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.
Hello, Darlings, and welcome to what will hopefully be a slightly shorter episode of Stitch Talks Ish.
So episode five is all about Laurell K. Hamilton, which I’m sure nobody actually wants, but everybody’s getting. Because despite the fact that I keep saying I’m done with her, her books are really bad, I’m not done with her, even though her books are really bad. That.
We are here because when I see her work, by the time I see it, it’s like, wow, she’s still like that, you know? And it’s not like I have anything else to do. And there are only so many Kpop, K-hip hop related pieces I’m going to be able to make without you guys just straight up showing up here and fighting me. So I have returned for the roast. I cannot promise that I will do anything else. But I have returned to roast Laurell K. Hamilton, which if you’re new to my site, to my social media, I’ve been doing this for a really long time— for me, like, five years minimum.
When I started my website, I started using her stuff as a regular feature. So I was doing The Great Big Anita Blake Reread, where I would reread her books and talk about like the good, the bad, and the just plain ugh, and I’d stopped because we started getting into the book that were just uncomfortable. And I don’t know if I’ll ever return to them—depends on how bored I get.
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 spent a lot of time reading Bloodbath (Harrietta Lee #2) and wondering how on earth Harry manages to make it from one day to the next. To be fair, I’m pretty sure that she has no idea how she’s managed to survive as long as she has either.
In case y’all somehow missed me talking her up, Stephanie Ahn is currently my favorite urban fantasy writer in the game.
Her first book, Deadline, left me stunned by how amazing it was. My introduction to Harry, a dashing and disgraced witch booted from her community after making a bad call and dabbling in some demonic magic that led to the death of her mentor, really changed the way that I flat out looked at the urban fantasy genre.Read More »
First things first here is a list of charities that you can (and should) donate to in order to help people directly affected by the government shutdown here in the US. Many of these people aren’t going to get paid even once the government re-opens and right now they’re suffering greatly. If you can donate, you can help someone get a little bit of financial security in these trying times.
In October 2013, the US government was shut down for several days as a result of the Republican congress really hating the idea of letting the United States people get anything close to universal healthcare.
In response to the shutdown and ostensibly for her readers impacted by the shutdown as government workers, Laurell K. Hamilton posted “Shutdown”, a short story (or, more likely, a deleted scene from the novel that had come out in July of the same year, Affliction) about the werewolf alpha Richard Zeeman introducing his newest human lover to Anita Blake and her main-shapeshifter squeeze, the wereleopard alpha Micah Callahan. This 7200-word story is a quick and frustrating look into the life of one of Anita’s former main lovers.
As Hamilton posted this story with good intentions and reuploaded it with the threat – I mean, promise – to figure out a sequel or original short story if the shutdown continues – with good intentions as well, I am sporking it with the best intentiions at heart. I would appreciate it if my followers/readers donated to one of the charities or organizations I linked to at the beginning of this piece.
So, now that you’ve (hopefully) donated to an organization that’s going to help folks impacted by the government shutdown, let’s start the sporking (for a good cause). The usual trigger warnings for any conversation about the Anitaverse apply here as I’ll be talking about the consent issues in the short, internalized misogyny, kink/sex shaming, and sexual violence. So read carefully if you can!
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 »
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.
Forty-one chapters in, there’s a moment in Shadow’s Bane where one (fully-clothed and French) vampire beats the holy hell out of another (naked and British) vampire.
While I’d loved the book prior to that chapter and hold up the Dorina Basarab series as one of my favorite vampire series in the genre, that scene in Shadow’s Bane took the series to a whole other level.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 »
Content warnings for cis- and hetero- centric worldbuilding.
Back in June 2016, I wrote a whole Urban Fantasy 101 piece on the heteronormativity present in much of the genre (and I am including contemporary paranormal romance in this wide umbrella). While I know way more queer urban fantasy writers – and stories – than I did back then, one thing that still stands out to me is the way that so many of the big ticket urban fantasy writers still don’t bother to include any meaningful forms of queer representation in their massive series.Read More »
Note: I won an ebook copy of this novella from the author themselves in a giveaway last week. That has no influence on my enjoyment of the book and all opinions herein are my own.
Darkling, the first novella in Brooklyn Ray’s Port Lewis Witches series is a dark and delicious deep dive into a magical world unlike many I’ve seen before.
In Port Lewis, a small town in the state of Washington, magic practitioners of all types are kind of commonplace in everyday life, with different families bringing their specialties to the table.
Darkling primarily focuses on Ryder Lewellyn, a late-blooming trans dude who happens to be a necromancer with an affinity for fire, and his close friend (and future lover) Liam Montgomery, a witch with an affinity for water.Read More »
For the next couple of weeks, expect to see a lot more reviews of urban fantasy novels or series (with the occasional paranormal romance thrown in because that’s how I roll). Following my graduation, I had the chance to read a lot of urban fantasy that I’d missed over the hellish thesis semester and I want to give back to the brilliant authors who made my day by doing reviews of their wonderful work!
You’ll be able to tell by the tag (“I Know What I Read Last Summer”) when a review is part of this little attempt at getting my reviewing game back on track and there’ll be an accompanying hashtag on twitter so that I can stay organized! This is also tied into my Urban Fantasy 101 work because I get so critical about the genre that sometimes, i forget to hype up the books and authors I love!
I hope that I can help y’all find some fun and fantastic new reads in my favorite genre!
I’ve been reading Laurell K. Hamilton’s urban fantasy series – the necromancer-focused Anita Blake series and her sidhe political drama Merry Gentry series – since I was in high school and I picked up a copy of Incubus Dreams (Anita Blake #12) back in 2004.
In the fourteen years since I began reading the two series, I’ve noticed one constant in both of her series. Hamilton constantly attempts to talk about race in her work through a focus on (predominantly white) supernatural characters while characters of color in the series are reduced to stereotypes and tropes that have long-since went out of style. Simply put, Laurell K. Hamilton is awful at writing about race and racism.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 »