Fantasy Face-off: Round One

September was a big YA Fantasy month for me and some audiobooks definitely stood out more than others (not always for positive reasons, though). I never wrote full reviews for any of these, so let’s see which audiobooks were left standing when the dust cleared!

[Ring announcer voice]

First in the ring, we have:

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson vs. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Managed by (Narrator): Jennifer Ikeda⎮ Elizabeth Evans

Weighing in at (Length): 12h 9m ⎮ 12h 47m

Representing (Publisher): HarperCollins (2012) ⎮ Audible, Inc. (2013)

Knock Outs (Rating): 5★ ⎮ 3.5★

Post-Match Breakdown: Throne of Glass (ToG) was heavily favored to win this matchup, but never overlook an underdog. The Girl of Fire and Thorns (TGFT) was narrated by (in my opinion) an all-star voice actor, Jennifer Ikeda. Although Elizabeth Evans did a fine job of narrating Throne of Glass, Ikeda may be one of my favorite female narrators. Her voice is like warm honey and nearly lulled me to sleep on several occasions. I started these series in September and have since finished them both (well, as far as I can go with ToG). Throne of Glass is a longer series and starts out rather slowly, probably to build momentum for future installments, whereas The Girl of Fire and Thorns is a trilogy that comes out swinging. Celaena, the protagonist in the Throne of Glass series is constantly hailed as a “badass” and all that, but Elisa (TGFT) is hands-down one of my favorite female protagonists of all-time. In this first installment, she is insecure and overweight, not at all like her confident, mesmerizing sister and, more importantly, not at all like the typical YA female protagonist. Yet, as the story progresses, Elisa becomes her own type of badass. Her character transformation was humbling to witness. On the other hand, I didn’t feel like Celaena progressed much in this installment (or really in the entire series). The ToG series picks up around the middle of the second installment, but judging by this installment alone, The Girl of Fire and Thorns easily takes the prize.

Next up, is:

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows vs. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Managed by (Narrator): Katherine Taub ⎮ Kate Simses

Weighing in at (Length): 9h 14m ⎮ 9h 12m

Representing (Publisher): HarperCollins (2012) ⎮ HarperCollins (2011)

Knock Outs (Rating): 3.5★ ⎮ 3★

Post-Match Breakdown: Only half of a star separated these two contenders and, to be honest, I originally gave Incarnate three stars when I first heard it. Both of these ratings were no doubt heavily influenced by the narration. Try as I might to keep my feelings between authors and narrators separate, there is bound to be some overlapping when the two come together to create a complete audiobook experience. Neither of these narrators will ever be my favorites and I am not in a rush to hear either of them again anytime soon. The narration made it particularly difficult to finish Incarnate, but I still feel like that was the stronger story. Narration aside, Incarnate‘s plot interested me a fair bit more than Shatter Me. But I will give Shatter Me credit for having interesting sound effects. There was a “scritch” sound every time the protagonist scratched out something she was writing. There was an element of uniqueness to the Shatter Me audiobook experience that I feel translated well from the physical format.

To me, all books/audiobooks leave a certain flavor (opinion) with you after finishing it. With time, that flavor can either savor (improve), sour (turn bad), or stay the same. The thing that persuaded me to award Incarnate the winning half star was the fact that it has savored in my mind since hearing it four months ago. When I think back on it now, I find myself recalling the parts of the plot that really interested me and sort of glossing over the negatives. From what I remember, the narrator was my primary complaint, so I would still recommend choosing the book format over audiobook for Incarnate, as well as Shatter Me.  If I ever decide to continue on with either of these series, Shatter Me  may have a chance for a rematch, but in this round, I’m declaring Incarnate the winner (but barely).

And finally, the main event:

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas vs. Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

Managed by (Narrator): Jennifer Ikeda ⎮ Kate Rudd

Weighing in at (Length): 16h 7m ⎮ 10h 56m

Representing (Publisher): Recorded Books (2015) ⎮ HarperCollins (2014)

Knock Outs (Rating): 5★ ⎮ 4★

Post-Match Breakdown: This match featured one of my already well-beloved narrators, Jennifer Ikeda, and an author I was on the fence about. As seen in a previous matchup, I had ambivalent feelings towards Sarah J. Maas based on the only previous exposure I had to her writing, the Throne of Glass series. I was unsure about whether or not to give her newest work A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR) a shot, but seeing that Ikeda was the narrator persuaded me. I’m telling you, some narrators are so incredible that I am willing to risk 9-12 hours of potentially horrible story just to hear their voices again. Fortunately for me, ACOTAR turned out to be the farthest thing from horrible. I don’t think I gave many audiobooks five stars in 2015, but this one was well deserved. On the other side of the ring, Snow Like Ashes put up a very, very good fight and even pulled out some last minute trick moves in an attempt to claim the victory. There was a blindsiding punch towards the end of the story that I never saw coming. If you’ve read/listened to it, you know exactly which twist I’m talking about. Still, the comeback attempt wasn’t enough to compete with ACOTAR, which had a very balanced and well-paced attack. It also wasn’t enough to warrant 5 stars, but I still think 4 stars is a fair rating for this rookie (debut) installment. It has a promising world and, now that I know the kinds of punches Sara Raasch is capable of pulling, I’m eager to move on to the next installment (which is out now!). With a perfect score, A Court of Thorns and Roses is the heavyweight champion of this Fantasy Face-off! ♣︎

Let me know what you think!