Urban Fantasy? What does that mean?
Urban Fantasy is a sub genre of Fantasy and Science Fiction that, at it’s most basic levels, refers to classical fantasy settings such as magic, swords, and monsters, within a modern urban setting. The most famous of these settings would be Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Urban Fantasy becomes a haven for cross genre writers mixing elements of horror, mystery, noir (pronounced nwär), and fantasy (both low and high). There is often elements of romance involved in the plots but this can get dicey as if the plot is focused on said romance rather than the mystery or adventure it becomes a different genre entirely.
Classic Urban Fantasy can be characterized not only by these genre definers but also by some characteristics.
They are very often told from a first person, past tense, perspective. This gives the character lots of room to think and explain to the reader what is happening while allowing for plenty of snark along the way. The main character uses humor as both a form of bravado and as comic relief, as many of the stories have very dark elements involved. The antagonist is most often something of the supernatural persuasion: Vampire, Werewolf, Wizard, Fairy, Necromancer, horde of zombies, etc.
Big name authors have made contributions to the Urban Fantasy sub genre. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is a great example, though due to its popularity it tends to find its way into the Literary Fiction category on Amazon and your local book seller. The same goes for Stephen Kings Dark Tower series, many of the books take the characters to modern urban settings while keeping in tact their fantasy elements. Again, you don’t think of these authors as Urban Fantasy because of their popularity. They find themselves under a much broader category that brings a bigger share of the market (this is due to marketing and popularity).
When I type Urban Fantasy into Amazon, Why do I get Paranormal Romance?
It’s because these two genre’s are very closely related.
So close as to make their distinguishable characteristics hard to differentiate. They retain most of the same genre makers with a few specific changes. The most notable being the emphasis on romance sometimes treading on the erotic side. One of the most famous Paranormal Romance books would be the Twilight Saga. This contains the Fantasy elements, Vampires and Werewolves, while using the romance between Bella and Edward to push the story forward.
Jim Butcher’s wife, Shannon K. Butcher happens to write in the Paranormal Romance genre (her writing definitely tends toward the erotic in what I’ve read of the Sentinel Wars series). In 2012 I attended a Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention in Tuscon Arizona (Tus-Con) where the two of them sat on a panel together discussing the differences between the two genre’s they write in where they reiterated this difference.
New to Urban Fantasy? Where to start.
The first place to start is Dresden.
It’s a series with a long history and a ton of great content. Wizard for hire: no party tricks or love potions. We’re all still patiently awaiting book 16 (Peace Talks) due out… God knows when. I’ll be doing a series of reivews into the Dresden Files in coming additions if you’d like to get more information before tackling something that long. The first book, Storm Front, is short, sweet, and to the point – just forgive Toot the Fairy. He’s jarring at first but you’ll grow to love him.
If you’re more interested in TV, Supernatural is a great Urban Fantasy.
I really enjoyed the show as it really nails the genre. You can watch 12 seasons now on Netflix (though I highly recommend you stop after season 5). My wife and I are currently working through season 12 and though it’s more of the same genre specific stuff, the story arcs have become formulaic with the characters rehashing things every season that seem unnecessary.
Sandman Slim is a trilogy by Richard Kadrey.
The main character is a human who spends years as a gladiator in Hell, only to come back to Earth after striking a deal with a demon to get revenge. It’s a quick read, similar to Dresden.
I’m currently working through Terry Brooks’ Word and Void trilogy starting with Running with the Demon. I’ll give you my recommendations on that one as I finish it.
My Urban Fantasy novel, Immortal Fear, will be out on July 14th. You can follow my Amazon Author page for more information or signup for my email list and I will include you on my list Beta Readers.