Please don't count how many old "reviews" of mine say "review later", "more later", or variations thereupon. ... Actually, just ignore my blog until further notice.
This is my review of the audiobook. For thoughts on the story and writing itself, see the original review on my blog. I won't link because it's pretty recent anyway.
I won this audiobook through Shannon Hale's Twitter giveaway. I was particularly excited, because as anyone close to me will know, I want to get into narration myself and am always looking for more role models.
First of all, if my minimal research on Audible is correct, this was Mandi Lee's first audiobook. Good for her! She holds her own, and with a book this widely-anticipated by such a well-loved author, that's impressive enough. What a breakthrough to have.
The audio quality is decent. Not perfect, but unless you're quite sensitive to that sort of thing, you shouldn't have a problem.
Mandi Lee's most impressive quality for me is how she manages to create distinct, subtle voices for a wide array of female characters, despite not giving any of them different accents. I don't know if I can convey how difficult that is. It's one of my struggles as an aspiring narrator. If I want people to be able to tell characters of the same gender and a similar age range apart, I have to either give one an accent or exaggerate a vocal tic to a point where it's kind of unrealistic. But in this narration? No problem. Most of the time, I could tell which of the girls was talking without hearing the dialogue tag.
The male voices fall a little short. There's not enough difference, whether in pitch or vocal quality, between Peder and Miri or Jeffers and Miri for me to be positive when a man is talking until I hear the dialogue tag. But this story isn't about the guys. So while that's not ideal, it's certainly forgivable. There are also songs at the beginning of each chapter which are just read, not sung. Normally, I'd want a tune to go with them, but because of the sheer amount of chapters (and therefore songs) in this book, again, that's forgivable.
Finally, props to Lee for putting a lot of emotion into her reading. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to get to an intense, emotional passage in a book only for the narrator's voice to sound distanced, impersonal, and/or indifferent. Mandi Lee doesn't have that problem. She sounds like she cares, so the characters sound like they care. In a passage toward the end of the book, when Miri is losing her temper, shouting and on the verge of tears, her dialogue sounds angry and on the verge of tears. The performance there is more intense than you'd hear in most audiobooks, because I think a lot of narrators (myself included) forget that narration is about acting and not just reading. And yet, despite the effort Mandi Lee puts into her reading, she manages to avoid the opposite problem of making the listener wonder "Does she think I'm two years old?"
So, tl;dr, I definitely recommend both the book and its audio counterpart!