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Review: The Urban Fantasy Anthology – A Breakdown of Sub-Genres

By / March 2, 2014 / no comments

I picked up The Urban Fantasy Anthology and thought it would be full of ‘Dresden like kickarse attitude’ and I was wrong, in a good way I think. The anthology is broken up into three section defined by the elements each story has in common. I haven’t read an anthology like that before, mostly it is just stories of a genre (The Sword and Sorcery Anthology) or a theme that transcends genres (Dangerous Women). Each section contains and introduction by someone who writes in that sub-genre and if you want, you can come with me on this journey of discovery  🙂

Notes on the subgenres:

Paula Guran says that “subgenres arise due to public demand. No writer sets out to invent them”  and that writers happen to write books that appeal to the same audience thorough a range of sheer serendipity and/or cultural zeitgeist”. I agree with this, I doubt very much that GOOD writers set out to write in a particular genre for marketability or otherwise, I think writers just write the stories they want/need to write. I do think Joe R. Lansdale says it best when he comments, These distinctions are okay and necessary to some degree. but what I dislike are the hard and fast rules. There are no rules. There’s fiction. There are story tellers. And the rest is hair splitting”

Mythic Fiction

A Personal Journey into Mythic Fiction – Introduction by Charles De Lint

This section had the most stories I loved. It stands to reason as after reading the introduction I was able to see my favourite stand alone books of all time are mythic fiction. De Lint gives such a comprehensive explanation of the subgenre, I will just let him do it. Mythical fiction makes “conscious use of myth, medieval romance, folklore, and/or fairytales but are set in the real world, rather than in invented fantasy landscapes”. It “speaks to the obvious concerns that make up the physical world we all share with one another, but also addresses the individual worlds we carry inside ourselves”. This is such a large part of why people love Urban Fantasy, I am so glad he put this in here as it is true for each of the subgenres included in the anthology. “The magical/folkloric/mythic elements are colour and shade rather than the substance of the story”. I think this is a large part of what makes the atmosphere in a work of mythical fiction so enthralling. It is something that isn’t unique to Urban Fantasy as a whole but so noticeable in the stories included in this section. De Lint suggests that fairytales and mythology tap into a deeper part of the psyche than an adventure story can reach”. I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but I would like to think it is.

Favourite stories:  

A Bird That Whistles by Emma Bull. A guy meets a faerie musician and learns a fair few things. What I loved about this story was how music and human emotion was so central to the story and how the faerie reacted to this.

Julie’s Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Julie has a unicorn in her tiny house. This story was so beautiful and made me think about art in a different way after reading it.

Paranormal Romance

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Urban Fantasy – Introduction by Paula Guran

I wasn’t sure what to make of this section, I thought it would be full of vampire/werewolf and human love stories, I was kinda of right but not in the way I thought I would be. The stories here are good, like really good! The romance aspect is just normal romance, not romance that doesn’t make any sense because of crappy writing.  The people in these stories have a connection to a zombie, a werewolf, a faerie but so what? These are relationships exist because there is a world in which humans and the supernatural co-exist. The main focus is not the romance, or the relationship, it just includes romance and a relationship. Not at all typical or the paranormal romance I have read, so I will definitely be exploring the works of these authors.

In her introduction Guran says, These books were the hottest things in the fantasy field, bringing in throngs of new readers many of whom had previously only read mostly romance or mystery or were discovering fantasy for the first time or were realising fantasy wasn’t what they had thought it was – yet the authors and the fiction as a whole was being ignored (even derided) by the field itself and most of its established mavens”. I read this after I read the stories and it made me angry, I agree, there is such a negative stigma attached to this sub genre, and from what I read there is not reason it should be there. Let’s be clear, there are crappy high/low/dark/gritty/ fantasy just as there are crappy paranormal romance stories. If you are judging a subgenre of fantasy by one or two books then you suck, not the genre.“The urban fantasy/paranormal heroine owes a lot to the traditions of hard-boiled detective genre. There were tough girls too (…) stories of ‘occult detectives’ and various ‘vampire detectives’. She is also derived from sword and sorcery and is a female incarnation of the action adventure hero”. This I totally identify with and appreciate the hell out of. It is so awesome to see female main characters doing the stuff I so often see male characters do, being bad arse!

Favourite stories:  

Seeing Eye by Patricia Briggs. Kick arse blind witch helps out a werewolf whose brother has been kidnapped. Excellent characterisation in such a small story.

Boobs by Suzy Mckee Charnas: Teenage girl finds out she turns into a werewolf during the full moon. Awesome story about growing up with fantastical elements.

Noir Fantasy

We Are Not a Club, But We Sometimes Share a Room – Introduction by Joe R. Lansdale

I didn’t like the stories In this section as much as I enjoyed the others, I think because of the heavy influence from horror AND fantasy, I don’t like horror, only fantasy. What I really liked was the way each story really felt urban, the setting was so completely integrated it was seamless.

“The fiction has an urban stink about it. The terror is often due to the actions of people: pollutions, street crime, over population, dehumanisation, and so on. What supernatural elements there are, are dragged out of the haunted houses, and into the tract house and walk up apartment or they lace place in the wasteland of some horrid aftermath brought on by the mistakes of civilisation”. This permeated each story and freaked me the hell out on more than one occasion, which I guess is really the point. “An audience has gradually been inoculated to embrace these tales by fantastical imagery so much part of modern day life commercials using fantastical themes, television channels devotes to sci-fi and fantasy, horror and the weird”. I think this is really poignant point, and perhaps the reason there is so much crappy fantasy out there. As the fantastical commercial successes become more and more apparent, there seems to be some crappy authors cashing in on the successfulness of all the awesome.

Favourite stories: 

The Coldest girl in Coldtown by Holly Black. A more realistic story of a vampire outbreak. Great plot line and interesting premise.

Talking Back to the Moon by Steven R. Boyett. A modern day werewolf finds a human alpha. This is the most disturbing story for a few reasons, excellent use of build up and suspense.

To sum up, I think we need to stop thinking about genres and subgenres as rigid things and while we may just read fantasy exclusively, try not to get stuck into one subgenre of it, there is so much awesomeness out there if you take the time to look for it!

Happy reading!

 

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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