Genre in Depth: Urban Fantasy
Genre in Depth is a new series on Fictionally Sam where we delve into different genre and see how they began, their characteristics, and books within that genre, etc. New genre every first and last Wednesday of the month!
I cannot believe we have almost completed a full month of 2019. I am astounded and excited to see what this year has in store for us story tellers, especially when it comes to learning about new bookish things!
In this installment of Genre in-depth, we get to take a look at one of my dearest genres around: Urban Fantasy.
Compared to other genres underneath the speculative fiction umbrella, Urban Fantasy is a new baby but with a concept that is as old as time itself. Considered to be born in 1984 with the award-winning novel, Moonheart: A Romance by the Urban Fantasy Pioneer: Charles de Lint. However, it isn’t until 1997 when Urban Fantasy would be officially be given its name by both John Clute and John Grant in their Enclyclopedia of Fantasy and would be defined as: “texts where fantasy and the mundane world interact, intersect, and interweave throughout a tale which is significantly about a real city.”
Before, though, the term Urban fantasy was used as a way to express nostalgia of some object or place. An example of this can be seen in my New York Times advertisements in 1928-1930s for the St. Regis Hotel, where advertisers used phrases such as “Never was an urban fantasy so enchanting…” It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the term began to morph towards the genre instead.
“For me urban fantasy has the best of two worlds. It’s a feast of magic, adventure, and monsters that represents pure entertainment. At the same time, the stories and characters are robust enough to tackle complex story questions about our contemporary society. This isn’t unique to UF, but the fantastic setting enables intriguing exploration. At their best, these are books that linger in the mind long after the last chapter is read.” – Emma Jane Holloway
One of the pushers towards this new title was when Terri Windling published his series, Borderland in the late 1980s. The story is set in a dystopian metropolis tht lies along the border between “the Elflands” and “the World”. These stories took off like wild-fire in the fantasy community, with even Neil Gaiman complimenting it as “one of the most important places where Urban Fantasy Began” and the Fantasy and Science Fiction publishing company, Tor.com claiming that “some say, Urban Fantasy was born in Bordertown…”
“Whereas Science Fiction may use allegory to address the world we live in, good Urban Fantasy is a bit more bare-knuckle. It drops your ass into a part of the real world that you may not have a clue even exists alongside your day-to-day life. These excursions can be just as eye-opening and exhilarating as exploring some alien world.” – R.S. Belcher
Urban Fantasy is a sub-genre for Fantasy where it is defined as having fantastical elements within an urban setting. Where magic meets a real world setting, Urban fantasy is a blending of all the greatest aspects of Fantasy, Horror, Humor, Suspense, Mystery, Action and Adventure, and even Romance.
Because Urban Fantasy is a blend of greatness, it has been proven how difficult it is to decipher when in the company of its predecessors (Horror) and it’s cousin (Paranormal Romance).
The Differences Between Horror and Urban Fantasy:
Due to Horror being the forerunner of Urban Fantasy, they both hold a lot of commonalities such as their use of Vampires and bringing mythological and fantastical creatures to a modern setting. However the one difference between these two genres that aids readers in telling the two apart is the mood and tone that they bring to their stories. Horror inherently focuses on the terrifying and the things that haunt, however, Urban Fantasy is different. With Urban Fantasy, readers are given a lighter mood and tone, and emphasis on world building is of higher importance than spooks.
The Great Fight–The Difference Between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance:
This is something that confounds readers to no-end and is the inspiration to this series, Genre in-depth–What is the difference between these two sub-genres? To be fair, both of these genres are under the speculative fiction and fantasy umbrellas, each revolving around some form of fantastical elements and creatures and most often than not both in real world modern settings. But that is where there similarities end and where their differences begin.
Urban fantasy demands that their stories be taken place within an urban setting; however the time does not matter, the stories can be historical, present, or future–It just must be placed within a city. For Paranormal Romance (PR), however, there are no restrictions. The story can happen anywhere the author sees fit. The options are limitless.
With plot, Urban Fantasy tends to follow the same guidelines as Fantasy–saving the universe, good v. evil, etc. Typically Urban Fantasy has a protagonist from a city who is able to work magic or fantastical creature and/or is from a supernatural background. With that said, Urban fantasy may or may not have romance within it, as the plot isn’t hinged on it. That being said, PR’s sole goal throughout the novel is for the main characters to fall in love. The entirety of the novel is about the relationship, which can be light and/or steamy depending on the story and the author’s writing style. There is ALWAYS a HEA (Happily Ever After) ending.
Where as Urban Fantasy tends to stick to the fantasy lane, PR has the ability to wonder and travel through many different roads of genres and spectrums (such as futuristic, contemporary, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, erotica, etc.) all the while staying within their paranormal lane.
Urban Fantasy is often (but not always) done in first person with only one point of view. PR, however, stays on brand with its extra and is typically told in third person with multiple points of views that has been known to be usually between the hero, the heroine, and any important sub characters.
Urban fantasy can be described to have a more harsh and severe style of writing to match its face paced action. The genre also contains more graphic and grittier violence as an homage to its Horror roots and its supernatural elements are more ominous in nature. PR, on the other hand, is a much lower level of violence, as it could care less about Horror Fiction. PR’s supernatural elements are more intriguing and alluring than that of its cousin Urban Fantasy.
Themes within Urban Fantasy:
- The One / The Chosen
- MC as the Halfling
- Strong Female Protagonists
- Supernatural Mystery
- City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
- Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman
- Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
What do you love about Urban Fantasy? Any Recommendations?