Listing time! Following in the footsteps of the Science Fiction and Epic Fantasy lists, a group of us - Liz Bourke, Justin Landon, Tansy Rayner Roberts and I - have banded together to take a stab at Urban Fantasy.
- No more than one book or series from each author. For example, J.R.R. Tolkien could go in for The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings series, but not both.
- No anthologies.
- You can only list books that you have read.
- Definitions of "essential", "favourite", "urban" and "fantasy" are left to personal interpretation.
And a few differences from the past:
- Only 25. I'm not even pretending this is a proper survey of the genre. This list has two dozen-ish of my personal favourites, and that's it.
- Open to all media.
- I tried really hard not to repeat with previous lists.
As always, please use the comments to tell me about the books I forgot, should read, overlooked or otherwise failed!
So, before I get stuck in, what is "urban fantasy"?
Twitter was helpful, and, best of all was this blog post from @kiplet - which basically spelled out Farah Mendelsohn's Rhetorics of Fantasy for me, and gave me some nice definitions to play with. The best starting point is "liminal fantasy" - that is, where the [fantastic] was "here all along" - as opposed to the other options, where everything takes place "there" (immersive), we go to "there" (portal) or the "there" comes "here" (intrusive).
Using that as a starting point, I've got a working definition of "urban fantasy" as:
- The story is set in our world.
- The fantastic element is integrated into our world - it hasn't come from elsewhere; it has always been there. It can be revealed, but it isn't elsewhere.
- The story is contemporary to the author.
That last one is cheeky, but to me, that's what makes "urban" fantasy work - it isn't about taking place in a built environment, it is about contemporary relevance; authors adding a new layer of interpretation to the reality that they experience every day.
The "contemporary" point also allows us to work backwards and add a pre-history to a genre that wasn't actually labelled until the 1990s. AND it addresses a concern raised, also on Twitter, by Alexis Kennedy: the past is a secondary world; there's already a layer of removal there [for both author and reader). So contemporary it is.
So what's this all mean? For one, it really helps narrow things down - although in the process I lose some of my favourites (Zoo City, for example - the recent arrival of the fantastic is a key part of the setting, even if it doesn't take place during the course of the book. Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell are both written about the past, so they get cut as well. Brutal.)
Anyway, ready for a list?
Let's do this.