Friday, August 10, 2012

On My New Favorite Genre

Last year, I listened to an audiobook of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. It was the first book I'd picked up by randomly hearing something about it on the Internet/knowing the author's name thanks to Doctor Who. I loved Gaiman's DW episodes...I figured I'd love Neverwhere.

What I did not know was that it would spark an obsession with urban fantasy.

Urban what? Fantasy who? That's normally the looks I get when I talk about urban fantasy. (Hmm...kind of like the reactions I get when I talk about steampunk, or when I say that I think Star Wars is a science fantasy, not science fiction.) I clearly love obscure speculative fiction genres. Here are some facts and thoughts about my new genre obsession.

What is urban fantasy?

It's fantasy defined by the setting: an urban environment, mostly big cities like New York and Chicago, that exist in the world as we know it. So you couldn't set urban fantasy in New-New York, or a steampunked version of St Louis. The world has to operate the exact same as our world, with one exception: "supernatural" creatures and happenings and, if you like, magic. The atmosphere of "big city" defines the genre. It is most often set during contemporary times, though there is urban fantasy that goes back to the Victorian age (I would argue that's blurring the line between steampunk and urban fantasy, however.)

My urban fantasy series, The Underworld Mythos, thus far has settings in (or under) Springfield, Missouri; Chicago; New York and the surrounding countryside; and, as a deviation from the norm, much of the last half of the series as well as the prequel will be set in Upper Michigan, mostly around the Marquette area, but also in remote areas such as Copper Harbor.

Creatures of urban fantasy

Anything you would see in normal fantasy fiction: zombies, werewolves, vampires, demons, angels, elves, goblins, trolls, even mummies. Often these creatures are given twists on their traditional fantasy roles in urban fantasy, and creatures normally seen as evil can often be protagonists or love interests--such the popular (gag) cliche of making vampires good guys.

In The Underworld Mythos, my "creatures" are fae--faeries (or elves), goblins, trolls, etc. I keep some of the traditional stories about them (for example, the fae are divided into two courts, the good Seelie and the malevolent Unseelie) but add my own twists on others (rowan does not repeal fae, but the leaves of a rowan tree are a popular mind-altering drug.)

Popular stories that are urban fantasy 

I would term the Artemis Fowl series an urban fantasy, as well as novels like Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicles series. Other stories include the Dresden Files (which I've never read), and, according to some, the Twilight series. I say leave the wussy blood-sucking fairies to paranormal romance and let us urban fantasy lovers enjoy an Edward Cullens-free world. ;)

Bad stuff about urban fantasy: 


Unfortunately, urban fantasy can be over-sexualized, as I discovered when I picked up The Iron King from the library. I got real sick of reading about "love"-lorn fey and...once AGAIN...the author put in a love triangle. Grrr. Spare me.

You can also run into the problems of really nasty sorcery-type stuff in urban fantasy--from browsing through popular titles, I've seen a lot of stories featuring witches. Then we get into the whole undead issue with vampires and zombies. Some books featuring angels and demons can be OK, but some get get very wacky from a spiritual outlook.

Cool stuff about urban fantasy:

Urban fantasy can sometimes bring to mind the magic in the mundane. It reminds me of the things that are unseen in our world and the spiritual battles that affect our lives.

And, I mean, come on...biker elves? OK, maybe that doesn't sound awesome to everyone, but I like the idea. ;)

Urban fantasy books I love: 

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (Cautions: Language...not a lot, but when the characters swear, they don't mess around with the mild words. Some sensuality.)
The Realms Thereunder by Ross Lawhead (yes, Stephen Lawhead's son. It is amazing!)
Tyger, Tyger by Kersten Hamilton (Cautions: Mild sensuality. Some cuss words, mostly rude or mild but a couple of harsher words, some complete and some cut off.)
Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (Some mild language, lots of Greek/pagan beliefs, but a good way to understand the Greek gods and myths better)

4 responses:

Kat Heckenbach said...

I LOOOOVE Neverwhere. That book is amazing, is it not?

I've read Tyger, Tyger and Percy Jackson, too--loved them both! I'll have to check out The Realms Thereunder, though.

Mary Ruth Pursselley said...

For the record, biker elves sound extremely cool to me. ; )
I'm getting extremely sick, though, of urban/historical fantasy being carried too far. Case in point: I wanted to gag when I first saw the preview for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer. I mean, REALLY, people?! You know, there are times when I wonder why anyone would ever feel compelled to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. Then I see things like that preview, and I begin to understand.

I read Tyger, Tyger too. I can never really decide for sure what I thought about it, though.

H. A. Titus said...

@Kat: I picked up Tyger, Tyger based on the interview you did with Kersten Hamilton on NAF. Super glad I did! :)

@Mary: LOL. Yeah, I gagged a bit too when I saw that. Though I have been told (by one of Justin's coworkers) that it IS a good story. I probably still won't bother.

Lostariel said...

Have you read the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins (before she was famous)? They don't have... supernatural elements, as such, but they do have giant talking rats/bats/cockroaches/spiders surrounding a medieval-style culture under modern-day New York City. I'd say it qualifies as urban fantasy, and the series is fantastic.

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