Urban Fantasy Recommendations

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. And I give absolutely no fucks.
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November 21, 2012

So last week I talked about a lot of things I don’t like about urban and paranormal fantasy. But there are a a goodly number of books that fit this genre that I do like and I thought I’d mention them. I’m going to break them up into two categories, Old School and New School, for reasons that I hope are obvious.

Book CoverWar for the Oaks, Emma BullMythago Wood, Robert HoldstockElfland, Freda Warrington

Old School

  • Charles de Lint, Moonheart. This is one of the very first urban fantasies I read in the early 1990’s and while it’s been a long time since I’ve read it, I have very fond memories of it. There’s a good chance I’ll pick it up and re-read it fairly soon.
  • Emma Bull, War for the Oaks. Oh, EDDI. And your rock and roll singing and the strong sense of place and your growing knowledge of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. This really is one of the most important books in the genre.
  • Diana L. Paxson, Brisingamen. I’m not going to lie: this isn’t a good book. But it’s a book that I spent many years trying to track down in the early 1990’s and if nothing else, I have a bit of nostalgia for that pre-world wide web time when trying to find an out of print book was an adventure (as far as I know, it’s been out of print since shortly after its publication). It’s set in San Francisco and the main character finds herself possessed by Freyja by way of a magic necklace. It is quite likely as ridiculous as it sounds and I swear, I am going to reread it soon. Along with everything else I’m going to reread.
  • Robert Holdstock, Mythago Wood. Not precisely urban fantasy, but if you take it to mean the intersection of a magical world with the more mundane world, then this book and its sequels more than fit the bill. Holdstock’s style is ridiculously easy to mock (me and my best friend have long-running joke about proto-Celtic gray-green chalk-faced people), but it is definitely an original story that has a lot going on in it.
  • Freda Warrington, Elfland. This, surprisingly, is a fairly new book. Warrington isn’t very well known in the US and based on this book and its follow-up, MidsummerNight, that’s a damn shame. These both have the dreamy otherworldly feeling of early Charles de Lint but with characters who are a bit more grounded than de Lint’s tend to be.

Rosemary and Rue, Seanan McGuireBlood Engines, T.A. PrattMidnight Riot, Ben AaronovitchBook Cover

New School

  • Seanan McGuire, Rosemary and Rue. The first of the October Daye books. Toby’s newly returned to human form after spending 14 years as a fish (I often wonder if her daughter will ever have cause to say, “My mother was a fish.”) and is avoiding both the human and faerie sides of her heritage. Toby’s a great character and she grows and changes over the course of the series and the stakes are real.
  • T.A. Pratt, Blood Engines. The first Marla Mason book. This is one of my very favorite urban fantasy series–Marla’s complicated and she knows she’s not a nice or good person and she knows that there will be repercussions to the actions she takes to protect herself and her city. And she kicks ass in sweatpants and sensible shoes.
  • Ben Aaronovitch, Midnight Riot/Rivers of London. The first Peter Grant book. OMG how do I love these books? They’re basically police procedurals with magic but the heart of these books really is the detective work–Peter has to work for everything and at the end of the third book, he still only knows four measly spells. The setting is wonderfully diverse and Peter is himself a person of color. (The original US cover is awful; my understanding is that they’re going to be swapping them for the much superior British covers in subsequent editions.)
  • Ilona Andrews, On the Edge. This is the first of the Edge novels. I’ve only read the first two, but I really liked them and I’ll tell you why: they’re rural and the main characters are poor. I think the genre has really gotten hidebound in some ways, so it’s great to see books that focus on rural people who don’t have a lot of material assets. These books do have a very strong romantic element, which I enjoyed but which I know isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. My understanding is that Steel’s Edge will be the last one in this series for a while if not permanently and that makes me sadface.

One thing that really pops out at me as I write this post is how different the two sets of covers are–and I think that speaks to the different audiences for these books and how the genre changed so drastically in what seemed to be a very short period of time.

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