Tag Archives: Urban Fantasy

Don’t Judge a Series by Its First Book

Series are very common in speculative fiction, and especially in fantasy.  And even more especially in Urban Fantasy.  Normally, when you read the first book in a series and find it less than satisfying, you don’t read the rest of the books in that series.

So, when I finally put down Stacia Kane’s Unholy Ghosts, the first book in her Downside Ghosts series, I was very disappointed.  Here was I book I had greatly been anticipating, and had recommended to me, even though I don’t usually read a lot of Urban Fantasy.  The author is also active on Absolute Write, my favorite writing forum, and I have in fact spoken to her there.

But after the first 50 pages, I found the book very slow going.  The magic system was interesting, there was a unique twist on the post-apocalyptic world, the character was a strong but flawed woman with drug issues and ties to the underworld that actually caused conflict with her everyday job.  The writing was good.  The villain was interesting.  Yet the book wasn’t.  (Keep in mind this was my first Stacia Kane book.)

I tend to finish things I start, and so I finished the book.  I didn’t enjoy it as much as I usually enjoy books, and I felt let down.  Even though I was desparate for reading material, the other two books sat on the shelf for two or three weeks.  If I hadn’t bought all three currently available books in the series in one mass splurge of book-balancing, checker-shocking hemorrhage of cash, I would have written it off as bad luck and moved on.  I would not have picked up the sequels.  And I would have missed out big time.

Because the sequels were both page-turners, which I tore through in one day instead of studying for my finals.  I loved them.  I could see how much they benefitted from the set-up in the first book.  There was a bit much re-hashing from Unholy Ghosts, and I think the books could have still been good reads if I hadn’t slogged through the first book.  But overall, they were great, and I’m glad I bought them.

I’ve heard similar stories about Steven Erikson’s Malazan series.  Fans are constantly explaining that the series really gets started after the first book, Gardens of the Moon, which is apparently slow and boring in its overwhelming detail.  (Personally, I loved it.)  The point is, even though writers are often advised that the first whatever–sentence, paragraoh, page, chapter, novel–is what makes or breaks a sale, those criteria don’t always match up with reality.

While it’s true that there are more books out there than a single person could read in ten life-times, that you can always just move on to a series that is good from start to finish, that doesn’t mean you should never read a book by that author again.  Some authors deserve a second chance.

If you haven’t taken the hint already, Stacia Kane is one of those authors.  But this post is not about how much I now love Stacia Kane.  It’s about how no matter the amount of polish you grind into your first whatever, it won’t always be good enough to hook someone’s interest.  But that doesn’t mean it sucks, or that you should give up on further work in that direction.  So keep writing, and keep reading, and hopefully you’ll find what you’re looking for.

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Posted by on December 16, 2010 in atsiko, Authors, Books, Fantasy, Fantasy/Sci-fi, Rants, Reviews, Series, Writing


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Not Every Fairy Wears Leather

Urban fantasy has swallowed up a great number of mythical and paranormal creatures.  Some are well-digested, and any elf or fairy or vampire could be switched with the other and no one would care.  And some sit in UF’s stomach like a wad of flower stems and by Maab you’d better not call a fairy an elf or a gnome a dwarf.  But for the most part both are domesticated, tamed, adpated to ciy life.  Even the elves wear black leather.

I’m not trying to take potshots at UF, mind you.  It’s just that when the only difference between a were-jaguar and a were-rat is that one’s got wide, green eyes and the other beady, black ones, you have to wonder what’s the point?

Thankfully, as popular as UF is, and as many mythologies it has cut into pieces and devoured, the wild ones are still out there.  They don’t play by human rules, or reason by human logic, and they certainly don’t angst over hot little teens and twenty-somethings like there’s no one of their own species to lust after.

For example, here’s a lovely little fairy story, from Beneath Ceaseless Skies: More Full of Weeping than You Can Understand by Rosamund Hodge.  No black leathers or “tough” cookies here.  And no schmexy fairy lovin’, either.

Look out for my next post, where I bitch even more about how UF has homogenized fantasy literature, and turned it into a bland slurry of empty names and pasty skin.  And it doesn’t matter if you call them “elves”, “fae”, “faeries”, “fairies”, “changelings”, “fey”, “fay” “feyries”, “brownies”, “goblins”, “vampires”, “werewolves”, “lycanthropes”, “shapeshifters”, whatever, they’re still all the same.


Posted by on October 7, 2010 in atsiko, Fantasy, Rants, Urban Fantasy


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The Two Types of Urban Fantasy

Looking at the genre from one angle, there are two types of Urban Fantasy, Type-P fantasy and Type-D fantasy.

Type-D, named after Harry Dresden–because he is awesome and I saw the TV adaption on the Sci-Fi channel (before they came up with that ridiculous re-branding “SyFy”), and because someone over on AW used it– is fantasy where the MC is aware of the story’s supernatural elements.

Type-D can further be divided into stories where magic is “out of the broom-closet”, and known to the world at large, and the much more common set of stories where it’s a Big Fuckin’ Secret. You might guess which one I prefer. It’s probably due to my bias from secondary-world fantasy, where even if it’s a distant existence, both physically and mentally, magic is usually known to the general populace.

Type-P, named after Harry Potter–which is one of the more famous examples currently–is fantasy where the MC discovers that magic exists.

These stories come in two common varieties, stories where the MC does have magic, and stories where they don’t. The latter are usually the most popular.

Both types have their advantages and disadvantages:

Type-D can throw you right into the action. The plot is to the fore and it is where most of the attention is focused. Demon-hunting, vampire cabals, changeling conspiracies. A great example is Harry Connolly’s Child of Fire. MC knows about magic, is involved in magic, and is going to have a great time hunting down the “bad” kind.

Type-P is different. You might have some action at the beginning, such as the kid-napping or murder of someone close to the protagonist–or of the protag themselves. But then you have to deal with the fact that, “ZOMG! Magic!” Whether you’ve got a reluctant protagonist or one who Jumps at the Call, they have to process their reaction some time. You get a lot inner dialogue, friction with more worldly allies, and a great deal of shock and awe. All of these contrive to distance the beginning of the story from the real plot.

Which could go either way. Sure, their twelve-year-old sister got kidnapped, but… “Level 12 Fireball!” How can that not be cool? And that’s one of the major differences.

Type-D is often about the surface events, the plot, even though it is likely to be quite “character-driven”. Type-P is often more about the character arcs, the themes. Of course, these are only generalizations. You can still have fantastic character arcs in Type-D UF, and run around collecting plot coupons and fighting bad-guys in Type-P.

But if you look at my examples, you might notice something. How old are the characters in Dresden Files and Child of Fire? How old in Harry Potter? What about, dare I say it, Twilight? You can argue that it’s PR, not UF, but the genres are pretty close, and there’s a great deal of crossover. If you look back at most of the recommendations in my original post, you’ll see that the trend continues.

Now, I’m not dumping all Type-P UF in the YA category–although if you look at the whole Fantasy genre, you’ll see it follows the trend closely as well. There are counter-examples, naturally. Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, for example, has a discovery plot and an adult MC. And it is not alone. Nor do younger characters always qualify a story as YA (or MG). But it’s a trend.

And one of the reasons for it is the ability to use magic as a metaphor for just about anything we don’t know about, or are uncertain of. Including growing up, love, getting out of the school environment, learning that life isn’t so simple as you thought, etc. And Type-P UF, and Type-F for that matter, handles these themes very well. Issues of self-discovery, personal identity, social identity, cultural identity, sexual identity. All of these have been addressed within Type-P. Being a wizard, a shifter, a vamp. These are all things that separate someone from the rest of humanity, just like being gay, or black, or female might set someone apart.

In Type-D, characters are usually more stable in their identity, more confident. They aren’t dealing with so many first, so many new things. They’ve already honed their skills, learned their lore, chosen their profession. And this allows for all sorts of stories that you couldn’t have in Type-P. It makes for different approaches as well. Whereas a twelve-year-old is not going to go undercover in an ab-dead dreamshit ring, a thirty-year-old were-falcon cop could do so easily. And vice-versa. Middle-aged investment bankers aren’t going to be wandering around in the attic, or playing hide and seek in the wardrobe. 9-year-olds certainly won’t be hunting down strange sorcerers who turn children in burning piles of grubs that burrow away into the soil.

There are many other ways to divide or classify urban fantasy. There’s N. K. Jemisin’s Stylistic vs. Contextual UF, over on Jeff VanderMeer’s Ecstatic Days. You could classify by protagonist type: “Kick-ass broad” vs. suave vampiric playboy. Or smart, tough, magic detective. There’re the various lineages and influences I mentioned in the last post. The list goes on. They all provide some insight, and some context.

Next time, we might talk about those lineages a little more in depth. I think the term “lineage” in general makes for a great sub-category of “sub-genre”, unless you’d prefer “sub-sub-genre”? Either way, we’ll explore the idea soon.


Posted by on January 15, 2010 in Authors, Fantasy, Genre of the Week, Themes


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Funny UF Song

Was introduced to this amusing UF gag song.  Hope you enjoy it.

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Posted by on January 13, 2010 in atsiko, Urban Fantasy



Genre of the Week: Urban Fantasy

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?

  1.  The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
  2. The Weather Warden Series by Rachel Caine
  3. Three Days to Dead by Kelly Meding
  4. The Demons Series by Stacia Kane
  5. War for the Oaks by Emma Bull
  6. The Newford Series by Charles de Lint
  7. The Marla Mason Series by Tim Pratt
  8. The Kitty Norville Series by Carrie Vaughn
  9. The Shifters Series by Rachel Vincent
  10. The Walker Papers Series by C E Murphy
  11. The Allie Beckstrom Series by Devon Monk
  12. 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.

  1. The Magic District
  2. Deadline Dames
  3. Fangs, Fur, and Fey
  4. The League of Reluctant Adults

Next time: Space Opera!


Posted by on January 13, 2010 in Fantasy, genre, Genre of the Week, Urban Fantasy


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Genre of the Week Revival

First, I would like to acknowledge that “Genre of the Week” is not entirely accurate at this point, considering how long ago I posted about Steam-punk, and the fact that the proposed next GotW, “Space Opera” never appeared. It’s more like “Genre of the Three Months”. 🙂 But I’m going to try again, and circumstances permitting, I’d like to get these posts up and written more regularly, and to add a small feature of actually posting more than one post about each genre a week. So that, you know, it’s actually the Genre of the Week, and not a third variation called “Genre of a Random Day which Happens to be in this Particular Week”.

Now, this is already Tuesday night, so it’s a late start. But I will in fact introduce a new genre this week: Urban Fantasy(UF), and there will be one or more supplementary posts looking at more specific aspects of the genre. In particular, I have already written one describing one of the possible breakdowns of the UF genre, Type-P UF vs. Type-D UF. You’ll learn what those two terms mean when the post goes up sometime after Wednesday. Until then, you’ll have to make do with my Introductory Post on UF which will hopefully go up sometime tonight. Hope you enjoy it.

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Posted by on January 13, 2010 in Fantasy, Genre of the Week


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