My current work in progress is Urban Fantasy set in contemporary London: Sergei Lukyanenko’s The Night Watch meets Ally McBeal with a British twist. It’s undergoing the equivalent of a literary MOT at the moment: a full and thorough check of structure, conflict, theme, and getting some new scenes and tune-up of any scenes that are not yet reader-worthy.
I’m sure my mom is asking “But what is Urban Fantasy?” It’s a rather recently coined genre from the 90s. Urban Fantasy is a subgenre of Fantasy, but with a city-setting as an integral part of the story. Usually the story is set in contemporary times, but not always. The key here is that the world is a mirror of the real world you and I inhabit, but with threads of the fantastical and supernatural woven through it.
Urban Fantasy is often confused with Paranormal Romance (a sub-genre of Romance) since Urban Fantasy can and often does have romance. The major distinction is that in Urban Fantasy, the romance is always secondary. You cut away the romance and there’s still a story. If you did that to Paranormal Romance, you’d be left holding a front and back cover with nothing in between.
Here are a few of my favourite Urban Fantasy novels:
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is always a treat to read (I love his poem Blueberry Girl), and his Dickensian “London Below”, a sprawling world in the sewers of London mapped onto a real “London Above,” is an extraordinary delight. A gothic and gritty version of Alice in Wonderland crossed with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, set in modern day, stinky, magical, London.
Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot in the US) by Ben Aaronovitch. Police procedural Urban Fantasy with wonderfully evoked settings of modern day London. The author spent many years working in Covent Garden at Waterstone’s bookstore. He knows his city and it shows. An adult Harry Potter, only with alot less fairytale, and alot more Law and Order.
Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko. Set in contemporary Moscow, James Bond meets Underworld. Fabulous and dark.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Taylor is a wordsmith, and her prose is as otherworldly and delightful as the characters she paints. Set in Prague, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a little bit of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, a little bit of Casablanca, and a whole lot of beautifully imagined creatures brought to life by Taylor’s excellent writing.
Do you have favourite Urban Fantasy books? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.