The ignored (relatively) side of Urban Fantasy

I’m postulating this notion more on circumstantial evidence than anything else right now. It’s something I plan to delve into a bit more, do some more research, and ask some more folks about, but I wanted to put this out there for people to comment on because it’s something that I find unfortunate for many UF writers.

UF exists on a pretty broad spectrum. It’s what one might call a blended genre, pulled together from several other genres. If we were to look at it on a line from one extreme to the other, we’d find something like this:

Romance——————————–Fantasy—————————————-Crime Fiction

Each of these genres on their own contain their own tropes and character types, and have a general story structure that readers have come to expect over the years. While UF spans across these three genres, the one common thread they have is the use of a contemporary fantasy element in an urban setting. If one examines review sites across these genres, one finds a wealth of reviews, comments, and information among all but the crime fiction end of things. I find this a bit baffling. A sizeable chunk of the books you find on the shelves labelled UF, involve crime-fighting characters who solve a crime of some kind. We have private detectives, cops, FBI agents, etc. all working to stop some kind of paranormal villain. Is it just me, or is it rather odd that the characteristic “paranormal” somehow precludes these stories from being considered within the crime fiction genre?  On occasion you can get someone who breaks beyond these bounds and gets considered by almost everyone, i.e. The Dresden Files, but in general this wealth of paranormal crime fiction is relegated within the ranks of those who typically cover the UF genre.

Some of this could easily be due to how UF is marketed and shelved. You just don’t see them among the ranks of mystery and thriller writers. Somehow, the paranormal precludes them from membership, and I just don’t get this. There are a lot of readers out there who read primarily mysteries and thrillers, who would likely find a great deal of content within UF that would appeal to them, but they’re never made aware of them. I have no answers around how to change this. I merely want to point out the fact and bring it up as an interesting issue that I believe deserves some discussion. What do you think? What are some UF books you’ve read that are really crime fiction disguised in paranormal clothes?  Or some mysteries/thrillers you’ve found that have paranormal elements but aren’t actually labelled as UF? I’d like to hear about them.

Happy reading/writing everyone!

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3 responses to “The ignored (relatively) side of Urban Fantasy

  1. I just finished a cozy mystery win paranormal Jammies that was marketed as Urban Fantasy. Despite it’s small-town local.
    Tis odd, that.
    As a reviewer I leap on anything with a UF label (and many things without that label) but I haven’t been sorting them on a spectrum. My tastes are wide-ranging and the only thing I truly dislike reading is a book that puts itself forward as heavy-handed serious literature or angst-ridden ‘women’s fiction’ about recovery from loss or divorce.
    (I have enough to deal with in my own life and read to escape, not to experience a fictional character’s trauma)
    Interesting thoughts, Jim.

  2. I read a lot of both mysteries and fantasy, so it’s not surprising that I like books that are both. Some are more fantasy with only a bit of crime though – both Lilith Saintcrow’s Dante Valentine series and the series I read (can’t remember the author) about a half-fae woman in San Francisco have heroines who assist the police but are more fantasy than mystery.

    It does seem to me like a lot of the genres are blurring the lines and making it a lot harder to categorize books. I don’t mind, I have a large circle of reader friends from whom I get a lot of recommendations. But it does make it harder to find books in the store. Jonathan Carroll, who I’d put in science fiction/fantasy, is generally shelved in horror. I’d put the Twilight books in romance rather than fantasy, and there are a lot of other fantasy books that really are more about romance with fantasy as part of the setting.

    I look forward to hearing what more you discover about this!