Urban Fantasy: A Closer Look

Let’s talk urban fantasy!

Welcome back to Fantasy Month! As a reminder, you can find out all about this event over on Jenelle Schmidt’s blog.

Previously, we’ve discussed some of the subgenres of fantasy, but today I want to delve more into urban fantasy, its own subgenre of fantasy. Why? Because urban fantasy has a lot of subtle nuances that tend to be used interchangeably, and there can be a lot of disagreement about what exactly urban fantasy is.

But first, a note. Even though this is how I define urban fantasy, you don’t have to agree with me. Not everyone does! But I encourage you to share your ideas in the comments so we can chat. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Urban fantasy is not contemporary fantasy

I feel like this is a common misconception. Many people equate urban fantasy with anything set in modern time. However, it’s a bit more nuanced than that.

By definition, urban fantasy (UF) must take place in a city setting (urban). It could be historical urban fantasy, but the most likely, and the most recognized, is modern day city settings.

Contemporary fantasy, on the other hand, isn’t restricted to a city setting. It can be rural, under the ocean, on the moon…though there may be other overlapping genres there. 😉 But the key is that it takes place in current times without specifying location.

Contemporary and low fantasy aren’t the same

Low fantasy, similar to contemporary fantasy, takes place in our world. However, similar to urban fantasy, it does not have to be modern time. Contemporary, by definition, does take place during modern times.

Urban fantasy and paranormal romance are similar…but not the same

This one is still fuzzier to me. Urban fantasy is similar to paranormal romance (PNR), but it tends to focus much less on romantic elements. PNR centers on romantic relationships, though it shares many other characteristics with UF. As I had mentioned last year in the fantasy subgenres breakdown, paranormal itself tends to center on another specific characteristic, so I’d say that PNR is just paranormal with a romantic twist.

Do you have a good definition of PNR? Do you love it? Hate it? Tell me in the comments!

So what are some hallmarks of urban fantasy?

Many people will overlap urban and contemporary fantasy, and there are a lot of book series that fall into this category in bookstores and online. Many of them tend to share some of the same features (but these are by no means inclusive and UF doesn’t have to contain all of them):

  • Brandon Sanderson once described urban fantasy as “chicks in leather fighting demons”. This can be accurate for some.
  • Many main characters (not all) are female.
  • Main characters may be human or not. But they become deeply immersed in supernatural culture.
  • There are often slow-burn romantic elements, but it is not the focus of the story, and romance isn’t a requirement.
  • Books are often long-running series.
  • Each book in a series is self-contained, but overall character arcs continue to develop from book to book.
  • UF may contain the following (or more!): shifters, fae, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, mages, demons, angels, any magical creature you can think of.

Do you have other characteristics you’ve seen in urban fantasy? What are they? Tell me in the comments!

Final thoughts

Personally, I LOVE urban fantasy, but I know it isn’t for everyone. For me, I love that idea that magic could be just around the corner, that we just don’t see it around us. It’s an idea I became almost obsessed with over the past several years, starting with when I read the Mercy Thompson books in grad school. And because of my love for it, I tend to write quite a bit of it.

This Cursed Flame is a YA contemporary/portal fantasy. It doesn’t take place in a city, but it is set in modern times. It includes many, many djinn. And a genie.

Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks is also contemporary fantasy, but it doesn’t take place in a city, so again, just contemporary. It does, however, have fae all over it.

And my newest release (out today!), Freeze Thaw, is a blend of contemporary and historical fantasy, as it combines magic in the Ice Age with magic in the modern world. But it’s set at an archaeological dig rather than a city, so I say, again, contemporary.

I’d love to tell you of all my upcoming projects, but it would simply take too long. So instead, do you have any favorite UF (or similar) reads? What are they? Why do you love them? Let’s chat!

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New Release Announcement!

As I mentioned, Freeze Thaw is out today! It is novelette length and a Sleeping Beauty retelling…in fact, it’s the same story that started all the Seasons of Magic stories! It was a Top Ten finalist in the Rooglewood Press Five Magic Spindles contest, and I am still in love with my story.

Click on the picture or the link above to find out more!