Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy in which the narrative has an urban setting. Works of urban fantasy are set primarily in the real world and contain aspects of fantasy, such as the arrival of alien races, the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence or conflict between humans and paranormal beings, and other changes to city life.
I write urban fantasy. I’m not going to pretend I don’t, because come on. Demons and other magic users running around fighting and guys in a Pennsylvania city is pretty firmly located deep in “urban fantasy” territory. It’s not even sort of hanging out a the edges like some small-town psychic trying to scrape by. It’s a pretty broad genre, with a lot of available space to play in. There’s a ton of room available for your Harry Potters AND your Harry Dresdens.
The other thing we should be clear on here is that I read a lot. Like… a lot. I know you may have visited my Goodreads page and seen no activity on the ‘recently read’ lists and all, but that’s partly because a: I’m a fairly private person and social media is really really hard for me. (Um, hi blog.) and b: I have been known to blow through three books in one day. I don’t often think to take a break in between submerging myself in a story to tell people that I just read something. Because honestly? You should simply assume I just read something.
So if you look at those two things, you could surmise that I read a lot of urban fantasy. And you would be totally correct. You get a prize! But… (you know there was a ‘but’ coming, admit it.) I kinda don’t love a lot of the stuff out there that’s labeled ‘urban fantasy.’ I think it’s… negative, overly politicized, unrelentingly violent, and, well…. Negative. I mean, I read to escape, have an adventure, and imagine a world just hidden from my all-to-human eyes. I see people being hateful, cruel, and violent all the time. That’s not urban fantasy, that’s urban real life.
So, I end up writing things that have been called ‘young adult’ and that’s fine with me, but I think it’s often meant as a bit of an insult. Like, my stories aren’t serious enough for real grown ups or something. Just because my characters don’t lose friends left and right to either betrayal or death, and because they’re not put at the worst of all disadvantages immediately and forced to scrape through the gutters while bleeding profusely and having their magic stolen from them, all at the same time, usually somewhere in chapter one.
I read a book (this one) recently which was good (compelling characters, good writing, an interesting problem for the main character to solve,) but the guy started out in a dumpster with people shooting at him. Literally. And it got worse from there— he had no money, contracts out on his life, finds out he’s been dead for most of the last decade, his family’s dead (murdered,) his closest friend who may have answered is dead (murdered recently,) his best friend married his girlfriend and is raising his kid and may or may not sell him out, there’s a political conspiracy for control of the whole area… it goes on, but you get the point. The mystery part of the story got it’s hooks into me deep enough to finish the book, and I liked the main character enough to stay with him, but I haven’t picked up the sequel and I doubt I will. It’s just too damn depressing.
I just don’t understand the drive to isolate and torture characters as a way to increase
dramatic tension. Adventure stories don’t need that. One of my favorite books is certainly an adventure. It’s urban fantasy. (Well, okay, urban-adjacent fantasy is probably more accurate.) But a lot of the book is spent thinking, learning, and problem solving. They go dancing at a bar at one point, and there’s no particular fantasy involved in it, just story.
So I guess that’s what I’m trying to say here. My stories are stories not thrillers, unlike most of what I can find out there when I simply search for an ‘urban fantasy.’ I don’t personally feel that the two genres are interchangeable. There’s enough room for all of us.