember requesting the deletion. When Nepenthe is forced to reveal to people that they had used the memory-deletion services, they give them the option to get that memory back, which creates all sorts of moral conundrums and strains on relationships. Harkin juggles multiple narratives, from a jealous husband who suspects his wife had memories of an affair deleted to a police officer suffering from PTSD. Tania Rodrigues gives this massive cast of characters their own unique voices, even as the number of characters threatens to balloon out of control. Luckily, Harkin ties all these different narratives together through Noor, a Nepenthe employee who suspects her boss Louise of having her own agenda. VERDICT A fine-tuned science fiction character study that explores such philosophical questions as how our memories, good and bad, affect who we are and how we relate to others.—James Gardner

Hart, Rob. The Paradox Hotel. Penguin Random House Audio. Feb. 2022. 11:05 hrs. ISBN 9780593506837. $22.50. SF

In the near future, the wealthy pay through the nose to go on time-travel excursions from the Paradox Hotel to the past, but the U.S. government is set to privatize the industry. January Cole, head of security at the hotel, is suffering from the side effects of prolonged exposure to time radiation but refuses to leave. As the other staff members, once her friends, watch her continue to self-destruct, January must solve a murder that only she knows about. Meanwhile, she also has to keep the group of bidders in contention to buy the time-travel business safe from mysterious “accidents” and come to terms with her own past. In this new sci-fi thriller from Hart (The Warehouse), narrator Emily Woo Zeller brilliantly teases out the dry humor as well as the action and the emotional core about loss and healing. VERDICT A great purchase for any library with an active sci-fi listener base, with crossover appeal for thriller and mystery fans.—Chrystopher Lytal

Maruyama, Kugane. Overlord, Vol. 2: The Dark Warrior. Hachette Audio. (Overlord Light, Bk. 2). Dec. 2021. tr. from Japanese by Emily Balistrieri. 8:10 hrs. ISBN 9781975338336. $25.98. FANTASY

The second volume in Maruyama’s “Overlord Light” series follows powerful guild leader Ainz Ooal Gown as he embarks on a dangerous undercover mission to gather information about the world in which he has been trapped. In reality, Ainz is merely a character in the massive, multiplayer role-playing game Yggdrasil. He is the character that gamer Momonga has taken for his own. Yggdrasil was scheduled to be shut down, but a bizarre glitch has kept Momonga locked into the character of Ainz, rather than ejecting him from the game. Momonga decides to explore this new world, fully inhabiting Ainz’s persona and traveling along with his battle maiden companions as the dark overlord. Narrator Chris Guerrero, known for his role as Ainz in the English-dubbed version of the “Overlord” anime series, ably voices the many colorful characters that occupy this world. His narration is adept and responsive, creating a cinematic feel that mimics a full-cast production. Guerrero’s portrayal of Ainz’s deep-voiced bravado and strength is particularly effective. VERDICT Highly recommend for fans of anime and graphic novels. This fast-paced and surprisingly funny adaptation is a treat for the ears.—Sarah Hashimoto

May, Francesca. Wild and Wicked Things. Hachette Audio. Mar. 2022. 14:48 hrs. ISBN 9781549166563. $26.98. FANTASY

Annie Mason returns to Crow Island to wrap up the affairs of her father just after World War I. She is hoping to reconnect with her friend Beatrice, who left the island for bigger and better things. While there, Annie also meets the enigmatic Emmeline and then is swept up into the magical world of Crow Island. She gets pulled into a mysterious world that makes her question the boundaries of wickedness and may ultimately cost Annie her life. Broken into several smaller books that all cohesively come together, May’s debut novel is beautifully written with complex characters. Annie and Beatrice have a fairytale romance that is both believable and necessary for the storytelling. Narrators Marisa Calin, Gemma Dawson, and Ralph Lister add beauty and give life to the mesmerizing world of magic and misdeeds. The audiobook also offers atmospheric musical interludes between each of the chapters. VERDICT Featuring queer romance, this enjoyable tale of magic would be a wonderful addition to any collection.—Elyssa Everling

Onyebuchi, Tochi. Goliath. Macmillan Audio. Jan. 2022. 12:20 hrs. ISBN 9781250841148. $26.99. SF

The earth is dying and has become a new wild west frontier after being left behind by everyone rich and privileged enough to migrate to one of the space colonies. In this near-future reality, countless lives and stories intertwine and break apart. A demolition team scrambles to make a living in neighborhoods withering like foliage in drought. A young man from the colonies goes against the tides and returns to earth, hoping to give his grieving partner something to live for. Tragedies both large and small blunt the lives and experiences of everyone left standing. While reminiscent of The Expanse with its intersecting, brilliant character sketches, Onyebuchi’s (Riot Baby) latest lacks the elements of space opera to lighten the tone. VERDICT Vividly narrated by multiple voices and told in nonlinear vignettes with prose that alternates between devastatingly concise and arrestingly descriptive, this audiobook will appeal to fans of literary science fiction but may frustrate those looking for a traditionally structured, plot-focused story.—Chrystopher Lytal

Percy, Benjamin. The Unfamiliar Garden. HarperAudio. (The Comet Cycle, Bk. 2). Jan. 2022. 7:16 hrs. ISBN 9780358578451. $20.99. SF

Award-winning author and comic book writer Percy’s second book in “The Comet Cycle” series (after The Ninth Metal) is a mix of science fiction, thriller, and family drama, with a dash of horror. In the state of Washington after a meteor shower, young Mia, daughter of mycologist Jack and homicide detective Nora, goes missing in the woods during a mushroom-hunting excursion with her dad. Fast-forward five years— a massive drought caused by effects of the meteor shower has just ended, and fungi are springing up all over. Jack discovers a parasitic fungus, Nora is investigating ritualistic murders, and they are brought together as light is shed on the government’s role in experiments over the past five years. Narration was provided by two experienced voice actors; Mela Lee’s narration was amazing and helped keep the story’s scary atmosphere, while Will Colyer’s was also robust. VERDICT Although the plot was less than compelling and the characters flawed and unlikable, the story’s premise was distinctive and will be of interest to fans of science fiction.—Denise Garofalo

Ross, Rebecca. A River Enchanted. HarperAudio. (Elements of Cadence, Bk. 1). Feb. 2022. 14:13 hrs. ISBN 9780063056015. $29.99. FANTASY

In her first adult fantasy work, Ross (“The Queen’s Rising” duology) weaves a mystery about abducted girls with plotlines about clan politics, two romances, and a prodigal son, creating pacing that flows pleasingly from calms to rapids and back again. Ruth Urquhart is the precise narrator listeners will want for this lengthy Scottish-inspired fantasy novel. Through this character-driven story, Urquhart is able to convincingly voice the large cast, conveying their emotions and worries so perfectly that listeners will never wonder whose point of view they’re experiencing. Urquhart is equally skilled when narrating a fight scene or a tender moment between a long-married couple. She has the tone and cadence to make Ross’s tale feel folkloric and musical—which is especially gratifying as one of the protagonists is a bard. The impression of a folktale makes the novel’s worldbuilding feel completely natural, guiding listeners to an understanding of the elemental spirits and the conflicts of the setting, as all the while, the characters deepen their own knowledge. VERDICT While Ross’s protagonists may need to be wary of seeking mysterious shine beneath the waters, this is one enchanted river listeners can dive confidently into.—Matthew Galloway

Tan, Sue Lynn. Daughter of the Moon Goddess. HarperAudio. (Celestial Kingdom, Bk. 1). Jan. 2022. 15:01 hrs. ISBN 9780063031340. $29.99. FANTASY

Xingyin grows up in a lonely whitestone palace on the moon, watching her aloof mother, who is still grieving her banishment for a decision made long ago that granted her and then-unborn Xingyin immortality. When Xingyin’s existence, hidden until now, is threatened, she is forced to leave the only home she’s ever known and sets off on an epic journey that will take her to imperial courts and demon realms, experiencing both love and betrayal, in order to set her mother free. While some truly beautiful descriptive passages help bring the setting to life, a convoluted plot is further slowed by repeated exposition about Xingyin’s emotions, a drawback not aided by Natalie Naudus’s somewhat melodramatic narration. VERDICT Tan’s debut is a bit too long, but is a good fit for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Sabaa Tahir, along with those who like romantic and mythic fantasy retellings.—Chrystopher Lytal

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