My Kind of Town: The World of Urban Fantasy
Imagine the worlds of CSI, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or Killer Women – but with vampires, ghosts, wizards or werewolves. Congratulations! You now have an urban fantasy. Urban fantasy is a very popular subgenre of fantasy where the setting is a real city, but the action revolves around the presence of paranormal forces or creatures. Anyone who has been avoiding reading fantasy novels because they're too “out there” should consider picking up one of the books mentioned below. The stories feel more real, because of that realistic base setting, but you also get exposure to fantastical elements.
One of the best places to start is with Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, beginning with Storm Front. Harry Dresden is Chicago’s only openly practicing wizard, and he uses his magical abilities to run a private investigator business. In Storm Front, an open-minded police officer brings Harry in as a consultant on a case involving a grisly double murder because there are signs that point to the occult. Harry has a sharp wit, a strong sense of principles, and an inability to give up in the face of obstacles, making him an incredibly likable character in the hard-boiled detective tradition. The plot is quick-moving and there are lots of fantastic, almost cinematic action sequences, which keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat. The best part? There are now 14 books in this series, with a 15th coming out in May.
If long series aren’t your thing, and you’d rather begin with a stand-alone, there’s no better place than Neil Gaiman’s amazing novel Neverwhere. Gaiman is a true wordsmith whose prize-winning writing has earned him four Hugo Awards and two Nebula Awards. If you enjoy literary fiction, this is also definitely worth a look. Neverwhere is about a young Londoner named Richard Mayhew who is ordinary in every respect until one fateful night when he stops to help a young girl bleeding on the sidewalk. That simple act of kindness pulls him into a dark underworld beneath London filled with strange and menacing supernatural forces. Will Richard survive long enough to navigate back to the London he knew? You’ll be glued to the page, desperate to find out.
What about woman characters, you ask? Well, look no further than the Greywalker series by Kat Richardson. If you’ve heard about Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series or Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series, but decided you’re over the whole vampire thing, this series is a great alternative. Greywalker begins when Harper Blaine, a PI in Seattle, ends up the victim of a terrible assault and dies – for two minutes. After she is revived by medical professionals, she discovers that she can see and navigate the supernatural world of ghosts, vampires and other things that go bump in the night. Her newfound ability attracts ghosts and other otherworldly creatures who believe she can help them with unfinished business. First, though, she has to figure out how to deal with her new abilities and sensitivities, and the horrors they bring.
Urban fantasy is a rich genre that often features elements of mystery, action and horror. Fans of almost any kind of popular fiction will find something to love here. What urban fantasy novels have you tried? If you have any must-read titles, tell me about them in the comments.