Urban fantasy

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Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy in which the narrative has an urban setting.[1][2] Works of urban fantasy are set primarily in the real world and contain aspects of fantasy, such as the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence or conflict between humans and paranormal beings, and other changes to city life.[3][4] A contemporary setting is not strictly necessary for a work of urban fantasy: works of the genre may also take place in futuristic and historical settings, actual or imagined.[1][3]

History[edit]

The term urban fantasy had been in use in print from as far back as the early 20th century. However, when used then, the term described a characteristic of some object or place. For example, in Horst Schmidt-Brummer's 1973 book about Venice, California, he adds the subtitle, "An Urban Fantasy", to denote nostalgia for what he feels is a bygone lack of appreciation for the uniqueness of the city.[5] And in various New York Times advertisements in 1928 through 1930 for the St. Regis hotel, the term appears to imply that the hotel's setting is a sort of paradise: "Never was an urban fantasy so enchanting..."[6]

The 1974 TV show Kolchak: The Night Stalker is an early example of the genre. The show featured a Chicago newspaper reporter uncovering and usually single-handedly battling supernatural creatures (e.g. vampires and zombies) in an urban environment. Unbelieved and unappreciated, he is considered by his boss, colleagues, the police and the public as something between a rag-mag liar, a crackpot or a murderous insane person as he struggles with his own personal (metaphorical) demons and the "real" demons he faces and usually slays in each episode. This series originated with the 1972 movie The Night Stalker and thus predates by approximately 15 years the early usage of the term "Urban Fantasy."

The term began to describe a style of fiction only in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[7] This development is apparent in the increased use of the term in contemporary reviews.[8][9]

Terri Windling's shared Borderlands universe, launched in the mid-1980s, is touted by Neil Gaiman as "one of the most important places where Urban Fantasy began"[10] with Tor.com claiming that "some say, Urban Fantasy was born in Bordertown," which provided "young, beginning writers like Charles de Lint and Emma Bull" with a platform for the new genre.[11]

Several publications and writers have cited authors Laurell K. Hamilton and Kim Harrison as notable contributors to the genre. Entertainment Weekly,[12] USA Today,[13] and Time[14] have recognized the longevity and influence of Hamilton's stories, while The New York Times[15] and Amazon.com[16] have noted the work of Kim Harrison. Author Courtney Allison Moulton has cited Hamilton's early works among her inspirations.[17] Kelly Gay has noted Hamilton, Harrison, and Emma Bull as primary influences.[18] Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files series have been described by Barnes and Noble as "the gold standard" for the genre;[19] one of the books from the series was nominated for the 2015 Hugo Award.

Novels[edit]

Adult fiction[edit]

Many urban-fantasy novels geared toward adults are told via a first-person narrative, and often feature mythological beings, romance, and female protagonists who are involved in law enforcement or vigilantism.[1][20] Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series—which follows the investigations of a supernatural Federal Marshal during paranormal cases—has been called a substantial and influential work of the genre.[14] Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan novels, also regarded as inspirational works, feature a bounty-hunting "witch-born" demon who battles numerous supernatural foes.[21] The Charlie Madigan series, by Kelly Gay, explores the challenges a police officer faces while trying to balance her paranormal cases with life as a single mother.[3]

In addition to books which present largely independent characters, certain stories feature men and women who are regularly partnered on adventures—often with an underlying romantic element. The Jaz Parks series, by Jennifer Rardin, follows the titular CIA operative and her vampire boss as they combat supernatural threats to national security.[22] Jocelynn Drake's Dark Days novels follow a vampire named Mira and a vampire hunter named Danaus, who work together to protect their people from a mutual enemy.[23] Night Huntress, a series by Jeaniene Frost, centers on a half-vampire named Catherine and a vampire bounty hunter called Bones, who gradually become lovers while battling the undead.[24]

Teen fiction[edit]

In contrast to the "professional heroes" found in adult urban-fantasy novels, many novels aimed at young adult audiences follow inexperienced protagonists who are unexpectedly drawn into paranormal struggles. Amidst these conflicts, characters often gain allies, find romance, and, in some cases, develop or discover supernatural abilities of their own.[20] In Kelley Armstrong's The Darkest Powers series, a group of teens with paranormal talents go on the run while fleeing from a persistent band of scientists.[25] Gone, by Michael Grant, follows an isolated town in which adults have mysteriously disappeared, leaving a society of super-powered children behind.[26] In Unearthly, by Cynthia Hand, a girl discovers that she is part angel and gifted with superhuman abilities, leading her to seek out her purpose on Earth.[27] The Immortals series, by Alyson Noël, follows a girl who gains special abilities after recovering from an accident, and also grows close to a mysterious new boy at her school.[28] Love triangles also play a prominent part in these and several other urban-fantasy novels.[29][30] Coming-of-age themes and teen 'voices' also often distinguish young-adult urban fantasy from adult books in the genre.[31]

Boarding schools are a common setting in teen urban fantasy. Rampant, by Diana Peterfreund, follows a group of young women at a cloisters as they train to fight killer unicorns.[32] The House of Night series, by P. C. and Kristin Cast, presents a school where future vampires are disciplined while on the path to transformation, during which several romantic conflicts and other clashes ensue.[33] Claudia Gray's Evernight novels center on a mysterious academy, where a romantic bond develops between a girl born to vampires, and a boy who hunts them.[34] Fallen, by Lauren Kate, revolves around a student named Luce who finds herself drawn to a boy named Daniel, unaware that he is a fallen angel who shares a history with her.[35] Other series, such as Carrie Jones's Need, have characters moving to new locations but attending public schools while discovering mysterious occurrences elsewhere in their towns.[36]

Distinction from paranormal romance[edit]

In an online commentary, author Jeannie Holmes described differences between urban fantasy and paranormal romance:[1]

The two share 90% of their genre DNA. However, the main differences are this: Urban fantasy focuses on an issue outside of a romantic relationship between two characters. Paranormal romance focuses on a romantic relationship between two characters and how outside forces affect that relationship. The best litmus test to determine if a story is urban fantasy or paranormal romance is to ask the following question: 'If the romance between Character A and Character B were removed, would the plot still stand as a viable storyline?' If the answer is 'yes,' chances are good it's urban fantasy. If the answer is 'no,' it's most likely paranormal romance.

Media tie-ins[edit]

Use of other forms of media has become a common part of the creation and promotion of urban-fantasy works.

Music[edit]

"Sometimes the songs influence the book and sometimes it’s the other way around, but either way the playlist eventually comes to epitomize the feeling of the book to me."

—Christina Henry[37]

Several urban-fantasy authors cite music as an inspiration. Certain writers recommend songs or playlists on their official websites, including Courtney Allison Moulton, Jaye Wells, and Sarah J. Maas, who couple their recommendations with links to music-providing services.[38][39] Publishers have also used music for book trailers, including the trailer for Carrie Jones's Captivate, which features the work of songwriter Derek Daisey.[40][41]

Original music is also produced. In 2010, musicians Alexandra Monir, Michael Bearden, and Heather Holley (a songwriter for Christina Aguilera's Stripped) collaborated to create songs for Monir's debut novel, Timeless.[42]

Video[edit]

Book trailers are often used to promote urban-fantasy novels.[43] Publishers such as HarperCollins also produce regular video interviews with debuting authors.[44]

Comics and manga[edit]

Adaptations of urban-fantasy novels have appeared in comic books and manga. Among the tales to be adapted are Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series,[45] Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thompson stories,[46] and Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely.[47]

Film and television[edit]

Works of urban fantasy have been adapted to or have originated in film and television. Well-known examples include the 1992 series Highlander and the TV adaptation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is regarded as a seminal work of the genre.[20]

Certain staples of urban-fantasy novels are also present in television shows. The concept of peaceful coexistence with paranormal beings is explored in the 1996 series Kindred: The Embraced, which focuses on secret vampire clans in San Francisco.[48] Works such as Witchblade present the more common matter of a protagonist attempting to protect citizens.[49]

While urban-fantasy novels are often centered on heroines, television programs have regularly featured both genders in leading roles.[50] Shows such as Beauty and the Beast, The Dresden Files, Forever Knight, Grimm, Moonlight, and Supernatural are based around male protagonists, while other programs, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, and Witchblade, focus largely on female protagonists.[51]

Authors[edit]

The following is an incomplete list of notable authors of urban fantasy. According to 2013 statistics by the fantasy publisher Tor Books, among writers of urban fantasy or paranormal romance, 57% are women and 43% are men, whereas men outnumber women by about two to one in writing historical, epic or high fantasy.[52]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Datlow, Ellen (2011). Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. xii–xiii. ISBN 978-0-312-38524-8.
  3. ^ a b c d "The Better Part of Darkness review". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved April 11, 2011.
  4. ^ a b "Deadtown by Nancy Holzner". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved April 11, 2011.
  5. ^ Schmidt-Brummer, Horst (1973). Venice, California: An Urban Fantasy. New York: Grossman Publishers. pp. 1–7. ISBN 0670745057.
  6. ^ Unknown (November 6, 1928). "The Seaglade Advertisement, p39". The New York Times.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Donohue, Nanette Wargo (June 1, 2008). "Collection Development "Urban Fantasy": The City Fantastic". Library Journal.
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