Just in time for Halloween, here’s a list of ten of my favorite spoopy things that y’all should consider checking out. If you need specific content warnings for anything, send me a message here or on Twitter!
Note: most of the links that lead to Amazon are affiliate links!
Back in 2016, I did a review for SMG’s fantastic urban fantasy stand-alone novel for Strange Horizons where I say that it is “the book I wish had been my introduction to vampires in literature back when I was a kid”.
Certain Dark Things is a dark and innovative urban fantasy novel that gets you to reimagine the vampire as we know it, subverting the species as the genre tends to do it, and offering an interesting take on those bite-y bloodsuckers.
2. Cassandra Khaw’s Food of the Gods (the Rupert Wong duology)
Gorgeous and gloriously gory, Cassandra Khaw’s lush writing makes the horrors of Rupert Wong’s life and his experiences as a chef for a bunch of human-eating ghouls and gods almost… appetizing. I’m constantly torn between being flat out grossed out by and salivating over food I shouldn’t want to eat. (I reviewed the second book in this duology – Rupert Wong and the Ends of the Earth – for Strange Horizons and talked a ton about Khaw’s use of Greek mythology.)Read More »
Stephanie Ahn’s debut novel is, frankly, one of the finest urban fantasy books that I’ve read this year.
Deadline is such a super rereadable book thanks to Harrietta Lee, our main character who happens to be flawed and fun, and Ahn’s incredible worldbuilding. From the first line in the book, one that sees Harry noticing a demon that’s busy checking her out, I was hooked. Harry is a witch who doesn’t exactly have the best reputation in New York’s magical community and, as a result, has been forced to take assorted odd jobs as a magical private investigator because she doesn’t have the connections she once had.Read More »
I know I’m about to get my critical little claws all over vampires in the urban fantasy genre once more with my upcoming piece on vampire supremacy in the genre, but before I do, I want to shout out some of my favorite vampires in fiction. While shapeshifters are my main weakness when it comes to supernatural beings, vampires have always been… neat.
So, here are five of my favorite vampires in no particular order.
Marcel Gerard (The Originals)
Backstory: First introduced on The Vampire Diaries in a backdoor pilot for The Originals, Marcel starts off the series as the ruling vampire in New Orleans. Born to the governor of Louisiana, a slaveowner, and one of the women he enslaved before being turned by Klaus Mikaelson (a werewolf, vampire hybrid with less morals than common sense), Marcel has spent much of his life and unlife trying to get respect and recognition. He’s got power now, but he’s constantly undermined at every turn and the respect he’s spent decades trying to get… is pretty fleeting.
Why I Love Them: In many ways, Marcel is a fantastic successor to many of our older literary vampires that literally shaped how so many of us view vampires. He is romantic, but tragic. Cruel, but with a deep kindness in him. He has so much going on because he’s a Black vampire in a world of largely white ones. Where he’s on the top of the heap in so many ways, but then there’s the Mikkaelsons to remind him that he’s “just” a former slave and not on their level in anyway. He’s one of the few characters in The Vampire Diaries franchise that I want to see survive and thrive. He’s a bit of a douchebag but… he’s my douchebag.
Alas, The Originals needs a writer’s room more diverse than a bag of marshmallows because I still don’t think he’s ever received the storylines that he deserves when compared to the other vampires in the franchise.Read More »
If you’re familiar with my Urban Fantasy 101 series, you probably know that I’ve written about the way the genre thinks and writes about vampires on the regular. I’ve shot down the idea that there’s some kind of universal vampire-ness, that every culture that has a bloodsucker in its mythologies, has a vampire. I’ve talked about how difficult it is to empathize with vampires that used to (or still do) own people.
But let’s briefly talk about vampires as a whole.Read More »
This is a new aspect to my Urban Fantasy 101 blog series that I hope y’all find useful! I read a lot of urban fantasy and paranormal romance and I wanted to make little primers for tropes, sub-genres, and whatnot in these overarching genres in order to help introduce new readers to things they might not be familiar with!
What are shifters?
“Shifter” is short for “shape-shifter”.
Both terms can be used to encompass everything from the traditional fantasy novel fare like werewolves to mythological/folkloric beings like selkies and the lamia.
The most important thing that most shifters have in common across the genres they show up in is that they usually have at least two forms: a base human(oid) form and a full “animal” form. Some shifters have the ability to partially shift parts of their bodies or to inhabit a third full form between beast and human. Read More »
I don’t remember who I was having this conversation with (but it was probably someone in the English department because that’s where I keep having these conversations) but the subject of werewolves and their eating habits came up and the person I was talking with was like “okay, but what happens to the raw meat when they turn back human”
And I didn’t even have to think about it.
Werewolves aren’t human.
They’re always werewolves even when two-legged.
Werewolves aren’t wolves either.
Therefore, their stomachs are werewolf stomachs – not human or wolf.
So they can eat anything that humans can eat as well as anything wolves can eat.
I argue for all of the benefits and none of the drawbacks.
Bright’s entire premise is weak and so’s its reliance on an allegory for racism that fuels its major plot points. In Los Angeles, Orcs are at the bottom of the metaphorical food chain, with many members of the species ostracized and subjugated by humans and elves alike. (While there are other supernatural beings around in one-off scenes, they largely don’t figure into Bright’s black and white worldbuilding.) Orcs in LA, who are largely coded as analogous to Black people via clothing, imagery, and behavior, are collectively being punished for choosing the wrong side in a war two thousand years before the film began. Other characters—such as Ike Barinholtz’s Pollard—use the fact that their ancestors slaughtered and were slaughtered by Orcs in Europe during that war as an excuse for their anger.
At no point does Bright actually combat the racism inherent in the assumption that a race deserves to be oppressed for the “crimes” of its past members. In Los Angeles at least, as mentioned above (we only know about the treatment of Orcs there and in Miami, apparently the only places writer Max Landis has ever heard of), Orcs are second-class citizens who live in poor neighborhoods away from humans. Relationships—of any kind—between humans and Orcs are viewed as offensive, and Will Smith’s Daryl Ward is harassed by (white) police officers whom he worked with over having an Orc as his partner (even though Ward has never asked for a partner and other humans refused to work with Ward for reasons that aren’t explained).
Look, I’m not saying that I’m an urban fantasy expert or anything like that, but I know quality work in the genre when I see them. And Bright isn’t one. Bright takes some of the worst tropes in the buddy cop and urban fantasy genres, adds a stinking heap of a racism allegory, and then serves it up as an attempt at being subversive and cool. (Also, Max Landis is a mediocre writer at best and Bright is not his best. Also also: I hate him.)
If you like my Urban Fantasy 101 article series, check out my review of Bright: a film that basically doesn’t do many things (anything?) right at all. Urban fantasy is one of my favorite genres because of the sheer potential present in the genre. You can do anything within it. So why did Bright choose to regurgitate tired tropes and muddle the message of its own worldbuilding?
Content warnings: this installment of Urban Fantasy 101 will be dealing with sexual assault in the genre. This means that I will be quoting and talking about sexual assault with vivid and graphic language largely pulled from the books that I’m covering. This includes descriptions of assault and threats.
If you take an introductory anthropology or religion class, chances are that your professor will at some point bring up Joseph Campbell’s theory of the monomyth, boiling it down to “every culture shares these aspects of myth and all stories in mythology share archetypes that are common across time and space”.
And since the person telling you this is supposed to be an expert of course, you don’t/can’t question them.
However, the idea of the monomyth as it applies to myth (and the mythological creatures we see in urban fantasy series) tends to be incredibly Western-centric and therefore, the monomyth as Campbell developed it and as authors have adapted it, doesn’t apply to every single myth out there.
Case in point? The supposed universality of the vampire. Read More »
So for this installment of Urban Fantasy 101, I’ll be tackling the way that Southern Pride plays out in the genre and how writers need to stop romanticizing a period of history that couldn’t have existed without enslaving Black people.
I’ll be talking about authors trying to showcase what they love about Southern culture and how that often goes hand in hand with failing at being respectful to the Black people who were brought to the United States against their will and whose subjugation was integral to the development of “Southern pride”.
I don’t just adore Space Goat Productions’ Moonlighters series because the talented writer on the book is my pal (and fellow Comics Alliance alumus) Katie Schenkel or because artist Cal Moray is equally talented and that they draw the cutest werewolves I’ve ever seen.
I love it because Moonlighters is basically everything I’ve ever wanted in family friendly urban fantasy.
Content warnings: This installment of Urban Fantasy 101 contains references to or descriptions of racism, homophobia, heterocentrism, sexual assault, childhood abuse, domestic abuse, other forms of discrimination. There are also tons of footnotes.
Werewolves are everywhere in the urban fantasy genre.
Most major series – film and otherwise – count lycanthropes as a staple creature and always throw in some funky in-world backstory to make the furry beasts fit into their worlds.
There are werewolves in Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost Girl. The Underworld franchise – which is like Romeo and Juliet taking to a logical werewolf-y extreme – had its fifth installment (Underworld: Blood Wars) come out in January 2017.Teen Wolf, MTV’s adaptation of the Michael J. Fox film, is only now wrapping up its final season while the television adaptation of Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten just ended its final season in April 2016.
The paranormal romance genre (the flipside of the more “action oriented” urban fantasy genre where romance is supposedly supposed to be incidental to the plot) is so full of lycanthropy that you can’t shake a stick without hitting a werewolf.
Honestly, it’s more surprising to find an urban fantasy series without werewolves.
Which makes sense because werewolves are cool.Read More »
Content warnings: this installment of Urban Fantasy 101 contains very brief mentions historical acts of oppression (largely in vague terms), sexual assault and pedophilia in Laurel K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, as well as more indepth references to anti-Black and anti-Native racism in the same series.
There’s nothing wrong with a good allegory.
Unfortunately, there’s this thing that happens where writers use an allegory that mimics or calls back to real world oppression that constantly rubs me the wrong way
Keep in mind that I actually don’t mind the use of allegories in fiction. In fact, I think they can be useful. Some of my favorite works of speculative fiction focus on supernatural figures dealing with oppression due to what they are, after all.
However, many writers who use allegories then kind of overuse them at the expense of portraying nuanced representations of actual or “real world” oppression.
Whatever your reasoning, chances are that if you’re a paranormal romance, urban (or general) fantasy, or science fiction author, you’ve used an allegory that mimics or calls back to an instance of real world oppression.
However, there’s definitely a lot to be said about the very many authors who think that that supernatural form of race-based oppression is the only thing they have to do. They don’t think deeper.Read More »
Notes: Content warnings for brief (but nondescriptive) mentions of sexual assault, mentions of homophobia in the text and a linked article), and just general heterocentrism/heterosexism.
One of the recurring tropes common to the urban fantasy genre is the idea that certain species have one “opposite sex” soulmate that is absolutely perfect for them and when they meet (or, more commonly, bang) for the first time, all of the pieces slot into place and their biology shifts so that they can have babies.
This focus on soulmates (often just “mates”) in urban fantasy has so much wasted potential behind it.
Instead of opening the concept of “mating” up to queer characters or characters in polyamorous relationships, these universes typically center mating and relationships on heterosexual and monogamous couples (with the occasional “these two werebears are my mates and also brothers as not to squick bigots who want to read polyamory but not that kind of polyamory” thrown in just to be frustrating).
I’m going to use specific examples here with Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series (of course) and Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Mist and Fury (which is just regular fantasy, but still more recent than most of the stuff I usually reference). I’ll also be talking about some other book series and author examples (both positive and negative).Read More »
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