What is Urban Fantasy?

Urban Fantasy…what does it conjure up for you? The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher? Rachel Morgan by Kim Harrison? The Weather Warden by Rachel Caine? The Onion Girl by Charles De Lint? The Leandros Brothers by Rob Thurman? Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs? Personal Demons by Stacia Kane? Happy Hour of the Damned by Mark Henry?

Is Urban Fantasy hot super-powered girls with tattoos and leather, amping up the UST with vampire or werewolf boyfriends? Or is it something else? IS there anything else? Or is it Hot Sexed up romance dressed up in wolf’s clothing?

Are you happy with what you find in Urban Fantasy, or do you think the genre has limited itself to what really could be called the Hot Chicks in the City? Or is that really Paranormal Romance?

Is Urban Fantasy a good thing? Should it have more variety, or is there enough variety now? Should Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance have a line of salt sprinkled between them? Does one bring down the other? And why would paranormal romance bring urban fantasy down–does it?

What do YOU think?


  1. says

    Am I showing my age when I think “Ah! Urban fantasy! That’s A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows and SERRAted Edge stuff.” Elves that race cars. :)

  2. Robin says

    Urban fantasy, like any other genre, has a lot of variations. Personally, I’m partial to The Dresden Files, but I have friends who prefer other series. I’m okay with a certain amount of romance, but not so much that it overshadows the fantastical elements. Not necessarily to the point of “sprinkling a line of salt” between them. More like sticking to my side of the Venn diagram.

  3. Mantelli says

    I really have no idea now. All sorts of things that were just “fantasy” before are now being hyped as “urban fantasy”. I think it’s “whatever sells the book”. Pardon my cynicism.

  4. says

    I’ve started dividing fantasy up into subgenres:

    Contemporary fantasy: that which takes place in the modern era, with elves, wizards, etc like the So You Want You Want to be a Wizard series by Diane Duane or Charles De Lint’s works, which borrow more from Native American lore.

    Urban Fantasy: which also takes place in a contemporary setting, but which usually features Buffy the Vampire Slayer type heroines and conventional monsters from European/Asian traditions.

    Paranormal Fantasy: which is actually Romance with a coating of monsters and magic but where the sex and romance is the primary focus.

    As for elves driving race cars…I missed that entirely.

  5. says

    I have this horrible love-hate relationship with Urban Fantasy because I love the concept but the execution of it is so often…horrible.

    I am so very, very tired of reading about supposedly strong, independent women who still need to get rescued by their hunky werewolf/vampire love interest all the time. I’ve read a lot more Lilith St. Crow books than I really should have and they all give me this icky, creepy-crawly feeling (and yet I keep coming back because she’s so damn good at world building, I keep hoping that at some point she’ll create a female lead who isn’t emotionally damaged).

    …Totally want to second the loved for the SERRAted Edge books. I remember reading one of those books a while back and LOVING it. I was very sad that the library didn’t have more.

  6. says

    I have found that some of the most distasteful of romance tropes make it into Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy–most notably the one you mentioned.

  7. Izzy says

    In theory, I like urban fantasy: I like the Dresden Files, loved Diana Tregarde, generally liked Buffy (with some reservations about Joss Wheedon’s “good girls don’t” mindset) and liked at least the concept of the SERRAted Edge/Bedlam’s Bard stuff. “Kickass woman fighting evil” is a favorite trope of mine.

    I do not, however, like the equation of “kickass woman who fights evil” with “emotionally damaged and secretly fragile”, and that seems to go on a lot in the genre. (I, personally, have no use for Trauma Girl, and it annoys me when I get halfway into a book only to get the heroine’s Tragic Past crashing down on my head.) I also don’t love the Faux Action Chick thing Neev mentioned, where the heroine’s supposedly strong and awesome and yet keeps needing some big bad man to rescue her. I like romance and all, but “alpha males” aren’t the only possible heroes: Kickass Chick can’t fall in love with the librarian who helps her research the demon’s weak point? Why not?

    And again, while I like romance and sex, I sometimes think I’m the only woman out there to find neither vampires nor werewolves particularly sexy–and the claiming-person-as-eternal-mate thing that often goes along with them makes me roll my eyes a lot.

  8. Ailia says

    Hmm … Well, I used to think that urban fantasy was Charles de Lint’s _Jack of Kinrowan_ and _Memory and Dream_ but, I must admit, since Anita Blake, I’ve started reading a lot more of what you’ve helpfully identified as Paranormal Romance.

    And, I’ll admit, I wouldn’t have picked up Mercy Thompson if the genre label “Romance” had been anywhere near it, but I’m the first to admit that’s dumb.

    That said, I’m pretty paranormal fantasy’d out. How many tough, but emotionally questionable, heroines getting it on with Alpha werewolves and vampires can you read before wrinkling your nose? It’s like pop music or Jolly Ranchers.

    I’m holding out hope that something awesome is going to come out of Verb_Noire (see http://community.livejournal.com/verb_noire/ ), but until then, I’m taking a break.

  9. Robert says

    Although I’ve grown to enjoy the Dresden Files, I had the opposite reaction to Anita Blake; the more I read, the less I liked the series.

    My favorite urban fantasy series is the Merchant’s War cycle by Charles Stross (arguably urban science fiction, not fantasy…), and the Day Watch/Night Watch, etc. books by Sergei Lukyanenko. Back when I was a young reader I was a huge fan of the Lord D’Arcy Investigates and the Amber series.

    By the way, why is it called “urban” fantasy? Is there a genre of “rural” fantasy?

  10. Quaisior says

    I got burned out on the most popular sub-set of urban fantasy when I attempted to read the Anita Blake series, although I do intend to try at least the first books of the Dresden Files, Diana Tregarde series, and Tanya Huff’s Vicki Nelson series. But I absolutely love Clive Barker’s books and I’ve enjoyed the Neil Gaiman books I’ve read, so I’m always on the lookout for more contemporary fantasy like theirs. I’ve tried a few paranormal romances, but only liked one or two- I lean more toward fantasy and SF, so after a bit of experimentation, now I know what my taste is and will get my fix from the SFF aisles. By the way, I love a good romantic sub-plot in my fantasy and SF reading, but I have a huge aversion to love triangles, heroines in need of rescue, overuse of romance tropes, and I absolutely hate alpha males!

  11. stevie says

    I’m under the impression that urban fantasy and paranormal romance are different genres. Although they both have some similarities and contain elements of the supernatural, I label paranormal romance as a novel where the romance is the central theme and takes up the bulk of the book, usually there’s a ‘happy ever after’ type ending, where the protagonists end up together. Examples would be Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter Series, Christina Feehan’s carpathians series and Stephenie Meyer’s Twillight, and the latter book’s of LKH’s Anita Blake series.

    Urban Fantasy is a little broader, usually contains a strong lead, can contain themes such as crime, horror, comedy, mystery etc but always has elements of the supernatural/paranormal, the difference being that romance more of a sub-plot, typically are more grittier and not all of the issues get resolved. It differs to fantasy as the setting is contemporary, fantasy is usually in the middle ages with little/no modern technology and sci-fi has a heavy emphasis of technology and can be set in the future. I consider Urban fantasy to be Early LKH, Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Mike Carey, Barb Hendee, Patricia Briggs, Chris Marie Green and Illona Andrews.

    I’ve never been able to enjoy books heavy on the romance where the protagonists are the perfect match for each other and end up together whereas I love books where there’s a supernatural crime/mystery to solve, and a little romance that doesn’t overshadow the main themes. I wouldn’t say one type brings the other down but they are different styles and because you like one you’re not necessarily going to enjoy reading the other.

  12. says

    There is some separation between the genres, but perhaps the way the publishers and bookstores market them leads Urban Fantasy readers to get a jolt when they unexpectedly come across a wild and vivid sex scene between a vampire and a superpowered woman when they weren’t expecting it.

    Sometimes an UF is labeled PR and the other way round. The only way to know, sometimes, what you’re getting is to skim the book in the store.

    Apparently Laurel K. Hamilton angered many of her fans when her series changed from Urban Fantasy to Erotic Romance (where the plot was barely there).

    I agree with your definitions. The problem of “what is UF?” is that the genres aren’t as mutually exclusive as you’d think. Nor are they marketed as completely different genres. I find some UF in the Horror section, and others in the SF/F section of the bookstore.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *