The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The Lure of Urban Fantasy

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

ImageI tend to glut on literary genres, reading one type of book almost exclusively for an extended period of time before I move on.  In high school, it was the classics.  In college, it was Nicholas Sparks-style romance and chick-lit.  (Yes, I read a good bit of it before determining that I hate it!)  Until a few months ago, it was young adult fiction.  And now, it’s urban fantasy.

The reasons for my initial transition from young adult to urban fantasy were pretty simple: I liked the paranormal and fantasy aspects of the young adult genre that are so popular now, thanks to Harry Potter and Twilight, but I was tired of reading exclusively about characters who were 15-17 years old, sick of feeling like I was a decade past my prime.  So I started delving into urban fantasy, discovering a world populated with supernatural creatures AND grown-up characters.

But somehow, I feel an affinity for urban fantasy that I’ve never felt for any other genre.  And when I try to explain this to my friends—most of whom are much more firmly grounded in reality than I could ever be—I usually get a mixture of confusion and pity.  Not to mention that I sometimes worry that, as a book editor, my selections aren’t diverse enough to really give informed opinions to CC2K’s readers.

So I’d like to explain why I dig urban fantasy.

The urban fantasy world is way more interesting than the real one.

On an average day, I wake up, go to work, spend 8 hours in front of a computer (often feeling disgruntled or bored out of my mind), come home, read and/or watch TV for awhile, shower, and go to bed.  Then I wake up the next day and the cycle starts all over again.  You know what?  It’s boring.

On the other hand, when I open an urban fantasy novel, I know I’ll be treated to a world where magical creatures reign supreme.  Vampires, shapeshifters, fairies, demons, and whatever else your imagination can conjure.  I’ve always been happier contemplating what could be rather than what actually is.  Who cares if these things aren’t real?

Urban fantasy, as opposed to high fantasy, takes place in a contemporary or near-contemporary world akin to our own.  So you still have a sense of semi-realism to hang on to…but just a lot more fun than the real world.

I dig kick-ass female heroines.

In one of my earlier columns, I lamented that women often seem to be playing the same roles in fiction: wife, mother, girlfriend, damsel-in-distress, etc.  Yet in urban fantasy, women often get to play the heroes.  They’re strong, self-reliant, powerful, and they don’t need men.  Yes, these heroines often have romances, but they’re also all right when they’re on their own.  (I can’t tell you how many women I know in real life who still need to know that lesson.)

I also dig kick-ass female writers.

I am constantly on the lookout for new and interesting female writers, and many of the most prominent voices in urban fantasy are female: Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Laurell K. Hamilton, Richelle Mead.  With the exception of romance and its subgenres, urban fantasy may be the most female author-dominated genre out there today.  

We’ve come a long way from the days when female authors had to use male pseudonyms to get published, and it’s great to read a genre with so many diverse female voices.

Sometimes, I just need fun, escapist fare.

There are “better” books out there I could be reading, things more informative and educational and “literary.”  But most of the time, I’m not reading to be informed.  I’m reading to be entertained.  And if werewolves, vampires, and kick-ass female heroines entertain me more than other genres, who is anyone to say otherwise?

Selected Book Releases, June 7-13

The Lion by Nelson DeMille

Infinity: Chronicles of Nick by Sherrilyn Kenyon

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Death Echo by Elizabeth Lowell

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

Insatiable by Meg Cabot

Shakespeare Undead
by Lori Handeland

Messages by Bonnie McEneaney

The Art of Devotion by Samantha Bruce-Benjamin

Scout, Atticus, and Boo by Mary McDonagh Murphy

Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future
by Stephen Kinzer

The Climate War:  True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth by Eric Pooley

Insignificant Others: A Novel by Stephen McCauley

The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America by Stefanie Syman

You Don't Know Me: Reflections of My Father, Ray Charles by Ray Charles Robinson Jr. and Mary Jane Ross

Let's Ride by Sonny Barger and Darwin Holmstrom

Pandora's Seed
by Spencer Wells