Narrator Spotlight: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

by Emily Z

The right narrator can make or break an audiobook experience. To complicate matters, if a book or series has a wide cast of characters, the narrator might find themselves overwhelmed. What if there’s a bubbly teen girl character, stuffy older male characters, a smooth young Londoner, a Sikh Scotsman, and a whole host of strong females from all over West Africa? You can either cast a bunch of different narrators who can handle all those voices or you can hire Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.

I’ll be honest, I’ve wanted an excuse to talk about Kobna for some time. In addition to being an actor in television and film, he narrates the Rivers of London audiobooks by Ben Aaronovitch, a series I’ve mentioned before and of which I am quite fond. More importantly, when he narrates, he is an ensemble cast unto himself, mastering (to my American ears) voices from all across the British Isles, Africa, and even some American voices as needed.

He will just as easily tackle different ages, genders, and classes. Many of the major characters in these books are women of various ages, backgrounds, races, cultures, and nationalities. The cultural divide between the main character (young constable Peter Grant), and his direct supervisor Thomas Nightingale (a stiff, older, upper class, classically trained British wizard and Detective Chief Inspector) is a recurring source of humor and tension throughout the series. The first book also has a homicidal ghost with a high, disturbing voice inspired by Mr. Punch. Ben Aaronovitch is not holding back in the character department.

If you’d like a teeny preview, Audible UK did an interview with both the author and Kobna to highlight a new audio-only short story A Rare Book of Cunning Device. Yes, it is currently only available from Audible, but it is free. Alternatively, you can try a sample of the first book via OverDrive (just click on the Listen to Sample button).

Kobna’s gravitas, skill, and background also gives just the right voice to Blue Remembered Earth, the first book in the Poseidon’s Children science fiction series by Alastair Reynolds. In this book, the continent of Africa is Earth’s new base of global power and the world is now more or less free of famine, war, disease, and poverty. Of course, there’s still room for family pressure, secrets, and a conspiracy that spans a galaxy. Outside of the speculative fiction universe, Kobna narrated The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna, a moving story about the strangely intersecting lives of three different men living with the aftermath of civil war in Sierra Leone.

Check out the full list of Kobna’s audio offerings.

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8 responses to “Narrator Spotlight: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith”

  1. I’ve heard SUCH good things about the audio version of Midnight Riot. I’ve been meaning to read it for at least a year… Must do.

    • Emily Z says:

      I read the first book the old fashioned way and tried the audio format for the second. After that I was hooked. I still buy the books (so can lend them to friends) but I insist on listening to Kobna narrate them now.

  2. Jessica Wahlborg says:

    I have limited experience with audio books but the Janet Evanovich books narrated by Lorelei King are awesome! Thanks for this post!

  3. Lindsey says:

    Well, this post has sold me on him! Now I really want to check out The Memory of Love.

  4. I started listening to the Rivers of London Series with Midnight Riot because Audible recommended it to me. I loved it so much I recommended purchase by the library system. I impatiently wait for each new audiobook. I enjoy the way Ben Aaronovitch makes London feel like one of the characters in his stories. Kobna was a genius pick from the start.

  5. Hope you enjoy it too!

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