We’ve done demons, the fae, and shifters. How did we make it this long without talking about one of my biggest obsessions in the genre… Angels. Now I did grow up in a Christian household so that probably explains some of my focus. While I’ve since moved on far away from that – I have kept a shrine of Dionysus for the past 3 years and worshiped him privately without that for years before – I can’t escape this fixation that I have always had with those winged wonders.
Hilariously, my angel thing can be traced directly back to three specific pieces of media, not actually church: the 1999 film Dogma, Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary, and Yun Kouga’s Earthian. All three of these pieces of media can, if you stretch your understanding of the genre really far, count as urban fantasy. They are, in the case of the latter two, clearly proto-urban fantasy.
One of the most infuriating things about urban fantasy as a genre is that one of the most familiar representations for Black readers (and of Black people) comes in the form of the magical Negro figure.
The Magical Negro is the white man’s idealized version of black people—a cross between faithful slave servant who walks with his head down and a superhero too conservatively demure to wear a cape and too grateful for the benevolence of white people to slit their throats for past atrocities. He may drop his “r’s” and use incorrect subject-verb agreement (because a literal incarnation of the perfect black stereotype, by definition, can’t be smart), but he is the incarnation of the friendliest, most loving, loyal dream of a human being.
And that’s the heart of it: magical negro characters literally exist to serve (usually, but not always) white characters on their quest to great magical power.
They exist to use their magical talent (which sometimes isn’t even actual magic but uncanny ability to be exactly what the white protagonist needs to fix themselves) and provide education to prepare the naïve non-black protagonist for magical success. Unless you’re lucky, there’s rarely any attempt at fleshing out the magical negro character or acknowledging either his talent or blackness beyond what those things can bring the hero.
In the biggest and most popular series, the main characters are either outright law enforcement – like my book bae Peter Grant in the Rivers of London series – or they’re like Anita Blake, characters who don’t actually have badges worth anything but are set up as The Law in their neck of the woods.
I’ve read dozens of urban fantasy books in my lifetime and many of the books hinge very closely on these main characters in law enforcement or who are adjacent to law enforcement or… who have very close relationships with cops.
He’s why Rachel is in this mess once more – yes, she alsohas poor risk assessment and self-preservation instincts but I will give her a pass for now – so I’m not playing my tiny violin for him just yet. Especially because the reason why Francis is dead-in-the-moment is because Rachel reacted before thinking and swung him in front of her. He took a curse from a ley line witch that was meant for her and, to Rachel’s senses, he died as a result.
When we last left the lovely losers in Dead Witch Walking, Rachel was bleeding out and a demon sent her back to the church she lives at with Ivy and Jenks. As Rachel is literally moments away from dying, of course Ivy and Nick feel the need to get into a pissing match over her.
Ivy’s all “how could you let her get hurt, I knew I couldn’t trust you” (which… is valid) while Nick is a smug fuck that’s like “You’re not her mom and also you’re totally trying to hunt her. I’m gonna tell her”.
Content warnings: a reference to animal cruelty at the start and a brief mention of sexual violence as a in general at the start and as a plot point near the end.
When we last left our intrepid witch in mink form, Rachel was about to get thrown to the rats.
Chapter twenty ended with Trent and Jonathan keke-ing over how Rachel is caught in their trap and stuck as a mink. Chapter twenty-one begins with Jonathan pretty much torturing Rachel since she’s trapped in her cage – and I vaguely know what they look like so this has been a whole thing where I… pretend I know what a mink is when visualizing this part of the book.
Chapter sixteen begins with Rachel punching Ivy in the face because she thinks that Ivy has snuck into her room and is going to eat her out of nowhere so like… I’m starting this session Quite Annoyed.
Because I get that the point is that Rachel is on edge about living with an apex predator that’s also predatory in her direction, but… Ivy has pretty much just gotten over her “woe is me, don’t judge me harshly” thing. Why on earth would she be in Rachel’s room for anything short of an emergency since the reaction that she does get – Rachel punching her in the stomach – about what she can expect from a situation like this.
When we last saw Rachel Morgan in chapter ten, she’d just been about to turn into something after activating a transformation. I couldn’t remember what she’d turned into – only that I was pretty sure that it wasn’t what she’d intended – but thankfully, this chapter gives us an answer soon enough:
Part of officially deciding that I’d break away from the Anita Blake series was trying to figure out another series to focus on that did more interesting things.
I wanted to tackle a series that I had positive memories of, but also know I can criticize it solidly without losing it. Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series was another one of those urban fantasy series that I kind fixated on as a teenager and kept at it until I was a younger adult.
So, I have the positive memories, but then room to criticize it.
So I’ll be covering the books five chapters at a time blending snarky sporking with the kind of criticism I wanted to return to but couldn’t with the Anita Blake series.
(Not sure how this is going to work? It’ll be something like the spork I did of “Shutdown”, but far less unkind and wordy because I’m not going to go through this book the way I did Shutdown. We’d be here all month.)
I grew up reading Harry Potter in the Virgin Islands.
I think Rowling’s work was the first “witchcraft and wizardry” book I read as a child. Despite all of Rowling’s many (many) faults, that book series that’s now viewed as part of the Western canon helped nudge me on towards a deep love of urban fantasy that’s still obviously present to this day.
One of the coolest things about witches and wizards in urban fantasy is that there’s often an element of “anyone could be one” across the narrative. Even in blood-focused societies, there’s always a Hermione who doesn’t need to be genetically gifted because she has skills.
I’ve been reading about the fae in urban fantasy ever since I first got my grubby little hands on Holly Black’s Tithe way back when and I think that the fae get a weird rap in urban fantasy series.
Like with the other predatory species, they exist in this weird in-between space where they’re generally oppressing someone but oppressed by others. Fae hold a complicated space in urban fantasy because you never really know when you’re going to get an innovative fae-filled fairytale retelling or something that poorly handles tough themes like imperialism, abusive relationships, and slavery.
But the fae are fascinating even when I don’t exactly love the way they’re being written in an urban fantasy book. Like some of the supernatural species I’ve written about before, they can often hide in plain sight as they navigate a world that actively harms them – literally considering that many fae physically can’t interact with man-made materials and the pollution of the human world can kill some of them – but that’s not the only fascinating thing about them. Read More »
2018 was a great year for me for urban fantasy reads and for my Urban Fantasy 101 series overall. I had more hits in the genre than misses and I found books and authors that I’ll always adore. I was able to develop really interesting thoughts on worldbuilding from reading tons of urban fantasy books and I think I’m finally finding a balanced approach between celebration and criticism.
While I read a ton of urban fantasy in 2018, a fair amount of it wasn’t actually published this year. So, I’m going to wrap up the year by talking about the ones that were. Here are eight of what I thought 2018 had to offer as the best urban fantasy reads (that I’ve read all the way through)!Read More »
Wikipedia’s definition for “urban fantasy” is pretty unhelpful in its broadness.
Basically, it calls urban fantasy “a subgenre of fantasy in which the narrative has an urban setting” and goes on to mention that urban fantasy works are “set primarily in the real world and contain aspects of fantasy”.
It’s definitely a definition, but it’s not exactly an clear one.Read More »
Are you an urban fantasy (or contemporary paranormal romance) writer that wishes they got recced more often on my Urban Fantasy 101 posts? Or are you a fan of the genre/s and want to shout out a book or series that hasn’t gotten a link or a mention before?
Well, you’re in luck because I want y’all to rec yourselves (or your favorite authors)!
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Demons are another urban fantasy and paranormal romance staple and, like the vampires and shifters I’ve written about before, they encompass a wide range of various supernatural species across different cultures. A demon in one urban fantasy or paranormal romance series might not be recognized as a demon in another and, generally, these demons don’t look like the ones in demonology around the world.
What even are these demons?
We talked about this in UF101: Mythology Soup: sometimes, we squish a whole lot of things together that maybe… don’t quite need to be squished together. In the urban fantasy and paranormal romance genres, demon can sometimes count as an umbrella term under which a whole bunch of other supernatural beings are expected shelter.
Case in point? In Hannah Jayne’s Underworld Detection Agency series, the term “demon” kind of encompasses anything that’s not human. That includes “actual” demons like the kind we’re used to seeing as villains of the hour on episodes of Charmed and Supernatural and other supernatural species that aren’t typically associated with the demonic. Like werewolves, zombies, and vampires.
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