Some notes on Urban Fantasy

What is urban fantasy? This is a question that I get asked pretty often, mostly because when people ask what I do I say, “I’m a writer” and then they ask what kind of stuff I write, and I say, “Urban fantasy.” And then they say, “What’s that?”

Usually I take the easy way out and say, “If you like True Blood you’ll probably like my book.” But that doesn’t really define urban fantasy.

Wikipedia defines urban fantasy as the following: “Urban fantasy is a subset of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times or contain supernatural elements. However, this is not the primary definition of urban fantasy. Urban fantasy can be set in historical times, modern times, or futuristic times. The prerequisite is that it must be primarily set in a city, rather than in a suburban or country setting, which have their own genre subsets. Many urban fantasy novels geared toward adults are told via a first-person narrative, and often feature mythological beings, paranormal romance, and various female protagonists who are involved in law enforcement or vigilantism.”

Locus magazine did a wonderful issue in May of 2009 (just about when I was signing my contract with Ace, actually) wherein various authors and editors talked about their definitions of urban fantasy. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the genre is written (mostly) by women and has (mostly) female protagonists (one notable exception, and one of my personal favorites: Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series – although there are others).

The books (generally) take place in a contemporary fantastic urban setting which may be closed (only the protagonist and the supernatural things that go bump-in-the-night know about the fantastic elements of the story, like my own novel Black Wings) or open (everyone, even the normals, knows there are vampires in the world, a la the aforementioned True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series).

I tend to think of urban fantasy as a marketing term more than anything. It seems like the definition is pretty flexible and open to interpretation and generally is used as a way for people to find other books like the ones they already enjoy. So if you like True Blood, you’ll probably like my book 🙂

Some good urban fantasy reads (most of these are the first books of series):

Storm Front/Jim Butcher
Deadtown/Nancy Holzner
Dead Until Dark/Charlaine Harris
Moon Called/Patricia Briggs
Something from the Nightside/Simon R. Green
Blood Price/Tanya Huff
Summon the Keeper/Tanya Huff
Sunshine/Robin McKinley
Neverwhere/Neil Gaiman
Dead Witch Walking/Kim Harrison