So I in the process of introducing myself to someone the other day, they asked me what I wrote and I said “Urban fantasy and paranormal romance.” They cocked their head to one side, as if to clarify their image of me and responded with “What is urban fantasy, exactly?” Not too long ago, I signed up for a social networking site that another writer invited me too and the first comment posted to my page was “How do I define urban fantasy?”
Everyone, it seems, defines urban fantasy differently. That’s okay, I have my definition and you probably have yours. But the markets also have their definition of urban fantasy and when I say urban fantasy, I’m talking about the markets. For example, according to Wikipedia, urban fantasy “is a subset of contemporary fantasy, consisting of novels and stories with supernatural content, set in contemporary, real-world, urban settings—as opposed to ‘traditional’ fantasy set in wholly imaginary landscapes, even ones containing imaginary cities, or having most of their action take place in them.”
The very first ‘urban fantasy’ I read was a book called The War of the Oaks by Emma Bull. Originally published in 1987, the book introduced me to Eddi McCandry. She’s into rock and roll, has boyfriend troubles and is being pursued by a creepy guy through the streets of Minneapolis. Eddi has become a pawn in the battle between Seelie and Unseelie Courts. As much as Eddi would rather tell them all to go shove it, she can’t, she’s got to make it work and make it work fast or she’s going to die.
I’d never read anything like it. I was just 15 years old and I must have read this book a dozen times that summer. Unlike traditional monster books or monster movies, Emma Bull brought faeries into my world. This defied most modern conventions of fantasy because Tolkien fantasy was the thing. The idea that a tale like Dragonlance could happen in the modern world really blew my mind.
Enter SERRAted Edge
Over the next few years, I would discover more urban fantasy. But in the infancy of the genre, it was like vampire books — you only found them rarely and most of them were very good because they were so rare. Mercedes Lackey wrote her SERRAted Edge series featuring wizards, elves and more living the lives of the fast and the furious long before Vin Diesel.
The human wizard Tannim (Son of Dragons) was seen previously in the Diana Tregarde book Jinx High. Diana was a modern day witch who investigated paranormal crimes. Despite being well-known for her Valdemar series, the Diana Tregarde books never seemed to take-off, despite being well-written and great fun.
Urban Love Affair
My love affair with urban fantasy grew from those roots to encompass the works of Jim Butcher, Kay Hooper, Kelley Armstrong, Kim Harrison and many more. I like fantasy set in the modern world. One can argue that Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley created some of the first urban fantasies with their works that straddle fine literature and science fiction.
Long before Buffy, Angel, Edward, Bella, Dean, Sam or Warehouse 13, there was Emma Bull.
While I can only aspire to be as good as some of these writers, I can trace my love for urban fantasy back to the roots of the Oaks — the War of the Oaks and Emma Bull. It’s the mixture of fantasy and reality with a dash of possibility that makes urban fantasy a ripe genre to write in. Hopefully that shows in my urban fantasy Prime Evil due out from Sapphire Blue Publishing in the Fall.