25 essential urban fantasies

A truly excellent post from Liz Bourke, first defining “urban fantasy” with a bit more of a thoughtful, in-depth definition that is usually given, thus:

What is most prominent in the fantasy of the urban, to me, is the combination of anonymity and the need for systems and compromises – a way of operating in the world that doesn’t rely on implicit reciprocity and mutuality – that arises when people live together in numbers exceeding the hundred-odd of the isolate village or the thousand-odd of the tiny towns of the past. Urban fantasy shares DNA with ghost stories, noir crime and the police procedural, as well as fairytale, folklore, and fable.

Which is, as I say, a fabulous definition. Of course I JUST DON’T KNOW how my BLACK DOG will best be marketed, because I think it clearly has more of an UF vibe than a PR vibe, AND YET. FINE. Liz has convinced me, I can’t call it UF if it’s rural. FINE. I’m going to go with calling it Contemporary Fantasy and I hope that term really does subsume the UF category. Or I guess it would actually overlap in Venn diagram style. Whatever.

You also know what’s interesting? That I agree that UF shares tropes with noir crime and the police procedural, and I had to admit, thinking of it that way, none of that is in BLACK DOG. Though it totally is in the other rural fantasy that leaps to mind for both Liz and me: Deb Coates’ WIDE OPEN. Coates’ book also draws on folklore, and that’s where it crosses genres with BLACK DOG.

Then Liz defines “essential”; and then, of course she provides her list. Here are the ones I’ve read:

2. The Onyx Court series, by Marie Brennan (2008-2011). A faerie court, bound to the city of London. I didn’t really like this series, but I think it was very well written. I gave it to someone who may appreciate it more than I did.

6. James Asher series, by Barbara Hambly (1988-forthcoming). Bleak and atmospheric novels involving vampires, set in Europe in the years preceding the Great War. Breath-taking books. I totally agree about these.

7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, television series (1997-2003). Enormously influential. Not single-handedly responsible for the success of urban contemporary fantasy with vampires and werewolves as a subgenre, but I daresay it didn’t hurt. I’m sure we all loved “Buffy”, right? I used to watch it with a friend via phone, since we didn’t live that close together.

8. Anita Blake series, by Laurell K. Hamilton (1993-forthcoming). I agree with every word Liz says about this series. A total trainwreck, but the first books are quite good.

9. The Vicki Nelson series, by Tanya Huff (1991-1997). I tried one of these, thought the plot got ridiculously cluttered (vampires! AND, oh, look, aliens!) and quit. Since I love Huff’s Valor series, I’m willing to believe that some of the books in this series would appeal to me more.

10. The Kitty Norville werewolf series, by Carrie Vaughn (2005-forthcoming). Werewolves! Vampires! Talk radio! I’m cheating by including this series here, because I haven’t read any of the books yet. But I mean to! I do keep hearing about them! And it’s almost the same situation with:

14. Above, by Leah Bobet (2012). Set in Toronto. Magnificent, dark, strange, affecting. I actually have this one on my Kindle — it may have been the first book I put on my Kindle, actually. I badly want to read it . . . but I badly want to read a lot of things, and did I mention I’m writing now? And working my way (slowly) through the INDA series by Sherwood Smith? So, yeah, not holding my breath.

19. Beka Cooper series, by Tamora Pierce (2006-2011). The first two books of which are police-procedural second-world urban fantasy. And really kind of lovely. I totally agree AND I agree that the third book was not as good as the first two. I like long slow books, okay? And even I think a hundred pages should have been cut from the third Beka Cooper book. Two hundred.

The! Single! Book! That should most be on Liz’s list but isn’t: WAR FOR THE OAKS by Emma Bull. To me, although that one has an important romance, it is clearly UF and not PR. Agree / disagree?

I’ll look forward to checking out the UF lists from the other participants. I wonder if any of them will include WAR FOR THE OAKS?

If you click through and read Liz’s whole list, are there any other titles any of you think CLEARLY should be on anybody’s essential UF list? Me, I’m willing to take both Brigg’s Mercy Thompson and Andrew’s Kate Daniels as PR, but hereby declare that they’re essential in that genre. Agree / disagree about that?

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6 thoughts on “25 essential urban fantasies”

  1. War for the Oaks is a book I’ve read, but it hasn’t stuck with me. I know a lot of people really love it, though… it may be generational. It may be that I just don’t get books where music is vitally important.

  2. I don’t know — the music was nice, I guess, but I’m not really into it. For me, the relationships and the actual writing were what made the story for me. And yes, maybe it is generational. For one thing, W for the O was not part of a defined subgenre at the time it was published; today it may have a different feel for readers who have expectations of UF.

  3. Another data point on WAR FOR THE OAKS: I read it when it came out and thought it was ok. When people kept praising it to the skies I wondered what book they’d read that I hadn’t.

    De gustibus and all that.

    I remember reading an interview with some author or other whom I had read a lot of saying music meant a lot to him (I think it was de Lint) and he always used it in his stories, and it was sooo meaningful. Well, maybe to him. I was a bit startled by the comment, although when I thought about it, I could see that indeed he used a lot of musicians. But the music didn’t come across to this reader as all that meaningful. McKillip can get it across, most others don’t.

    I read one Vicki Nelson, probably the first, and thought the main character wasn’t as intelligent as advertised. This made it difficult to enjoy.

  4. War for the Oaks and Charles de Lint’s Newport stories should definitely be on urban fantasy lists – but they aren’t police procedurals, they just have the city as an important part of the storyline.

    If Beka Cooper is on there, then Michelle Sagara West’s Elantra books, with Kaylin Neva of the Hawks (which is the police force) should definitely be on there (Urban epic fantasy?). Except for the last two books they all take place in the capital city Elantra and all have a police procedural underpinning.

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