Urban Fantasy

Hey, kids–

I’m always encouraging people to read outside their comfort zones and to read across genres. That’s something I do all the time. I have some genres that I enjoy more than others, but for the most part, I’m all over the map. Reading widely and reading often makes us better readers and, for those of us who write, better writers. Why? Because reading widely exposes us to new ways of expressing ourselves, and different stylistic elements that we can analyze and think about and perhaps incorporate into our own writing infrastructures. As readers, we get a feeling for the different formulas for different genres, and we can become better gauges of what works in a genre and what doesn’t.

Along those lines, I suggested over at Women and Words a couple weeks ago that readers try out some steampunk. So here, I’m going to suggest you try out what’s called “urban fantasy.”

You’re already aware of that genre, though you may not know that it’s sometimes referred to in that terminology. Basically, “urban fantasy” is set in a contemporary “real world” setting, usually “urban” (hence the name) with a main character who has some kind of paranormal or supernatural power and has to deal with those elements within the story. I found this over at Genteel Black Hole (cheers!), and I think she nails it:

To me, to class a book as being of this Fantasy subgenre, it needs to contain the following ingredients: contemporary setting, set in the real-world and with a real sense of place, city-based, with a male or female lead who has supernatural powers and uses them to kick ass and help people, detective/crime plot, humour, and set in a slightly alternative ‘now’ as humans are usually aware or becoming aware of the existence of certain supernatural beings. These beings include, but are not limited to: vampires (new and old mythology), were-creatures (from wolves to coyotes), wizards/witches, and the fae.

This definition is subject to change, but authors whose series/titles currently fall in this category include: Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files), Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson), Chloe Neill (Chicagoland Vampires), Kim Harrison (The Hollows/ Rachel Morgan), Kelley Armstrong (Women of the Otherworld etc), Ilona Andrews (Kate Daniels), Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere), Karen Chance (Cassandra Palmer) and Rachel Caine (Weather Warden). Here’s a great place for more information.
source: Genteel Black Hole

GBH also sends us over to this, at Goodreads, which provides a list of urban fantasy titles from which to choose. GBH notes that there is some crossover between urban fantasy and paranormal romance (which is, yes, romance that involves characters with paranormal inclinations/supernatural powers), but there’s crossover in virtually every genre. And generally, if you prefer a paranormal romance to urban fantasy, the synopsis will probably let you know whether the drive behind the book is romance or, say, mystery or thriller or something along those lines.

Here, let me help if you’re still confused. Stephanie Meyer‘s stuff (Twilight) is considered urban fantasy in some circles. So, too, is Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse. And Jim Butcher‘s paranormal mystery series is also considered urban fantasy.

And not all urban fantasy deals with vampires and werewolves (though those are popular characters in the genre). Jim Butcher’s work, for example, includes witches, ghosts, and demons. Gail Cerriger, I’d argue, melds elements of at least two genres to write paranormal steampunk.

So go on and check out those authors’ websites. If you’ve never read urban fantasy, give it a try. You might just like it.

Happy reading!

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