It's no wonder that authors turn to classics or myths for inspiration—these stories span cultures and eras. Retellings of the classics done by contemporary fantasy authors are my favorite audiobooks to listen to lately, both as an opportunity to see how the author is influenced as a writer, and for the brilliant narrators who bring these stories to life.
Avi Roque recently delivered an Earphones Award-winning performance in WHAT MOVES THE DEAD by T. Kingfisher, which reimagines Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Both stories share the same premise: the main character arrives at the home of their friend, whose sister Madeline is dying from a mysterious illness. Kingfisher’s story, by contrast, introduces several additional characters to help solve the mystery around the illness, the strange behavior of the local wildlife, and how they all connect to the dilapidated house and the nearby lake. Roque’s ability to wield several accents seamlessly while balancing careful pacing and the jittery voice of the afflicted Madeline results in a truly unsettling atmosphere. The stories diverge completely in explaining the cause of Madeline’s suffering, leaving listeners to wonder at the ominous answers behind this retelling.
Sue Lynn Tan’s debut novel, DAUGHTER OF THE MOON GODDESS, is skillfully narrated by Natalie Naudus. The story borrows aspects of the legend of Chang’e, the Chinese goddess of the Moon, originally a myth about a beautiful woman who obtained an elixir of immortality from her husband and escaped to live on the moon. Tan’s novel shares many features with the original legend, but it reimagines the premise. The story is centered around the daughter of Chang’e, Xingyin, who must use her burgeoning abilities to free her mother from imprisonment. Naudus is an excellent companion for this saga. Her particular skill at creating stunning emotional connections with the characters she voices leaves listeners swooning in one scene and devastated in the next. Xingyin's story continues this fall in HEART OF THE SUN WARRIOR.
Narrator Amy Landon offers her vocal talents for both novellas in the Fractured Fables series by Alix E. Harrow. Where the first book, A SPINDLE SPLINTERED, introduced a multiverse of sleeping beauties trying to survive their fates, the recently released sequel, A MIRROR MENDED, adds some “Snow White” into the mix. The Evil Queen is aware of the impending fate she will suffer and begs for Zinnia’s help to change her story’s ending. Landon’s narration complements the written word, bringing Zinnia’s dry humor and candor to life and wielding several character voices in interesting and unexpected ways that convey the added depth in personality from the author. These audiobooks take liberties in their source material that will keep listeners guessing despite the glimmers of familiarity.
Golden Voice narrator Emily Woo Zeller's performance of Elizabeth Lim’s SIX CRIMSON CRANES is especially magical. It’s a story that draws inspiration from the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Wild Swans,” where a princess must rescue her brothers after a spell turns them into swans. Lim’s version weaves the original with Asian mythology in a refreshing take that defies tropes and leaves listeners constantly on edge. Zeller’s talent for distinct voices, combined with her ability to emotionally connect with characters, creates a listening experience that is too immersive to put down. I absolutely devoured this audiobook and have been eagerly awaiting the sequel.
Alex Richey is an AudioFile reviewer and a library technician in Maine.