Urban fantasy is also called urban horror or some mash-up between the two. It’s a relatively new genre, having only been around about 20 years or so. One of the pioneers in the genre is Laurell K. Hamilton, with her Anita Blake series.
When most people think about fantasy, they tend to think about JRR Tolkien, elves, hobbits, barbarians, and sorcerers. That’s not what urban fantasy is. Well, UF does have some of those things, but they are taken out of the realm of Middle Earth and moved into the mid-city. Traditional horror characters like vampires, zombies, ghouls, and were-creatures move into the mid-city as well.
UF worlds are generally alternate Earths. On that Earth, magic exists, and all sorts of magical creatures live in the same world as you or I do. In some universes, all the creatures and magic users are open knowledge. For example, LKH’s Anita Blake series is one of these ‘verses. That series is based in St. Louis. Anita Blake is an animator, someone who raises zombies. It’s an inborn power, and if she doesn’t use it, then it just oozes out of her and zombies are accidentally raised. Everyone knows about vampires and various flavors of shifters. While some of the magical people still live in the broom closet, so to speak, the fact that there are werewolves or fairies, as a species, is well-known. In this world, werecreatures and vampires are created in the way that we would expect, although there are some that are born that way. They also have the traditional weaknesses that we would think of, silver, holy water, crosses, etc.
Then there are the other ‘verses. The ones where all those magical creatures exist, but they are a secret. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files is an example of one of these worlds. Harry Dresden is a wizard, who actually advertises in the phone book, which is a whole different story. There are elves, fae, vampires, Knights of the Cross, and a whole host of other bad guys, who are all magical but the world doesn’t know about them. There are a few non-magical people who do know about them, like Dresden’s police pal, Karen Murphy, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
UF is really popular, with a plethora of authors and series out there. Part of the reason is that it is really accessible. It’s easier for people to relate to St. Louis or Chicago than it is for them to relate to Middle Earth. They also tend to cross genre a lot. You’ll see a lot of UF fiction, especially if it’s written by female authors and feature a female protagonist, marked under romance as well. Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels gets this treatment. Because of that, a lot of people who wouldn’t ordinarily read books that feature magical mercs and pushy lion shifters pick up the books and get hooked on the series.
I really like urban fantasy, and I read a lot of it. Thursday, I’ll list up some of my series and authors.