Note that this list isn’t in any particular order. They’re all books I either enjoyed a ton or that stuck with me even after I was done reading. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive list as I read a lot of amazing books but had to pare this down to ten books so I could actually manage to get the dang thing out before Christmas.
Note also that I was mad tipsy when making the accompanying podcast and so my scatterbrain is at an all time high. If you’re looking for something where I remember character names and heck, even basic plot points, um… please don’t listen to the audio and just read the descriptions instead!
1 The Castle Doctrine – Craig Schaefer
The sixth book in Craig Schaefer’s Daniel Faust series, The Castle Doctrine is one of many urban fantasy novels that legit left me messed up by the time I was done reading them. Schaefer’s writing style is incredible, full of descriptions that left me cringing (but still flipping the pages on my kindle).
The way the man writes violence is like… out of this world. Daniel Faust reminds me a lot of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden only you know… not a misogynist and with a clearly defined moral code of his own (like Deathstroke but with magic and broke all the time). Start out with The Long Way Down and work your way to this book because it’s so worth it.
2 Certain Dark Things – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
If you keep up to date on what I’m writing, you’ll know that I already did a review for Certain Dark Things over on Strange Horizons. There are so many reasons to love this book, but the main one is that it shows really realistic relationships between humans and vampires. Moreno-Garcia’s vivid descriptions and her talent at worldbuilding that lacks major holes also rocks.
Basically, Certain Dark Things might be your cup of tea if you grew up with Anne Rice’s vampires, are sick of 90% of urban fantasy’s whitewashed cityscapes and “Strong Women”, and just want to read about diverse vampires that don’t serve as villains for a white hero/ine to vanquish.
Pride’s Spell – Matt Wallace
If you’re new here, you might not know that Matt Wallace is like #writergoals for me. But like in an abstract sort of way as I am both busy and lazy. His Sin du Jour series is basically my most favorite series out right now. It’s got everything: demons, angels, queer characters of color, and really gorgeous descriptions of food that make you hungry even when it’s something pretty dang gross. Oh, and my OTP for the series? It’s freaking canon now.
You can read and listen to my tipsy review of Pride’s Spell here and then, once you’ve come to your senses, you should pick up the entire series and bask in Matt’s awesomeness.
4 Archangel’s Heart – Nalini Singh
I adore Nalini Singh. She’s one of the sweetest authors I’ve ever interacted with and she does the kind of worldbuilding that leaves me weak. While her Psy/Changeling series had a huge milestone with Allegiance of Honor back at the start of the year, the big draw for me with regard to urban fantasy was October’s Archangel’s Heart, the latest in her Guild Hunter series.
I started reading the series a couple years ago (maybe three) and fell in love with Elena, the main character. Her archangel lover Raphael took a while to grow on me because at first glance, he’s absolutely an alpha male asshole, but then he’s not. This book can be a little difficult to get through because it deals with subject matter like abuse and assault, but I really enjoyed how the importance of “family” was a huge theme.
5 No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished – Rachel Aaron
A lot of the books I’m recommending are well into a series, but that’s just because the authors still haven’t dropped the ball on quality. Rachel Aaron’s Heartstrikers series has consistently been awesome since I picked up the first book back in 2014. Look, from the first page No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished left me wrecked. I was ugly crying and going through all the stages of grief. It was not cute.
I think that the Heartstrikers series has a lot of potential and if you want to have your heart ripped out of your chest while you read about dragons (not dragon shifters, by the way… straight up dragons who are coded as Latinx in their “human” forms) being badass, consider checking the series out.
6 Labyrinth Lost – Zoraida Cordova
I haven’t actually finished reading Zoraida Cordova’s Labyrinth Lost (the first book in her Brooklyn Brujas series), but I have it on good authority from a dear friend that it’s basically the best book ever. I’m at the halfway point and I’m in love with Cordova’s depictions of New York and magic. Also, well… the main character Alex is bisexual and one of her crushes is her best friend and I just have all of the feelings. It’s super difficult to find really well written urban fantasy that’s also no super white and straight and so Cordova basically hits it out of the park with this book that I feel puts her on the same level as Daniel José Older.
7 Hammers on Bone – Cassandra Khaw
Cassandra Khaw’s Hammers on Bone, the first in her Persons Non Grata series from Tor, had me all kinds of fucked up.
It’s been months since I wrote my review and I’m still not over it. It’s Lovecraftian horror but infinitely better because a) Cassandra is both a great writer and a great person and b) because she takes the time to flesh out this utterly twisted world that’s like the seamy underside of ours with aspects of Lovecraft’s mythology. Only, she has characters of color and female characters as centered in her work and there’s no romanticizing of Lovecraft’s horror, only a careful, creepy application of it to her world.
Note that if you’re sensitive to detailed descriptions of violence that include various forms child abuse, skip this book or be prepared to take breaks throughout the book.
8 Red Knight Falling – Craig Schaefer
The second Craig Schaefer book on my list come from his Harmony Black series. I chose Red Knight Falling because it basically hit all my buttons: well-written female characters, alternate history that isn’t revisionist or reductive, scary demons, and body horror that makes me want to drop my kindle.
Harmony Black was a detective in the Daniel Faust series who got her own spinoff that’s like part Criminal Minds, part Buffy and she was a real hard-ass. Obviously, I loved her immediately. Her spin-off series is amazing and I just need everyone to read this series too.
9 Heroine Complex – Sarah Kuhn
I’ve never been sure about whether to classify superhero stories as fantasy or sci-fi but since this is my list… well Heroine Complex gets to be on it.
Heroine Complex is an incredible work of superhero fiction and it centers two East Asian-American superheroines: unassuming Evie Tanaka and Aveda Jupiter, the secret identity of Evie’s childhood best friend Annie Chang as they battle against hordes of demons, fight crime, and deal with shifting, complicated relationships. This book also has demon cupcakes, a Sailor Moon-esque plot, and ridiculously sexy moments between Evie and her love interest.
(And, if it sweetens the pot for y’all a bit, Sarah Kuhn is such a sweet person and I adore following her on twitter!)
10 Nightshades – Melissa F. Olson
I got into Melissa F. Olson’s writing due to her Allison Luther series. That’s another Urban Fantasy series I’ve read, but it didn’t catch me as well as hard as Nightshades did when I read It this year. Nightshades was very much like reading a police or FBI procedural but with vampires. And I have always intense feelings about vampires.
I recommend this book for anyone that really enjoyed From Dusk Till Dawn or The Strain because that’s kind of the feel I get from this book. You also get female characters in power and really interesting worldbuilding and vampire physiology. Offhand, I can’t remember how queerness and characters of color are represented, but as both of those identities are represented in the Allison Luther series, here’s hoping that she did the same in Nightshades.