Genre Spotlight: Urban Fantasy

by Brittney Reed-Saltz

I fully blame Harry Potter for my love of urban fantasy. It doesn’t meet the genre’s requirements exactly; after all, Harry spends most of his time in Hogwarts castle, and the largest city he visits is the bucolic Hogsmeade. But there are shining moments of interaction between the Wizarding World and the Muggle world that fit right in an urban fiction novel. Harry accidentally freeing the boa constrictor at the reptile house; the golden trio figuring out how to enter the Ministry of Magic; Arthur Weasley’s tinkering with Muggle technology and machinery; Dobby’s unexpected appearance at 4 Privet Drive.

It’s possible that I’ve gone on a bit of a tangent, but you see what I mean. Magic is made even more magical when it’s set against a mundane backdrop. And there is so much fun to be had when those two worlds interact. There are secrets to keep. And there are so many opportunities for those secrets to be revealed, and for the consequences thereof. Urban fantasy has its own set of unique rules and opportunities to subvert them, and in the process it reminds us of the fantastic possibilities of the everyday world we inhabit. That’s why I love it.

Here are some of my favorite urban fantasy titles, and some that are on my ever-growing want-to-read list.

Favorites

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Neverwhere was one of the first Neil Gaiman books I read as well as one of my first urban fantasy books. It follows Richard Mayhew, the quintessential “normal” guy, as he is catapulted from working in an office to exploring the dangerous world of misfits and creatures that exists in the subway tunnels and sewers beneath London.

The Good Neighbors graphic novel series by Holly Black
Faeries are one of my literary weaknesses. Not fairies, bright little winged creatures who sit on flower petals and think pretty thoughts. But faeries, the kind from Celtic folklore who are inhuman, amoral, and sometimes delight in torturing human beings. No one writes faeries of this sort than Holly Black. This graphic novel series features family secrets, dark and sinister plots, and the age-old schism between humans and faeries. I also adore Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series, especially the second installment, Valiant.

The Newford Series by Charles de Lint
Charles de Lint is great for when you want to sample bite-sized pieces of a big, sprawling world of characters. He centers his stories in Newford, a fictional town located somewhere in North America that is populated by artists, magical creatures, and eccentrics of all stripes. You can dip in wherever, because while some characters reoccur, the series is non-sequential. If you prefer to start at the beginning, anyway, Dreams Underfoot is the first collection of Newford stories.

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
Kat Howard managed to tick two of my auto-read boxes with this novel: Faeries and an academic setting. Artists, writers, and musicians vie for unparalleled professional success, but as with every magical deal, this one requires sacrifice. Sounds tense enough? Add in sibling rivalry, as two sisters attend the program side-by-side as competitors.

Want-to-Read

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard
As discussed above, I loved Kat Howard’s debut, so I really want to explore her sophomore effort. It’s set in New York City, and I hear that it boasts an interesting magical system and an unconventional protagonist who wants to destroy her world’s magic, not save it.

The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne
I’m a sucker for Celtic everything, so I’m intrigued by the idea of a modern-day-but-ancient Druid living in Arizona and clashing with angry gods. (How does he cope with the heat? Doesn’t he miss lush, green landscapes? I have questions.) The appearance of an Irish wolfhound is a big plus.

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
It’s shameful that I haven’t read this yet, because it is dearly beloved among urban fantasy devotees. From what I’ve gathered, there is a lot of action and a smart-mouthed detective solving supernatural crimes.

The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire
Seanan McGuire had been on my radar for a long time, but it took her alternate-worlds fantasy novella Every Heart a Doorway to make me fall in love with her writing. I’m looking forward to exploring her urban fantasy writing with this series about a changeling who tries to live a normal life, but whose faerie heritage refuses to leave her alone.

Do you read urban fantasy? Which titles are you planning to read next?

One thought on “Genre Spotlight: Urban Fantasy

  1. I love urban fantasy – well most fantasy to be honest! I remember watching Neverwhere as it’s original TV series as a child. I don’t have anything in new in my bookcase at the moment but your list gave me some ideas!

    Like

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