Last week, I talked about Steampunk. This week’s Genre is Urban Fantasy, commonly abbreviated UF. A general description of a UF novel is “any novel taking place on Earth in modern times (no earlier than the 1900’s, but more commonly between the 1960’s and the present) which involves some type of paranormal or supernatural element and portrays its interactions with an urban environment.”
Urban fantasy has been said to include elements of fantasy, horror and romance. A lot of the more popular UF today has a larger romance component, and also a larger horror component than you might have seen previously. Without suggesting that Girls in FantasyTM only write romance, I think this is attributable to the a certain degree to the number of female authors in the modern incarnation of UF. And there are a lot.
And there’s also more crossover with the Paranormal Romance(PR) genre, the title of which might hint to you that there’s a lot more romance than in your typical UF novel. Even more than in your typical Kick-Ass Heroine UF novel, which is literally becoming more and more “typical” of the genre in general. And you know what? That’s great. It’s wonderful to see more female fantasy authors getting the attention they deserve. And they do deserve it.
You may notice I’m having a bit of trouble keeping the gender issues out of this post. Because Urban Fantasy has a much more conspicuous and overt female writer-/reader-ship, it’s gotten a lot of attention from the gender pundits. Now, I don’t want to digress into a long lecture about the history or status of women in Spec Fic, so I think we’ll leave this discussion at that. (Feel free to talk about it in comments, however, if you’d like to.)
One of the things that really differentiates UF from other sub-genres of fantasy is that it is often set both in a high-magic world, and yet a world that is recognizably, or even blatantly in-your-face, Earth. Whether or not the supernatural or fantastic elements is out in the open, or hidden behind layers of secrets and vast under-world conspiracies, it is there, it is active, and it has a great deal of influence on the world, or at least on the world most of its protagonists move in. Oh, and it has a lot of kick-ass female leads, too–but that’s veering back towards the gender issues debate. We’ll leave that for a later post.
Another thing that sets this genre apart is it’s crossover ability. Much like steampunk, urban fantasy gets along well with many related sub-genres. Like, for instance, steampunk! But it also blurs the edges of it’s parent category “contemporary” fantasy, which is generally a reference specifically to the time period a story is set in. Earlier, I mentioned the fuzzy borders between YF and PR. It also has close ties to Horror, and the Horror/Fantasy (kind of) mix that makes up the sub-genre of “Dark Fantasy”. Urban fantasy is often also shoved into another larger category called “low fantasy”, which—in contrast to High Fantasy and it’s many elaborate secondary-worlds—is generally set on earth and has less mythical overtones in terms of its structure. Naturally, it borrows quite a few non-human species/races from mythology. Even Gods.
Finally, Urban fantasy crosses over with slightly more distant relatives in the mystery area, such as noir, police procedurals, and thrillers. This is primarily because—as inhabitants of a modern, industrialized world—UF protagonists have one of the widest arrays of professions in the genre. The most common include Spy, Detective, PI (there’s a difference), Medical Examiner/Coroner, Hired Muscle, and occasionally Stock Broker or business magnate. All of those jobs that allow for fights in dirty alleys, investigating crimes, and waging shadow wars throughout the criminal underground. Of course, some have more normal jobs as well, especially those who don’t begin the story aware of these strange and powerful supernatural menaces. (More on that later.)
Currently, UF is one of the most popular sub-genres, topping best-seller charts and being snapped up by agents and editors like priceless jewels. Urban fantasy authors are some of the most visible author presences on the net, as the link list lower in the post will display. A great deal of UF comes in the form of series of inter-connected but standalone books, and then tend to run rather long. The Dresden Files must be in the teens or twenties by now, and newer series are gaining ground fast. Now, why don’t you have a gander at a few prime examples of what this genre has to offer?
- The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
- The Weather Warden Series by Rachel Caine
- Three Days to Dead by Kelly Meding
- The Demons Series by Stacia Kane
- War for the Oaks by Emma Bull
- The Newford Series by Charles de Lint
- The Marla Mason Series by Tim Pratt
- The Kitty Norville Series by Carrie Vaughn
- The Shifters Series by Rachel Vincent
- The Walker Papers Series by C E Murphy
- The Allie Beckstrom Series by Devon Monk
- The Mercy Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs
All of these books are good Urban Fantasy. You may not see some names you expected to see, and I will explain that in a later post. Suffice it to say that there are a few different directions UF is going in, and this list contains series and authors from the first and currently most popular direction.
Now, this list will direct you to some cool articles and blogs on the subject of UF. These are all places I’ve been to and enjoyed.
Next time: Space Opera!