Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Audiobooks from the First Half of 2021

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official topic for this week is Books I’d Want With Me While Stranded on a Deserted Island, but I am going to do something a little different and instead look at my favourite audiobooks from the first half of 2021.  This is a continuation of my Top Ten list from a few weeks ago that featured my favourite overall novels from the first half of 2021.

People familiar with my blog will know that I have a great deal of love for the audiobook format, and it is one of the main ways that I tend to check out books.  Each year I enjoy a great number of different audiobooks and use the format to check out recent releases and older novels.  I have been enjoying audiobooks for years, and it is amazing the various ways in which listening to a book can enhance your enjoyment.  A great narrator can really bring you into the story, and I find that listening to a book enhances the amount of detail that you can take in.  In addition, other features, such as great voices, music and sound effects can really make an audiobook something special, and there some great examples of that out there.  This year alone I have listened to several outstanding audiobooks, includes some of my favourite books from early 2021.  Because I love this format so much, I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight my favourite audiobooks from the first half of the year.

To pull this list off I had a look at all the 2021 releases that I listened to on audiobook to figure out my favourites.  It turns out that I have already gone through quite a few this year so there was a very large collection of potential additions to this list.  I was eventually able to whittle it down to the ten audiobooks I consider to be the best, as well as a generous honourable mention section.  There is a bit of a crossover with my previous Favourite Books from the First Half of 2021 list, but I think there are enough new additions to make this list worthwhile.  I did prioritise audiobook production and narration over story in a few places, as outstanding narration or use of music and sound effects can enhance the plot.  That is why so many Star Wars novels made this list, because they are awesome productions, which are really worth checking out.  I am pretty happy with how the overall list turned out and I think that the below entries really highlight what my favourite audiobooks are.

 

Honourable Mentions:

The Coward, written by Stephen Aryan and narrated by Matt Wycliffe

The Coward Cover

 

Serpentine, written by Jonathan Kellerman and narrated by John Rubinstein

Serpentine Cover

 

Prodigal Son, written by Gregg Hurwitz and narrated by Scott Brick

Prodigal Son Cover

 

The Girl and the Mountain, written by Mark Lawrence and narrated by Helen Duff

The Girl and the Mountain Cover 2

 

Top Ten List (No Particular Order):

The Two-Faced Queen, written by Nick Martell and narrated by Joe Jameson

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

One of my favourite books of the year, The Two-Faced Queen, is easily one of the best audiobooks as well.  There were actually two separate audiobook versions of this book, and I chose to go with the Joe Jameson version, since he previously narrated Martell’s debut novel, The Kingdom of Liars.  I am a big fan of Jameson, especially after his work on books such as King of Assassins by R. J. Barker, and he did another amazing job on this book.  The Two-Faced Queen audiobook is an excellent and addictive listen, and I would wholeheartedly recommend this format to anyone wanting to enjoy this awesome five-star novel.

 

Star Wars: Victory’s Price, written by Alexander Freed and narrated by January LaVoy

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

Earlier this year, impressive author Alexander Freed finished off his Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron series with Victory’s Price, and in the process created one of the best books of 2021.  This audiobook massively enhances the already incredible and moving narrative within this exceptional novel, utilising outstanding voice work from January LaVoy, as well as the iconic Star Wars score and sound effects.  Easily one of best audiobooks of the year.

 

Relentless, written by Mark Greaney and narrated by Jay Snyder

Relentless by Mark Greaney Cover

One of the leading authors of spy thrillers, Mark Greaney, produced another intense and exciting novel this year with Relentless.  Thanks to some excellent voice work from Jay Snyder, the Relentless audiobook was pretty damn impressive, and you are in for a real treat with this exhilarating novel.

 

Star Wars: Light of the Jedi, written by Charles Soule and narrated by Marc Thompson

Star Wars - Light of the Jedi Cover

Another outstanding Star Wars audiobook was Light of the Jedi, the introductory novel in the new High Republic range.  Just like Victory’s Price, Light of the Jedi makes full use of the Star Wars music and effects to produce a fantastic listen.  However, Light of the Jedi also features the incredible voice work of Marc Thompson, one of the best narrators utilised by the Star Wars franchise.  Thompson produces a raft of great voices to highlight the new characters featured within this novel and it was really fun to hear him tell this story.  Thompson is lending his vocal talents to several other outstanding Star Wars audiobooks this year, including the latest High Republic novel, The Rising Storm, which is another great audiobook to check out.

 

The Shadow of the Gods, written by John Gwynne and narrated by Colin Mace

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

After hearing some incredible things about the latest John Gwynne novel, I ended up checking out The Shadow of the Gods on audiobook.  Not only was this book one of the absolute best fantasy releases of 2021 but the audiobook format was pretty damn exceptional.  Colin Mace’s voice really fit the dark fantasy setting and he really dives into the complex characters to highlight their deeper feelings and hidden rages.  An impressive and captivating listen.

 

Later, written by Stephen King and narrated by Seth Numrich

Later Cover

I was deeply impressed earlier this year when I checked out the audiobook format of the latest Stephen King novel, Later.  Outstanding new narrator Seth Numrich really dives into this excellent novel, and I had a wonderful and freaky time getting through this fantastic audiobook.

 

The Bone Maker, written by Sarah Beth Durst and narrated by Soneela Nankani

The Bone Maker Cover

I had an absolute blast listening to the latest great fantasy novel from Sarah Beth Durst, The Bone Maker, especially as narrator Soneela Nankani does a great job bringing the novel’s damaged protagonists to life.

 

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: The Greater Good, written by Timothy Zahn and narrated by Marc Thompson

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Greater Good Cover

The final Star Wars audiobook on this list is the second Thrawn Ascendancy entry, The Greater Good.  Thompson once again lends his incredible voice to this great book, bringing the unique characters to life.  However, his best work is reserved for main character Grand Admiral Thrawn, as Thompson perfectly replicates the character’s voice from the Star Wars Rebels animated series.  This makes for a complex and powerful audiobook, and I loved every second I spent listening to it.

 

Colonyside, written by Michael Mammay and narrated by R. C. Bray

Colonyside Cover

One of the fastest rising science fiction authors, Michael Mammay, continued to impress earlier this year with Colonyside, the third entry in the Planetside series, which was another awesome read.  You really need to listen to this novel’s audiobook format, as narrator R. C. Bray brings a certain necessary gruffness and fun to the central character.  An amazing book to listen to!

 

The Mask of Mirrors, written by M. A. Carrick and narrated by Nikki Massoud

The Mask of Mirrors Cover

The final entry on this list is the great fantasy novel, The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick.  The Mask of Mirrors is a particularly fun and intriguing read, and I found myself really drawn to its audiobook format.  This is mainly because of narrator Nikki Massoud, who strategically utilises a fantastic range of voices and accents to turn this amazing book into an incredible listening experience.

 

That is the end of my latest list.  As you can see, I have a pretty typical Unseen Library Top Ten List (I’ve got to fit in as many Star Wars novels as possible), but I really do think this represents all of my absolute favourite audiobooks from the first part of 2021.  All of the above audiobooks come highly recommended, and in my opinion, the audiobook format really enhances all of these great reads.  Let me know what your favourite 2021 audiobooks are in the comments below, and I look forward to seeing which of the above make my Top Audiobooks of 2021 list later this year.

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

Publisher: Orbit (Audiobook – 4 May 2021)

Series: The Bloodsworn Saga – Book One

Length: 18 hours and 13 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Prepare to dive into a dark and powerful Norse-inspired fantasy with the incredible and addictive new novel from superstar fantasy author John Gwynne, The Shadow of the Gods.  Gwynne is highly regarded fantasy author who has been making some major waves since his 2012 dark fantasy debut, Malice, the first book in The Faithful and the Fallen series.  Gwynne has so far written two major fantasy series, the four-novel long The Faithful and the Fallen, and the sequel Of Blood and Bone series.  His latest novel, The Shadow of the Gods, is the first book in The Bloodsworn Saga, which will follow a group of epic protagonists in a bloody and grim Norse-inspired fantasy world.

I must admit that until recently I had not had the pleasure of reading any of John Gwynne’s novels.  This has always seemed like a major oversight on my behalf, especially as most fantasy reviewers massively talk up Gwynne’s existing series. While my attention was drawn to this book thanks to its baller cover (I mean look at it, so awesome), it initially was not a major reading priority for me.  However, this changed once the reviews for The Shadow of the Gods started pouring in.  Within a day of its release, my inbox was getting blown up with glowing reviews, as nearly every member of the fantasy fiction community started singing the praises of Gwynne’s new book.  While I generally like making my own reading decisions, after seeing so many different reviewers claim it was one of the best books of the year, I honestly had no choice but to check it out, and boy was I glad that I did.

Hundreds of years ago, the gods fought in a brutal and fatal war in the lands of Vigrið for power, vengeance, and pride.  When the fighting stopped all the gods lay dead, the land was shattered, and hordes of monsters and demons were unleashed upon the world.  Now, after barely surviving the carnage of the god’s war, humans dominate Vigrið, with powerful jarls fighting for control of the towns while mercenary war bands quest after monsters and the most feared inhabitants of Vigrið, the Tainted.  The Tainted are human descendants of the gods who bear small remnants of their savage power, and who are now hunted out of fear and a desire to harness their power for the wars to come.

While life is always bloody in Vigrið, times are especially bleak now with war looming on the horizon, monsters roaming the wilds and sinister forces gather out of sight.  In these dark times, three dangerous people will find the fate of Vigrið resting in their hands.  These new heroes include Orka, a hunter and trapper who lives a quiet life in the wilds with her family, attempting to avoid her troubled past while raising her young son.  Meanwhile, Varg, an escaped thrall seeking answers, finds unexpected friendship by joining the legendary Bloodsworn mercenary company.  Finally, Elvar, a young noblewoman running from her family, seeks glory and battle fame as part of the Battle-Grim, another mercenary band who specialise in capturing Tainted humans.

Soon, all three of these fighters are faced with new and life-changing challenges.  Orka is forced to embark on a bloody mission of vengeance when her peaceful life is shattered and her son is taken from her.  Varg attempts to reconcile his responsibilities to the Bloodsworn and his own personal oaths, as the war band march into the wilderness to face a mysterious foe.  Elvar and the Battle-Grim embark on a legendary quest to find the final battleground of the gods.  However, all three will be unprepared for the revelations, lies and bloodshed about to be unleashed before them.  A dangerous conspiracy is forming in Vigrið that will shatter the very land and bring untold chaos to humanity.  Not all the gods are dead, and those that survive are very angry!

So, a little life lesson for me here: when the entire reviewing world says a book is good, then you can be damn sure that it will be an amazing read!  In this case, The Shadow of the Gods turned out to be an exceptional and captivating novel which provides an intense and clever story with great characters exploring a harsh and broken world.  Gwynne did an incredible job with his latest novel, and this was easily one of the best fantasy books I have read so far this year, earning an easy five-star rating from me.  The Shadow of the Gods has an incredible and powerful narrative that becomes even more addictive and exciting the further you get into it.  This is an outstanding and dark fantasy story which cleverly Gwynne has anchored to three separate point-of-view characters, Orka, Varg and Elvar.  I really liked how Gwynne came up with three separate narratives that are fun and memorable in their own unique way, and The Shadow of the Gods is stronger because of this.

The first one of these independent storylines revolves around Orka, a skilled and deadly warrior who has taken to living as an isolated hunter with her husband and young son.  Initially attempting to stay out of the politics and battles of Vigrið, and with a mysterious past surrounding her, Orka is eventually forced into action when her home is destroyed and her son is kidnapped.  What follows is a bloody and brutal revenge story, as Orka traverses the landscape in search of her son, killing everyone in her way.  Accompanied by two inexperienced fighters, Orka cuts a fantastic path of vengeance and despair throughout the world, eventually revealing just how dangerous she can be.  Orka’s story is really fantastic, and I loved seeing her on her quest for vengeance, blood and her son.  Gwynne weaves an incredible narrative around the character and takes her to some dark and dangerous places, as she is forced to contend with conspiring jarls, rogue warbands, vengeful fighters and dangerous Tainted with unknown agendas.  The author also puts some very impressive character work into Orka.  Initially shown as a mysterious being who is haunted by her past and is only just keeping her aggressive instincts in check for the sake of her family, Orka soon displays increasing violence and prowess as her storyline continues and she loses more control.  This was a fantastic and epic story, which has an outstanding ending with some extremely fun, if slightly predictable, twists to it.

The next storyline follows the amazing Varg, a former thrall who has run away after killing his owners.  In desperate need of magic to avenge his dead sister, Varg attempts to join the Bloodsworn, a highly regarded mercenary company, to make use of their seiðr-witch.  After impressing the Bloodsworn, Varg travels with them as an apprentice mercenary, unable to use the seiðr-witch until he proves his worth.  His first quest with the Bloodsworn takes him to a remote part of Vigrið to investigate missing villagers.  As Varg struggles between fulfilling his oath to his sister and starting a new life, he will experience betrayal, despair, and terrible revelations.  This is another excellent storyline which has a lot of awesome elements to it.  Not only is there a lot of action and intrigue as the Bloodsworn find themselves in the middle of the chaos infecting Vigrið, but it also serves as a fantastic tale of friendship, redemption, and camaraderie.

Varg proves to be a really good central protagonist and readers will quickly become attracted to his resilience, natural battle prowess and deep inner tragedy.  A former slave, Varg is unused to friendship or support from those around him, as the only person he could ever count on was his sister, whose death he seeks to avenge.  However, when confronted by the easy friendship of his fellow Bloodsworn brothers, Varg finds himself suffering from some dramatic inner conflict, especially as he believes himself undeserving of support and kindness, and his happiness feels like a betrayal to his dead sister.  This is an amazing bit of character work here, and I really appreciated Varg’s impressive personal story.  His background as a slave also ensures that this storyline features more background about this world than some of the other stories do, and you also get a series of training montages as Varg learns how to fight as a member of the Bloodsworn.  This storyline is further enhanced by a great band of supporting characters, especially as Varg finds himself fighting side by side with an eclectic group of unique and outrageous warriors.  There are several fantastic and enjoyable side characters featured amongst the Bloodsworn, although my favourite must be the cocky and entertaining Svik, a skilled warrior with a love of cheese and a funny tale to back it up (trust me, it is worth reading just to see him tell his cheese tale).  These supporting characters help to make Varg’s storyline the most entertaining and humorous parts of the book and it is near impossible not to fall in love with the various members of the Bloodsworn.

The final character arc featured in The Shadow of the Gods follows the young warrior, Elvar.  Elvar is the daughter of a powerful jarl who gave up a life of comfort and forced marriage to join the Battle-Grim, another notorious mercenary warband who specialise in killing monsters and trapping Tainted to sell them for profit.  After capturing an unusual family of Tainted, Elvar and the Battle-Grim embark on a quest of epic proportions that will change the world.  This was another impressive and captivating storyline which has some very unique differences from the other character arcs.  Elvar is an excellent point-of-view character with a complex past, who presents an interesting counterpoint to the other two protagonists.  While Orka and Varg and primarily motivated by family and vengeance, Elvar is primarily concerned with proving her worth to her crew, her commander, and her overbearing family, and is determined to win enough battle fame to outshine her father.  I also loved the comparisons between the Bloodsworn and the Battle-Grim, and it was interesting to see how the similarities and differences between the warbands, especially as the Battle-Grim are more concerned with wealth and reputation.  This storyline is a particularly ambitious and contains some amazing battle sequences, especially one at the start against a troll, and there is much more of a focus on fighting within a shield wall as a unit.  This storyline also has one of the best twists in the entire novel, as well as an extremely impressive ending that will have major implications for the rest of the series.

The three narratives are generally kept very separate right up until the end with only a minimal amount of crossover.  This means that the readers end up getting three distinct stories with a unique group of characters set within the same book.  I think that this was a pretty cool way to start the wider series off, especially as it let the reader see more of the universe, while also expertly establishing the main protagonists and their storylines.  At the same time, limiting the narrative to only three major characters (I understand that Gwynne usually uses more), also ensures that the story does not get too fractured, and that the reader has time to get properly invested in each storyline.  I had a wonderful time reading each of the three storylines, and I honestly enjoyed each of them pretty much equally.  This is pretty rare for novels that use multiple POV characters, as there is usually one narrator or storyline that the reader enjoys more than others.  I will admit that Elvar’s storyline did take me a little longer to get into, but I become extremely hooked on it after a few chapters.  If I had to choose an absolute favourite storyline, I would say that the Varg chapters were really appealing to me, and I enjoyed seeing his cool story of redemption, as well as his fun companions.  While the stories were primarily kept separate, a few overarching plotlines and a couple of supporting characters are shared between the three arcs.  While subtle, it does perfectly set up an overarching conspiracy that has major implications for the entire plot and which sets up the next novel perfectly.  This makes for a pretty epic novel, and it is one that no fantasy fan will be able to easily put down.

I was deeply impressed by the clever and memorable fantasy universe that Gwynne came up with for The Shadow of the Gods.  The world of Vigrið is a thrilling dark fantasy setting, filled with all manner of dangerous monsters, dead gods and roving warbands, all of which proves to be an amazing backdrop to the overall story.  I loved the beautiful combination of fantasy elements with Norse historical inspirations, and it was pretty damn cool to see Viking-esque warriors facing off against monsters and magically enhanced beings.  The author does a great job capturing the intricacies of these Norse elements, and the reader is treated to detailed depictions of Viking tactics, weapons and fighting styles, such as a several brutal shield wall sequences.  Gwynne really tries to enhance the authenticity of these elements by using the Norse names for various things, such as brynja for a coat of mail, and I really appreciated this attention to detail.  I am not entirely sure he needed to describe someone’s head as a thought-cage every single time, though, as it that was a tad annoying.  In addition to the cool Norse elements, I loved the whole concept of a land of fallen gods where their human descendants are hunted and enslaved.  This opens some great storylines, especially around how the Tainted are treated, and it proves to be rather interesting to see which characters are secretly empowered (some are more obvious than others).  I think that Gwynne did a good job of introducing all the key elements of his universe throughout the course of the book, and the reader is never unsure or confused about what is going on.  This truly was an impressively inventive new setting, and I look forward to seeing what chaos and destruction occurs throughout it in the next novel, especially after that ending.

I ended up listening to The Shadow of the Gods’ audiobook format, which turned out to be an amazing and captivating production.  The Shadow of the Gods has a substantial run time of just over 18 hours; however, listeners are guaranteed to power through it in no time at all.  I found myself really enjoying into this book’s audiobook format, especially as it really helped to bring the excellent story to life for me, with many fantastic details and thrilling fight scenes become so much clearer.  One of the main reasons that this format works so well is the excellent narration from Colin Mace, a man who has lent his vocal talents to some great novels in the past, including The Black Hawks by David Wragg (as well as its upcoming sequel, The Righteous).  Mace has a very gruff and commanding voice that perfectly fits the dark, Nordic tone of The Shadow of the Gods.  Mace does an awesome job moving the story along at a quick pace, and there is never a single slow spot for the listeners to get stuck in.  At the same time, he produces some rough and damaged voices for the various characters featured within the book which I felt fit each of them perfectly and which helped to highlight their distinctive personalities.  This results in an exquisite and memorable audiobook production, and I would strongly recommend this format to anyone interested in checking this impressive novel out.

With his latest incredible novel, the impressive John Gwynne once again shows why he is one of the leading authors of dark fantasy fiction.  The Shadow of the Gods is a fantastic and captivating read that takes the reader on thrilling adventures with some exceptional characters.  Featuring a powerful narrative and an intricate and grim new fantasy setting, The Shadow of the Gods is an outstanding and addictive novel that is one of the best fantasy books of 2021.  A highly recommended read for anyone looking for their latest dark fantasy fix, I cannot wait to see where Gwynne takes The Bloodsworn Saga next, but you have to know it is going to be something particularly epic.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books for a Holiday Road trip

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this latest Top Ten Tuesday, participants have a Holiday/Seasonal Freebie, meaning that we can do whatever topic we want, preferably with a seasonable twist to it.  Well, down here in Australia, summer has just rocked up and this usually means long drives to family homes for Christmas or to some magnificent stretch of beach for a well-deserved break.  While I myself do not have any upcoming travel planned, this topic did get me thinking about trips and I had the idea to try and help those people with upcoming road trips, or any form of extended travel, choose an audiobook to keep you and any potential passengers entertained.

People familiar with my blog will know that I am a big fan of audiobooks; in many ways, they are some of the best way to enjoy a book from a talented author.  However, not all good audiobooks make for great entertainment on a road trip.  With that in mind, I have scrolled through some of my favourite audiobooks to find the ones I think would be the best for anyone taking a long trip.  To make this list, the audiobooks I chose had to not only be amazing novels but also had to have an excellent narration and the ability to keep a driver or passengers’ attention on a long trip.  While I know that some people are going to be experiencing particularly long trips in the coming weeks, I tried to feature audiobooks with shorter runtimes so that those who are taking shorter excursions (say a roundtrip of eight or nine hours) can get through an entire book without trying to make time at home to finish it off.  That being said a few longer novels did end up making the cut, but all of these are great for longer trips.  I also tried to avoid any novels that would require a great deal of prior knowledge or hard-to-obtain background information so that everyone in the car could enjoy the book without any need for explanation or lectures from those people more familiar with the series.  To that end, I have tried to avoid any novels that are later entries in a series or which require some form of assumed knowledge about a franchise.  While I have included a couple of tie-in novels, I tried to use those books that require only a smidge of familiarity with their respective franchise to enjoy, and I am confident anyone can easily enjoy any book I ended up featuring.

While I did have quite a few criteria to meet, I was eventually able to come up with a good list for this topic, including several honourable mentions.  I am pretty happy with how this list turned out and I have personally really enjoyed each of the below audiobooks.  I honestly believe that all of them would make for a great listen during an extended bit of travel or a road trip and each of them comes highly recommended.

Honourable Mentions:


The Black Hawks
, written by David Wragg and narrated by Colin Mace – 12 hours and 9 minutes

The Black Hawks Cover

Those in a mood for an exciting time of their road trip could do worse than check out this excellent and entertaining debut from last year, The Black Hawks by David Wragg.  The Black Hawks is a great read that takes several compelling characters on an action-packed adventure across a dangerous landscape.  Filled with betrayal, battle and clever twists, listeners will be well entertained with is book.

Star Trek: Picard: The Last Best Hope, written by Una McCormack and narrated by Robert Petkoff – 11 hours and 40 minutes

Star Trek - Picard Cover

While there are several cool Star Trek novels that could make for great road-trip listening, I would personally suggest this fantastic tie-in to the recent Picard television show.  Serving as an introduction to the darker Star Trek world Picard encounters in his new television series, there is a lot to love about this book and it is well worth checking out.

Star Wars: Ahsoka, written by E. K. Johnston and narrated by Ashley Eckstein – 7 hours and 4 minutes

Ahsoka Cover

After recent developments in the phenomenon that is The Mandalorian, one of the Star Wars audiobooks I would strongly recommend is Star Wars: Ahsoka.  The Ahsoka audiobook helps to expand on the character and presents listeners with a compelling and personal adventure.  Narrated by Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka in the animated television series, this is a fantastic and timely audiobook to check out on the road this holiday.

Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, written by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, and narrated by Kristen Bell – 8 hours and 43 minutes

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line Cover

Speaking of audiobooks that feature iconic characters being voiced by their actors, listeners will have an awesome time with this Veronica Mars tie-in novel, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line.  Written by series creator Rob Thomas and narrated by Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell, this is an outstanding tie-in to the clever television show that also contains a compelling crime fiction story and people will be able to quickly power through this on the way to their destination.

Top Ten List (maybe add listening times):


The Salvage Crew
, written by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and narrated by Nathan Fillion – 8 hours and 21 minutes

The Salvage Crew Cover

The first entry on this top ten list is The Salvage Crew, a very clever and intense science fiction novel that is guaranteed to keep everyone entertained on your trip.  Featuring the silky voice of the one and only Nathan Fillion, you will find yourself entranced with this audiobook, especially as the author backs up the awesome narration with a top-notch science fiction adventure story.

Race the Sands, written by Sarah Beth Durst and narrated by Emily Ellet – 15 hours and 45 minutes

Race the Sands Cover

Those readers with a particularly long drive in their future and who are in the mood for an excellent standalone fantasy novel would do well to check out Race the Sands by the always impressive Sarah Beth Durst.  Race the Sands is an extremely exciting and compelling novel that features great characters, political intrigue and clever worldbuilding, all set around people racing monsters in the desert.  This is a very easy book to listen to and the miles will fly away as you listen to Race the Sands.  Just don’t let the race scenes inspire you too much on the road; I don’t want to be responsible for you getting a speeding ticket!

Redshirts, written by John Scalzi and narrated by Wil Wheaton – 7 hours and 41 minutes

Redshirts Cover

If you want to laugh your way through an entire road trip you should definitely check out Redshirts by acclaimed science fiction author John Scalzi.  Redshirts is a very entertaining parody of Star Trek and is essentially one big sendup of all the tropes, bad writing and over-the-top characters The Original Series is known for.  Despite being a parody, Scalzi comes up with an incredibly clever story that gets extremely meta in places, while also introducing the listener to some very interesting characters who you become surprisingly attached to.  Top that off with the narration of Wil Wheaton (who else would you want narrating a Star Trek parody), and you have yourself an exceptionally fun audiobook to listen to.  My wife and I recently listened to this on a road trip ourselves and we were absolutely cracking up the entire time, and this comes highly recommended as a result.

The Holdout, written by Graham Moore and narrated by Abby Craden – 10 hours and 15 minutes

The Holdout Cover

Those drivers who would prefer a crime fiction novel should think about checking out The Holdout by Graham Moore.  The Holdout is a standalone crime fiction novel that follows an infamous jury who found a notorious murderer not guilty and who must now find out who killed one of their members years later at a reunion.  This is an extremely captivating book that features an amazing split-timeline narrative, showing the original trial and the murder investigation set in the present.  This is a great novel and listeners will be on the edge of their seat for the entire trip.

Legend, written by David Gemell and narrated by Sean Barrett – 13 hours and 13 minutes

Legend

Now if I had a particularly lengthy road-trip on the horizon one of the books I know I would be loading up Legend by David Gemell.  While this might not be too practical for shorter trips, I would gladly do a trip twice if it meant I could finish this epic book in one go.  Featuring an extended and desperate siege, Legend is one of the better fantasy novels I have had the pleasure of listening to and it does not take long for readers to get utterly enthralled with its impressive and thrilling story.

Star Wars: Scoundrels, written by Timothy Zahn and narrated by Marc Thompson – 13 hours and 57 minutes

Star Wars Scoundrels Cover

While there are a number of awesome Star Wars tie-in novels I could have included on this list, I decided in the end to go with Star Wars: ScoundrelsScoundrels is an exceptional novel from one of the top authors of Star Wars fiction in the world today, Timothy Zahn.  This is an excellent book that features fan favourite characters Han Solo, Chewbacca and Lando engaging in an elaborate heist with a team of rogues and thieves.  This is a perfect read for a longer car trip, and it is filled with several fantastic characters engaged in some good-old fashioned thievery in the middle of the Star Wars universe.  Requiring very little knowledge about the Star Wars extended universe, this audiobook can be enjoyed by anyone even vaguely familiar with the series and is really worth a listen to.

Tomorrow, When the War Began, written by John Marsden and narrated by Suzi Dougherty – 7 hours and 20 minutes

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Those looking for a new series to get obsessed about should use any upcoming road trips as an opportunity to try out the first book in the acclaimed Tomorrow series, Tomorrow, When the war Began.  Essentially Australia’s answer to Red Dawn, this book follows a group of teenagers as they try to survive a sudden invasion of Australia by a foreign power.  This is one of my absolute favourite series of all times and is probably some of the best Australian young adult fiction ever written.  It is extremely easy to power through these audiobooks in a short amount of timer and they would be among some of my first choices if I had a long trip planned.

Any Discworld novel, by Terry Pratchett

The Colour of Magic Cover

I am kind of cheating by including an entire series here, but I could honestly listen to any of these books again and would not hesitate to recommend the entire Discworld series to anyone in the mood for a book that is wacky, clever, compelling and wildly entertaining.  Practically any of these books would make for excellent entertainment during a car ride and I find it hard to believe that anyone would be bored while listening to them.  While I love each of these books, I would probably recommend either Moving Pictures or Guards! Guards! (both with a runtime of 10 hours and 8 minutes) as they are great entry points to the series for new readers.  An incredibly series to get into, you will not regret listening to them these holidays.

Planetside, written by Michael Mammay and narrated by R. C. Bray – 8 hours and 38 minutes

Planetside Cover 2

Another great read with a shorter runtime is Planetside by Michael Mammay.  Planetside is an incredible novel and it is probably one of my favourite debut novels of all time.  Mammay packs an intense and addictive story into this shorter audiobook, and listeners are treated to an outstanding and clever science fiction mystery novel, which sees an old veteran attempt to find a missing soldier on an occupied alien planet and instead uncovers a massive conspiracy.  Listeners are guaranteed to be transfixed from start to epic finish with Planetside and it would be an exceptional novel to listen to while on a long drive.

The Anomaly, written by Michael Rutger and narrated by Brandon Williams – 9 hours and 41 minutes

The Anomaly Cover

For the final entry on my list, I have included The Anomaly by Michael Rutger.  The Anomaly is a great horror novel that follows the makers of a web series as they explore an ancient cave in the Grand Canyon, only to find it filled with ancient terrors.  This is a great novel for those who are in the mood for a scary book to listen to on their way home and readers will really love this amazing audiobook.  I was particularly impressed with the dark, claustrophobic atmosphere that this audiobook produced and horror buffs will have an amazing time listening to this.  That being said, maybe turn it off if you have to drive at night.

Well that’s my latest Top Ten Tuesday list.  I think it turned out extremely well, and if you have some upcoming travel planned (or even just some time to kill in lockdown), you would do well to try any of the above books.  Let me know which of the featured novels you enjoyed the most, as well as what audiobooks you would recommend for a car trip in the comments below and makes sure you drive safe these holidays.

The Black Hawks by David Wragg

The Black Hawks Cover

Publisher: Harper Collins (Audiobook – 3 October 2019)

Series: Articles of Faith – Book One

Length: 12 hours and 9 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Prepare to join the roughest, toughest and most maladjusted mercenary band in the land with The Black Hawks by David Wragg, and excellent fantasy debut that was a lot of fun to read.

Vedren Chel is a minor noble struggling to adjust to his life as a knight and glorified servant to his lazy step-uncle.  Hoping to escape the meaningless existence that has been forced upon him, Chel suddenly finds himself thrust into a great adventure when a mysterious enemy force invades the city he is stuck in, causing panic and confusion all around.  Managing to flee from the chaos, Chel finds himself the inadvertent travelling companion to the useless and cowardly Prince Tarfel, the King’s son and second in line to the throne.

Accompanying Tarfel to safety, Chel hopes to be rewarded with his freedom and the chance to forge a new life.  Instead he finds himself swept up in the dangerous politics of the realm when he is chosen to become Tarfel’s protector and loyal servant.  Forced to accompany the prince back to the very city they just fled, Chel has very little hope for their survival.  His fears prove justified when a force of disguised men attempt to kill them the night they arrive.  Their lives are only saved when a mysterious band of warriors arrive, killing their attackers and then promptly kidnapping them.

Awakening, Chel and Tarfel find themselves under the dubious protection of the Black Hawk Company, a small group of elite mercenaries who have been hired to escort Tarfel to a mysterious destination.  Despite their unconventional tactics and makeup, the Black Hawks are a dangerous and clever collection of killers, which proves useful when several bands of assassins and fanatics associated with the kingdoms corrupt and all powerful church; converge upon the group, determined to kill Tarfel.  Deciding that their kidnappers are the only group with their best interests in minds, Chel and Tarfel accompany the Black Hawks off into the unknown.  Their journey will take them through dangers, both seen and unseen, and lead them into the very heart of the kingdom as they try to remove the corruption from within.  But dark secrets lie in store for all of them at the end of their journey and no one will be prepared for the dangers and betrayals in front of them.

The Black Hawks is an exciting and captivating dark fantasy novel that I had an absolute blast reading.  This debut novel from David Wragg was originally released about this time last year and it serves as the first entry in his planned Articles of Faith series.  I didn’t get a chance to read The Black Hawks last year, but I have been eyeing this novel off for several months now as I loved how fun its synopsis sounded.  I finally got the opportunity to read this book a couple of weeks ago and I am extremely glad that I did, as The Black Hawks proved to be an impressive and entertaining read that I ended up powering through in relatively short order.  Wragg has come up with an excellent novel that combines a compelling and slick story with some memorable characters and a dark fantasy landscape loaded with perils and betrayals.  These, combined with the book’s many intense action sequences, fun humour and several dark scenes, help to create an addictive and amazing read that I quickly fell in love with.

Wragg utilises a fun, fast-paced and compelling narrative to serve as the centre of this great book.  The entirety of The Black Hawks’ plot is told from the perspective of Chel, who is constantly falling into the midst of some world-changing events.  The plot starts off quickly, with Chel quickly finding himself in the company of Prince Tarfel and from there into the middle of a number of conspiracies and plot aimed at eliminating or manipulating the prince.  This ensures that the reader is quickly enveloped in a complex and entertaining plot which sees the protagonists surrounded on all sides by betrayals, conflicting agendas, mortal perils and all manner of conspiracies.  It was really fun and captivating to see how the various storylines turned out, and the author comes up with a number of intriguing surprises and twists to ensure that the story stays quite interesting and fresh.  There was one very major twist revealed at the end of the novel that I was particularly impressed with.  Wragg sets this twist up perfectly, with a number of hints towards it scattered throughout the book.  While I was able predict some of what was going to happen in advance, I was pleasantly surprised with some of the other revelations that came to light, and this beautifully cultivated twist was one of the high spots of the book.  I was also expecting a completely different ending to the novel, perhaps something a tad more light-hearted, but I liked the direction that Wragg took it instead, especially as it means that I will be grabbing the eventual sequel to this novel as soon as possible to see what happens next.  Overall, The Black Hawks contains a really enjoyable and smartly written narrative, and I had an outstanding time getting through it.

One of the best parts of The Black Hawks is the enjoyable and distinctive characters that Wragg has come up with.  The book’s main protagonist is Vedren Chel, who serves as the story’s point-of-view character.  Chel starts off as a fairly typical fantasy character: a young, bored minor noble who finds himself suddenly involved with events outside of his understanding.  However, as the story progresses, he shows himself to be a much more complex character, mainly thanks to his dedication to Prince Tarfel, who he becomes sworn to.  Tarfel is a spectacularly naive and incompetent royal, who is usually completely unaware of the danger that he finds himself in, or the full scope of the conspiracies playing out around him.  Despite recognising how useless Tarfel is, Chel takes his oath seriously and does all he can to protect him, even though that essentially means he gets the crap kicked out of him every second chapter or so.  This dogged loyalty and determination to do the right thing makes him quite an appealing protagonist, and he proves to be a rather resourceful individual who starts to fit in with the members of the Black Hawk company who kidnap him.  This camaraderie with the Black Hawks, something that he has been missing for most of his life, results in several great scenes, especially as he finds himself conflicted in his loyalty to them and to Tarfel.  Overall, his character arc goes in some interesting directions, and it was great to see him grow as a person through the course of the book.  Tarfel also grows a little during the course of the novel, becoming slightly less boorish and a little more capable.  Some of the reveals at the end of the novel have some rather large impacts of Tarfel’s personality, as he completely re-evaluates his entire life, and it will be rather interesting to see what happens to him in the future novels.

While Chel and Tarfel are both great characters to anchor the main plot around, the most entertaining and memorable characters are easily the members of the titular Black Hawk company.  The Black Hawks are a small group of dangerous mercenaries who have banded together after failing to fit in with all the other companies.  Wragg has gone out of his way to create a distinctive band of mismatched rogues to fill the ranks of the Black Hawk company, and there are a number of fun characters introduced as a result.  These members include a grim and taciturn leader with a notorious hidden past seeking redemption, a shadowy archer who has had her tongue cut out, a beautiful but lethal swordswoman, the group’s dangerous and self-serving assassin who is probably going to betray everyone, and a philosophical giant.  While there are a few stereotypical fantasy roles in there, such as with the Black Hawk leader, this turned out to be a particularly fun group of characters.  My personal favourite was Lemon, a short, red-haired human woman with a crude personality, amazing sense of humour and a fascination with her arsenal of axes (essentially a classic fantasy dwarf character).  Lemon is a great entry in the book, especially as she serves as the story’s main comic relief and is generally the most likeable and entertaining character in the novel, especially when she regales the protagonist with her blunt and tasteless jokes.  I really liked the excellent group dynamic that Wragg came up with for the members of the Black Hawks, and while they work together and are friends, there is a real sense of how mismatched the group is as all of its members are more individualistic than a team player.  All of these characters are great and Wragg does an excellent job introducing each of them and ensuring that all of them get their moment to shine throughout the course of the story.  However, he makes sure to keep most of their backgrounds hidden from the protagonist and the reader, ensuring there is a certain amount of mystery and mystique around them.  While certain hints about their past are revealed, for the most part the reader is left in the dark about who these people are and what brought them to the Black Hawks.  I imagine that Wragg plans to reveal each of these character’s full backstories throughout the course of the series and now that I am somewhat invested in them, I look forward to finding out more about their pasts.

In addition to the fantastic story and amazing characters, The Black Hawks features an excellent new dark fantasy world that serves as an awesome setting to this book.  Wragg’s novel features a somewhat desolate fantasy kingdom, ruined by years of constant warfare and ruled over by a corrupted and militant religious order that is desperately clinging to power.  This proved to be a really cool and enjoyable setting for the novel, and readers quickly become intrigued by the chaotic events occurring throughout the landscape.  While Wragg does drop the reader into this setting with any preamble and gets the story going rather quickly, the reader is never really lost about what is going on in this setting, and the author provides the relevant details about the fantasy world when necessary.  This proved to be an excellent overall setting, and I really liked seeing how all the politics and religious strife worked out.  This world also has a lot of potential for expansion, with a number of different nations and regions mentioned throughout the course of The Black Hawks’ story.  I imagine that the series will eventually visit many of these locations in the future, which should result in some interesting and enjoyable storylines, and I look forward to seeing how that turns out.

I ended up listening to The Black Hawks through its audiobook format, which runs for just over 12 hours and is narrated by Colin Mace.  This proved to be an excellent way to enjoy The Black Hawks, and I was able to power through it in only a few days as it was a really easy novel to listen to.  Thanks to Mace’s enjoyable narration, readers will be able to fly through this exciting and fast-paced story without losing focus for a second.  Mace also does a number of excellent voices for the various characters in the novels, capturing the diverse personalities and over-the-top characters really well.  As a result, I felt that this format was an awesome way to enjoy The Black Hawks and the audiobook comes highly recommended.

The Black Hawks by David Wragg was a cool and impressive dark fantasy adventure that I am really glad I checked out.  Thanks to his captivating and action-packed story, distinctive characters and dark fantasy setting, Wragg knocked his debut out of the park, creating an awesome overall read.  I had an amazing time listening to this fantastic book and I am looking forward to seeing how the story continues in the second Articles of Faith novel.