BEA'S BOOK NOOK "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." C. S. Lewis “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What is Urban Fantasy?

@blodeuedd83 I do not like when UF is on best of fantasy list, you know I love UF. But it has nothing to do with fantasy, nothing at all 

@BeasBookNook @blodeuedd83 *blink* but the F in UF stands for fantasy! And UF originated from fantasy. It can also be horror but that's fantasy too. 

@blodeuedd83 @BeasBookNook Fantasy for me takes place in another world. urban fantasy is just paranormal romance without the romance
 The following twitter exchange took place between myself and blodeuedd earlier this weekend. The conversation, in conjunction with a series that Bastard Books has been doing on UF, got me thinking. Bastard Books has a series of posts this month from various guests on what is wrong with urban fantasy, why they don't like it, or both. There are some very valid points in the posts and they have given me much to think about. I recommend reading them.

When I first read blodeuedd's tweets, I was in disbelief; how could someone think that urban fantasy has nothing to do with fantasy? I'm still doubtful, but then I thought more about her second comment. If I understand her correctly, (and blodeuedd, if you're reading this, please speak up if I'm wrong!) for her urban fantasy is about werewolves, vampires, demons and other creatures that traditionally were considered horror or paranormal. 

For me, urban fantasy is more, much more than that. One of the first books widely considered to be urban fantasy is "War for the Oaks" by Emma Bull. The first urban fantasy I ever read was "Greenmantle" by Charles de Lint, still one of my favorite books. Both books are set in contemporary times, in a more or less urban setting, and involve beings from fantasy. Another early series that I'd call urban fantasy is the Bedlam's Bard series by Mercedes Lackey and assorted co-authors. Again, stories involving the fae set in in modern times in an urban setting. Over the years as horror grew more mainstream, we began to see vampires and werewolves, along with witches, demons and ghosts, begin to show up in contemporary stories set in urban or primarily urban settings. Urban fantasy expanded and grew, creating a larger variety of stories and worlds.

These days, urban fantasy has been taken over by beings formerly considered paranormal or horror and you see less of the traditional fantasy side. Less, yes, but not gone entirely. Seanan McGuire's Tobey Day series is akin to de Lint and Lackey's early works. Kevin Hearne, Nicole Peeler, and Ilona Andrews among others have blended both the fae side and the paranormal side into delightful, thrilling urban fantasy stories. I especially love Hearne and Andrews' use of various global mythologies in their books. They have integrated different elements of urban fantasy into cohesive worlds that are firmly, in my opinion, urban fantasy. Their use of mythology and traditional, but often overlooked fantasy beings, are major factors in my enjoyment of their books. That said, I do enjoy werewolves and witches, vampires to a lesser extent. I love Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series, and the Mercy Thompson and the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs; I enjoy Keri Arthur's Riley Jensen and Risa books (though admittedly, those are paranormal romance and not straight urban fantasy) and Jodi Redford's That Old Black Magic series (also PNR. Hmmm, not making my case, am I? :D)

Still, for myself, I prefer the fairy and mythology flavored urban fantasy. Happily, there's room for all of us. :)

So, what is your definition of urban fantasy? What does the term call to mind when you see it?

ETA: I got into a great discussion on twitter about the differences between urban fantasy, paranormal romance and contemporary fantasy. I see more discussion posts in my future. In the meantime, please, share your thoughts, I want to hear them.


  1. I just tweeted you and now I forgot what I said ;)
    But yes I just do not like when UF is classed with fantasy. Yes it's "fantasy" but then paranormal romance should be called paranormal fantasy too.

    Anyway my point is just that fantasy is another world. When I then hear urban fantasy I get all confused, what is that? Why is that called fantasy? It could just as well be called urban paranormal cos that is what it is

    1. I don't see fantasy as another world but I also classify fairy tales as fantasy and those are usually in our world. I would argue that paranormal IS fantasy but that's a different blog post. :D

      Using your definition, I can understand being confused when urban fantasy is classified as fantasy, it doesn't make sense. Actually, urban paranormal is not a bad classification. I like it.

      I don't think there will be complete agreement on what UF is and isn't but I'm curious as to how other readers view it.

      Thanks blodeuedd!

    2. You're welcome :)
      And that is just my opinion in the end. It's just that fantasy and urban fantasy are so different. One takes place in this world, the other one almost always in other worlds

  2. As a person who writes both urban and high fantasy, I'm afraid things are even more complicated than you suggest. First, urban fantasy appeared long before the more recent paranormal fantasies, or paranormal mysteries, or paranormal romances. If we're talking definittions, "paranormal" and "fantasy" aren't synonymous. The fundamental division is between primary world fantasies (uses our world as its basic, main setting, with "real" world humans as characters, ala Charles de Lint) and secondary world fantasy (completely imagined world, invented society, mythology, etc.) Either of these two types can result in "Urban" fantasies, that is, fantasies set in cities.

  3. This is what I go by

    I think this is definitely one of the most debated and anxiety-inducing questions out there for readers and bloggers, especially new ones. When I try to classify (not often!) I try to do it the simplest way possible. Is it paranormal (or any variant thereof)? Is romance the main focus? I'm sure I'm not completely right, but if I think too long and hard about this, my brain fries and actually drips right out of my head.

    Good luck!

  4. As the about-to-be moderator of a panel at World Fantasy Con on DEFINING URBAN FANTASY, I find your post to be most timely, Bea!

    It also scares the living crap out of me, as I can see this rapidly becoming a debate rather than a panel if I'm not careful, lol. I think I have my work cut out for me.

    And yes, I'll be blogging about the results of the "discussion"...I'll send you the link when I do. :)

    1. I admit, I didn't expect some of the responses I got or how much divergence there was on the topic. I get into several wonderful twitter chats after this post, it was great.

      Yes, your panel could go wildly off-track but I expect it will not be boring! I wonder, will it be filmed? I'll be looking for your blog post. Good luck with the panel.


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