Books

So You Want to Read Urban Fantasy: Here’s Where to Start

 

Cover detail from Storm Front by Jim Butcher. Art by Chris McGrath.

On every SF&F forum I visit, people ask for book recommendations.

These can range from requests for general SF&F to specific sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy. As an example, Matt Staggs put together a great list of Cyberpunk novels last week after one of our readers asked for recommendations.

This week, I am posting a primer for urban fantasy, that sub-genre of fantasy that takes place in our world—usually in contemporary times—featuring supernatural elements and creatures. Urban fantasy began more than two decades ago as its own sub-genre and it has grown considerably in that time, largely due to the talented authors who are writing in it. They create complex characters usually with dark pasts—wizards, knights, vampire hunters, shapechangers, to name a few—pitting them against a shadowy underworld most people are unaware of.

And the creatures in that underworld? They are as diverse as the characters they often fight against. Usually drawn from various mythologies and religions like Celtic, Norse, and Christianity, the creatures become important characters themselves.

When done right like these examples, urban fantasy offers a mirror that reflects our own lives.

Listed below in order of publication are several novels that all readers should try if they are interested in urban fantasy. I have posted them in chronological order of publication.

Feel free to add your recommendations in the comment field below!


delint-dreamingplaceThe Dreaming Place (1990)
by Charles de Lint

A young woman locked in rage yet seeking magic, Ash is drawn into a wondrous Otherworld of totems and dryads, living tarots and mystic charms. At the same time, Ash’s cousin Nina is stalked by an Otherworld demon—a manitou who can force her mind and soul into the bodies of beasts. Ash must find the strength to overcome her own anger, learn the full power of magic, and save Nina before she becomes the manitou’s weapon, turning the faerie realm into an arctic wasteland. De Lint fans will relish this urban and otherworldly fantasy, partially set in the author’s trademark Newford.

hamilton-guiltypleasuresGuilty Pleasures (1993)
by Laurell K. Hamilton

When St. Louis’s most powerful vampire comes to Anita Blake for help, she is faced with her greatest fear—a man capable of arousing in her a hunger strong enough to match his own. A necromancer and vampire hunter, Anita must discover why innocent vampires are being unlawfully killed—even if it means trusting the one creature she can’t afford to trust.

brooks-runningwiththedemonRunning with the Demon (1997)
by Terry Brooks

In a sleepy steel-mill town, the ultimate battle between Good and Evil is about to begin. The brewing conflict draws John Ross, a Knight of the Word plagued by nightmares that tell him someone evil is coming to unleash an ancient horror upon the world. Caught between them is fourteen-year-old Nest Freemark, who senses that something is terribly wrong but has not yet learned to wield the budding power that sets her apart from her friends. Now the future of humanity depends upon a man haunted by his dreams and a gifted young girl–two souls who will discover what survives when hope and innocence are shattered forever.

butcher-stormfrontStorm Front (2000)
by Jim Butcher

For Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name…

harris-deaduntildarkDead Until Dark (2001)
by Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse is just a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. Until the vampire of her dreams walks into her life-and one of her coworkers checks out…. This series is the basis for the Showtime mega-hit “True Blood,” which is fun, smart, sexy, and all within a mystery that only Sookie can solve. Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn’t such a bright idea.

harrison-deadwitchwalkingDead Witch Walking (2004)
by Kim Harrison

All the creatures of the night gather in “the Hollows” of Cincinnati, to hide, to prowl, to party . . . and to feed. Vampires rule the darkness in a predator-eat-predator world rife with dangers beyond imagining—and it’s Rachel Morgan’s job to keep that world civilized. A bounty hunter and witch with serious sex appeal and an attitude, she’ll bring ’em back alive, dead . . . or undead.

briggs-mooncalledMoon Called (2006)
by Patricia Briggs

Mercy Thompson’s life is not exactly normal. Her next-door neighbor is a werewolf. Her former boss is a gremlin. And she’s fixing a VW bus for a vampire. But then, Mercy isn’t exactly normal herself. Set in the Pacific Northwest, this urban fantasy features a fantastic heroine with more complications than just her love life.

hearne-houndedHounded (2011)
by Kevin Hearne

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.