Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Urban Fantasy

What exactly is Urban Fantasy?  

John Clute and John Grant in their Encyclopedia of Fantasy define Urban Fantasy as “texts where fantasy and the mundane world interact, intersect, and interweave throughout a tale which is significantly about a real city.”

According to Library JournalThe branch of urban fantasy currently skyrocketing in popularity plays on themes drawn from popular culture.  Common characteristics often include tough female protagonists (often with supernatural powers or superhuman strength), stronger distinctions between good and evil, gritty urban landscapes, first-person narration, and sexual tension, often between the female protagonist and a male character who toes the line between good and evil. 

While that's a very comprehensive definition, it would be great to have a definition you could actually use in a conversation or when trying to explain to a teen why they might like a particular book.  So, let's see if we can come up with another way of describing urban fantasy, especially YA urban fantasy. 

How about:  The main character (or protagonist) is drawn into some sort of paranormal struggle, where they find that they may have some supernatural abilities of their own.  

Some urban fantasy authors that I recommend often include:  

Kelley Armstrong:

The Darkest Powers books

My very simple summary for The Summoning: Chloe Saunders is a fifteen year old necromancer just coming into her powers. After her first experience with calling up the dead,  she suffers a meltdown and is placed in a house supposedly for mentally ill teens. When she arrives at Lyle House, Chloe discovers that her fellow patients also have unusual powers and all is not what it seems to be. 

Holly Black

Ms Black's Modern Faerie Tales trilogy are the first books I read that be considered urban fantasy.  Set primarily in New Jersey and New York City, with some time spent in the faerie realm, The Modern Faerie Tales deal with characters that are essentially outsiders. 

Published by Simon & Schuster between 2002 and 2007, the trilogy includes:

The Curse Workers trilogy starts with White Cat.

Mobsters, dark magic, a single touch can erase memories, bring on painful transformations or even death.  This is the world Cassel Sharpe lives in.  Born into a family of curse workers, Cassel has built a façade of normalcy around himself.  But what happens when the façade starts to crumble?

Sarah Rees Brennan

The Demon's Lexicon Trilogy

I describe these books as modern England with magic around the corner, just out of reach.  Ms. Rees Brennan takes a family drama, four of the major characters are two sets of siblings, and gives it a magical twist.  Her characters are all flawed in one way or another, but that just makes them more interesting and complex.  The magic is interwoven into the story and setting in such a way that it feels as though you could travel to England and really run into one of her characters.

I feel that I've neglected the rest of the alphabet,
 so some other urban fantasy books that are worth looking at include: 

The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr
Rampant and Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund

Are there any other YA urban fantasy books that I should be aware of?  Please leave your recommendations in the comments!


  1. I consider author Charles De Lint the king of Urban Fantasy.

  2. I'm pretty new to urban fantasy, so I haven't read any Charles De Lint. We only have a few of his books at the library where I work. But I have Spirits in the Wires and Dingo on my TBR pile.

  3. I want to start reading The Demon Lexicon trilogy next year. I often confuse between Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy. =/

  4. Great post! I didn't know that the third one in Sarah Rees Brennan's series already had a title. I love The Mortal Instruments books. Another urban fantasy book I liked was Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda which is set in London.

    Would you consider the Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent to be urban fantasy as well?


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