Werewolves, shapeshifters, vampires, and… cell phones?
Yup, you read it right. Urban fantasy is one of those genres that likes to mix unlikely creatures with our very own world. But what exactly is urban fantasy, and how does it differ from other, similar, types of fantasy?
Urban fantasy: A subgenre of fantasy which takes place during contemporary times, often in cities (hence “urban”), and involves typical elements of fantasy such as magic and fantastical creatures. Urban fantasy is often associated with leather-clad demon hunter ladies, but that is not a requirement. Also I don’t really like the leather-clad demon hunters… give me the coyote shifter mechanic any day (Hello, Mercy Thompson).
Now, you may be wondering about stories that don’t take place in cities but fit the other requirement: a contemporary setting. Technically, these are contemporary fantasy, though they are often still called urban. The difference is the physical setting.
Then there’s magic realism, a fantasy subgenre made famous by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude). It is normally associated with Latin American writing, but other writers can also pull it off. For example, Neil Gaiman does a wonderful job using this subgenre, though I think most people call it something other than magic realism, like contemporary fantasy (The Ocean at the End of the Lane). Magic realism has its own unique feel; it comes across as a dreamy writing style that seamlessly incorporates magical elements into the everyday. It is difficult for the reader to separate the expected from the magical, and the characters see these magical elements as part of their everyday experience.
But I digress.
While I love other fantasy genres, urban fantasy (including contemporary fantasy and magic realism) has become one of my greatest loves. Why, you ask?
- It involves our world. I love the idea that magic could be just around the corner from me. That it surrounds us, even if we don’t know it. I love the possibility.
- It involves technology. I don’t know about you, but I love my devices. I don’t mind reading about pre-digital devices times, but the concept of magical creatures using a cell phone or computer is something that really gets me… it humanizes them, in some cases, or draws them into greater relatability, giving them more depth. I love the idea of mixing magic and science! Hey, I’m a scientist.
- It has great heroes and heroines. Let’s face it. Some genres just naturally pump out characters we love. I find that urban fantasy is one of the best. You get shifter mechanics (who also have history degrees), half-fae detectives looking for their place in the world, vampires warring with their natural desires, and mermaids trying to hide what they are from the swim team. Extraordinary beings thrust into entirely ordinary situations. I love the contradiction. And I really love the characters for that reason.
Those are my top reasons for loving urban fantasy, but what specific series or books do I love most? Here are my top favorites:
- The Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs
- And, the spin-off, Alpha and Omega
- The Others by Anne Bishop
- Split Feather by Deborah A. Wolf
- The October Daye books by Seanan McGuire
- The Weather Wardens books by Rachel Caine
- The Elemental Origins books by A.L. Knorr
This is by no means an exhaustive list, though. I still plan to read some others, like the Dresden Files, and I love a number of other books and series I didn’t mention here. But my list is pretty long. Indie authors especially, like A.L. Knorr above, tend to publish urban fantasy a lot. Unfortunately, the traditionally published urban fantasy is trickier… some agents and publishers think urban fantasy is dead. But I disagree wholeheartedly; the number of books available and published every day in this genre scream otherwise.
So, I will continue to read (and write) urban fantasy. And I will love it without shame.
What about you? Do you like urban fantasy? Do you prefer other genres or subgenres? Why? Tell me in the comments below!