Defining the genres: Urban fantasy

(If you’re here for the A to Z blog challenge, scroll down for today’s post. This post is one in an on-going series on genres.)

I touched on this when I discussed fantasy a few weeks back. I gave some of the elements that are prevalent in various types of fantasy. For urban fantasy, I mentioned modern world, a big city, often a hard-boiled detective, may be but is not necessarily dark. Oh, and magic or magical creatures, since that’s what makes this fantasy rather than mystery or mainstream. Also, urban fantasy doesn’t focus on a romantic plot; if that’s the focus of a book (rather than a sub-plot at most), it’s paranormal romance.

There are differences among books, though. One of the most obvious is how open the magic or creatures are — does the world at large know about them? In the Dresden Files, the answer is quite clearly no, and the wizards work hard to make sure it stays that way. Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series also has a hidden world that is known only to the initiate. In Patricia Briggs’s books (both the Alpha and Omega and the Mercedes Thompson series), the werewolves have come out in the open and some of the fey are known, but there are things that are still hidden from the general population. In Devon Monk’s Allie Beckstrom series, magic is known — but there’s a price to using it.

Another obvious difference is what takes center stage. In the Anita Blake series (by Laurell K. Hamilton), the main character is a vampire hunter and a necromancer. The dead figure largely in these books, as do werewolves. The Merry Gentry series by the same author, however, focuses on the Sidhe, dealing with the Seelie and Unseelie courts. Thomas E. Sniegowski’s work deals with angels in both the Fallen series and the Remy Chandler novels. Kasey MacKenzie writes about Furies.

If you haven’t run across urban fantasy (and really? Where have you been? Even Buffy is urban fantasy!), you can often find anthologies that will introduce you to various authors and series, either in novella or short story form, so you can decide what you like. One recent anthology that I enjoyed was Down These Strange Streets, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. I will note that although I liked the novella “The Adakian Eagle” by Bradley Denton, which finished the volume, as it was set in a World War II military camp in Alaska, I don’t believe it really belongs in a book of urban fantasy.

Another anthology that’s been somewhat controversial is Ellen Datlow’s Naked City. (For example, see review here.) This doesn’t surprise me much, as I’ve heard Datlow talk about urban fantasy and paranormal romance. I can’t be certain she said this exact thing, but her sentiment could be summed up as, “They stole our monsters.” Datlow’s first love is horror. Yes, she’s an accomplished anthologist, but that doesn’t mean that she’s going to go with definitions she doesn’t share with the world at large.

What about you? Do you read urban fantasy? What’s your favorite series?

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  1. I’ve enjoyed Datlow’s anthologies of horror and fantasy. The urban fantasies that really brought me in were the ones where it was almost a parallel world to ours, where the world was as it is today, only it was known monsters existed and were citizens.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

    • Yes, as I said, she is an accomplished anthologist. I’ll probably pick up that anthology at some point — at the very least, to read the Jim Butcher story. I just won’t go in expecting everything (or even most stories) to fit my definition of urban fantasy.

      Do you have a favorite series? (I’m always looking to add to my TBR pile.)

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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