Urban fantasy is such a popular genre that we often forget that it’s of relatively recent vintage–it only came to the fore in the 1990s. Kelley Armstrong’s BITTEN is a case study for this rapid transformation; in her words, “[It] was called a supernatural thriller, then paranormal suspense, and finally urban fantasy.“
To complicate matters, urban fantasy are very similiar. The most fundamental characteristic they share is, of course, the presence of magical creatures (vamps, weres, shifters, angels, demons, and fairies, to name a few). However, as paranormal romance authors have ramped up the worldbuilding in their books and crafted mythologies that any fantasy writer would kill for, urban fantasy authors have steamed up their novels with great, sexy subplots. It is harder than ever to tell the two genres apart.
We’ve come up with a genre questionnaire to help you shelve your book in the right place. Here we go.
1. Is your book set in a contemporary city setting?
One of the fundamental conventions of urban fantasy is the modern urban setting. There’s grit, there’s danger, and the dour realities of city living. If your story takes place in the past or in the country, your book is most definitely not an urban fantasy.
2. Is there a strong mystery plot to your book?
If your book follows the main character as they try to uncover some type of paranormal mystery, and it ends with the mystery’s successful resolution, there’s a good chance your book is an urban fantasy. UF books have strong ties to noir, and many of the protagonists in urban fantasy books wield a paranormal power that helps them in their work as private investigators. Famous urban fantasy PIs are Harry Dresden from Jim Butcher’s Dresden File Series (wizard detective), Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye (fae half-breed PI), and Alexa Craft (grave witch and police consultant).