Archive for February 10th, 2009

Urban Fantasy

Here are the notes from the Urban Fantasy presentation I did at last month’s Boise Speculative Fiction Writers’ meeting. For those already familiar with the genre, it won’t tell you anything you don’t already know, but…promise kept!

Urban Fantasy – definition

While traditional fantasy takes place in any time or place, and often in historic or fictional-but-historic settings, urban fantasy takes place in the modern day. It may take place in a city or in a rural setting, but the element that is always present is that of magic or paranormal happenings in a modern-day, real-world setting.


Because so much urban fantasy is written in the first-person limited POV, it may be thought that this is a rule. In fact, there isn’t a rule that says all urban fantasy must be written in first-person POV. A few examples of urban fantasy written in third-person are the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs, most of the books by Charles de Lint, and Personal Demons by Stacia Kane.

What started so many authors writing urban fantasy in first-person? Writers of hard-boiled detective fiction and noir typically wrote in this POV. Think Micky Spillane’s Mike Hammer, who always narrated his cases. Since many of the urban fantasy heroines and heroes to gain popularity were detectives by trade, this POV made sense. Unfortunately, since these were the books that became well-known, later writers wanting to capitalize on this popularity also wrote in first-person, even if the character wasn’t a P.I.

Urban Fantasy vs. Paranormal Romance

Nowadays, the line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance is blurring. Women readers in particular want a kick-ass heroine, but often like a dash of romance thrown into the story. (Obviously, some writers throw in more romance than others do.) But a relationship—often a complicated one—is commonly a subplot of an urban fantasy. Paranormal romances, where the romantic plot is the key element and the paranormality is the subplot, are gradually beginning to develop more complete adventure plotlines along with their romance, thus blurring the lines further. Nowadays, almost as much urban fantasy is shelved in romance as in the fantasy/science fiction area, so it’s getting to be an adventure to find one’s favorite authors.

The Future of the Genre

While it’s true that books being released today were purchased an average of two years ago, the urban fantasy trend still looks to be going strong. Part of this success may be the romance readers, whose desire for paranormal romance often leads them to cross over and seek more reading material in the fantasy shelves.  More new urban fantasy authors are gaining followings of their own. It’s just possible that in this world of uncertain economics and uncertain futures, more people want to escape into a world that is like ours and yet not—where your werewolf lover may be just a bar-hop away, and where magic may burst into full bloom just around a city corner. For the time being at least, the future looks bright.

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