Friday, October 31, 2014

The Book Lover's Den #10: Much Ado About Urban Fantasy

Welcome to my Friday feature!
This is my special 
Halloween edition!!

In each weekly post, I explore 
my thoughts on several 
book-related topics.

I've always loved fantasy, which is also known as epic fantasy, or high fantasy. As for urban fantasy, which is a sub-genre of fantasy, I have come to love it as well. Of course, the main characteristic of this type of fantasy is that it takes place in a  city, usually, but not always,  at the present time.

According to Library Journal, this sub-genre first came on the scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Authors usually mentioned as belonging to it are Laurel K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, Jeaniene Frost, Patricia Briggs, and Kelley Armstrong, writing for adults. As for authors writing for teens, there are P.C. and Kristin Cast (mother and daughter), Lauren Kate, Carrie Jones, Courtney Allison Moulton, and Stephenie Meyer.

One author of this type of fiction deserves special mention; after all, he did much to popularize urban fantasy in the 1980s, along with Terri Windling, Emma Bull, and John Crowley. He's of Canadian origin, and his name is Charles de Lint. This man is a highly imaginative writer, and a very prolific one, too. Although I have so far read only one of his books, Dreams Underfoot, I definitely intend to read more! This book is a collection of short stories, all set in the fictional North American town of Newford. All the stories are interrelated, as well; characters from one story will show up in other stories. These are magical, mythical, and mystical tales of wonder! De Lint takes you to his fantastical settings, and keeps you there. His characters are truly remarkable; you soon start feeling that they're part of your own family. The events in these stories are like vividly remembered dreams, too, and make me long for the beautiful, magical, and, at times, dangerous world this writer has created. I really need to re-read this book, so I can write a review for this blog. And I need to start reading his other books!

For most of my life, I have usually gravitated toward fantasy, science fiction, the paranormal -- anything that would take me out of this mundane reality, with its boring, everyday routines. I have always longed for a magical world that exists mostly in the imagination, although New Age magical practitioners will insist that this world is indeed real; it's the spiritual world, sometimes known as the astral plane. Saints and mystics have also claimed that this world does indeed exist. So I think I suffer from a rather strange condition -- a sort of "homesickness" for the supernatural. I try to satisfy this yearning through books. Urban fantasy is particularly attractive to me because of the blending of everyday reality with fantasy. It's as if I could run right into this magical world at the turn of the next corner.

Another reason I like urban fantasy is that it seems to be filled with heroic women. Kelley Armstrong -- another Canadian author -- has garnered rave reviews for her Women of the Otherworld series, for instance, while Patricia Briggs, an American author, is renowned for her Mercy Thompson series. Alas, I have yet to read any of these books.....but I fully intend to! 

Armstrong's first novel in the Women of the Otherworld series is Bitten, which tells the story of Elena Michaels, a female werewolf who hunts rogue werewolves. This character is, as many book bloggers would say, "a kick-butt heroine", and she happens to be the only female werewolf in the world. (Note to self: get a hold of these books, and soon!)

Patricia Briggs has created another kick-butt heroine in Mercy Thompson, who is the daughter of a Blackfoot Indian father and a white mother. Mercy is a Volkswagen mechanic as well as a Walker -- a Native American shapeshifter who turns into a coyote. In the series, she encounters werewolves, vampires, and other magical creatures, and excels at solving missing-person cases and murders.

Like paranormal romance, urban fantasy is not as gory and scary as the horror genre. Interestingly, all three are 'spinoffs', or offshoots, of Gothic fiction. Each has a slightly different spin on the dark elements that are inherent to Gothic fiction. Urban fantasy is frequently part of paranormal romance novels, but not necessarily. Urban fantasy is not as focused on romance as the PNR genre, so there are UF novels without much, or any, romance in them.

I do prefer PNR and UF mixed up in the same novel, but after all, there are also beautiful PNR novels that take place in traditional fantasy worlds. Urban fantasy, is, of course, grittier. It also tends to have a darker atmosphere, although that doesn't mean that the bad guys will necessarily win in the end.

I find there's something 'edgy' about urban fantasy, too, which is not present in traditional fantasy. I think that's because, in traditional epic fantasy, there are very clear lines between heroes and villains. In urban fantasy, there are frequently no clear-cut differences between the two. Thus it was that, when I was reading the YA omnibus collection,  The Forbidden Game, by L.J. Smith, I wanted Julian, who was supposed to be a villain, yet had a soft heart, to win the love of Jenny, the female protagonist. In turn, I wanted her to save him from his darkness. This was, of course, also a paranormal romance novel; Julian was not a normal human boy, but a paranormal being.

The interesting thing about The Forbidden Game was that there were some truly terrifying moments in it; yet, I couldn't put it down! Smith really did mix some horror into the three books in the collection, but she's such a master storyteller, I actually swallowed bravely, and moved on through the three books.

Now that I've mentioned The Forbidden Game, I have just remembered that Dreams Underfoot had a dark, edgy feel to it, as well....

I really need to get more of these novels under my belt. After all, they do feed my fantasy addiction, and furthermore, give me the nice illusion that I could very well come across a fascinating paranormal being at any point in time!

Here's a list of novels, most of them in series, that I've had on my TBR list for some time. I've also added some new ones.

Young Adult Fiction

The Darkest Powers trilogy, by Kelley Armstrong
His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman
The Iron Fey, by Julie Kagawa
The Mortal Instruments, by Cassandra Clare
Need, by Carrie Jones
The Vampire Academy series, by Richelle Mead

Adult Fiction

The Mercy Thompson series, by Patricia Briggs
The Black London series, by Caitlin Kitteredge
The Charley Davidson series, by Darynda Jones
The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher
Women of the Otherworld, by Kelley Armstrong
The Fever series, by Karen Marie Moning
The Greywalker series, by Kat Richardson
The Kate Daniels series, by Ilona Andrews

Well, let me be honest  and say that these are books I would like to read. Will I be able to read all of them? We shall see....but my heart's in the right place, that's for sure!

Meanwhile, I'd like to wish all of you a very Happy Halloween!!

 For Further Information

I'd sure love to know what 
you, the readers,
think of urban fantasy!
Do you enjoy reading it?
Have you ever read 
any of the books above?
My inquiring mind would be so interested in finding out.......


  1. Another thoughtful post Maria.

    As you know I have read very little of this genre but I have read a little horror, a fair amount of more traditional fantasy, and a lot of science fiction.

    I completely relate for the desire to read these books to escape mundane reality. With that said, while I think that I will always have that desire, I seem to have less of it as I get older. I do not believe that my sense of wonder or yearning for the extraordinary has decreased. Instead I think that I better appreciate the interesting complexity, and not so obvious beauty, that lurks behind everyday reality.

    1. Hey, Brian!

      I didn't realize, when I read my first paranormal romance, that I was also reading urban fantasy, as the two are usually intertwined, as I pointed out in this post. However, I didn't hear of the term "urban fantasy" until I read de Lint's "Dreams Underfoot", which I highly recommend to you! ( I do have a couple of quibbles with the book, such as that there's some profanity in it, and one of the stories does contain a rather gross 'character' in it, but other than that, this collection of stories is just AWESOME.)

      One thing I didn't mention in this post is the fact that the urban fantasy genre has come to encompass other media, as well, such as video games and films. Of course, the post would have been that much longer. Also, since my primary interest is books, I decided to stick with them.

      You have a great point when you state that there is an "interesting complexity, and not so obvious beauty, that lurks behind everyday reality." Well stated! You are absolutely right! However, I think this refers to the complexity and beauty of the natural world, as well as to the aesthetic elements in human culture. You and I seem to have focused on different aspects of reality. I was thinking more of the everyday routines of life, such as going to work, paying bills, doing housework, and the like. To me, these things are utterly boring. Not that I don't like to work, but the type of work I've done for most of my life has not been very interesting, with the exception of the teaching, which I do find very rewarding.Of course, this blog is work, although I don't get paid for it, and I don't care, as it's definitely a labor of love, and no one has to prompt me to do it, because I love it so much!!

      I guess I'm also thinking of the mindset of practical people with little to no imagination, no love of strange new worlds or fascinating characters, and no interest in matters of great intellectual or spiritual importance.

      Although I've never liked mathematics, I love looking at photos of fractal art, and there are also photos of the microscopic structure of certain organisms that are just as beautiful. The natural world is indeed full of beauty, in all scales of size. Beautiful landscapes give us a sense of immense aesthetic pleasure, and, of course, so do photographs of far distant galaxies.

      The demands of our own bodies make it imperative for us to deal with survival issues such as working, paying rent, and grocery shopping, but oh, how wonderful the time when one can escape into a great book and enter the equally beautiful landscapes of the imagination, or the vast intellectual canyons of the mind!

      Ah, if only I could meet people like Gandalf, Frodo, Jane, Harry, and so many other denizens of the imagination in the flesh......ditto for Plato,Aristotle, Hermann Hesse, Ray Bradbury, Pascal, Spinoza, and so many others!! Lol.

      Thanks for the great comment!! :)

  2. Replies
    1. Hi, Benish!

      Thanks for the compliment! I love urban fantasy, and hope to be able to read more of it in the future!

      Thanks as well for following my blog!! : )


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