What is Urban Fantasy?

Rivers_of_London

Next month Brent Libraries are joining in with a fantastic scheme to encourage reading called Cityread London.  Have you heard of it?  It’s been running for a few years now and is basically like an absolutely massive book group.  Everyone in the city is encouraged to read the same book in the month of April and discuss it, attend related events etc.  You can read more about it on the Cityread London website.

This year’s chosen books is Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch which is described as ‘urban fantasy’, we started telling our library users about this book but many of them asked “What’s Urban Fantasy?” – and we found we weren’t sure how to define it!  Luckily for us Paulo who works in Lewisham Libraries, who are also part of the scheme, has provided a wonderfully comprehensive definition.  And here it is…

“Since ancient times, the supernatural has captivated storytellers and their audiences. Some of the earliest WIZARDsurviving literary forms—myths and folktales—feature such preternatural beings as wizards, ghosts, fairies, or vampires living among humans. Today, this fascination exists in the current boom in urban fantasy, a genre defined as texts where fantasy and the mundane world interact, intersect, and interweave throughout a tale which is significantly about a real city.

Urban fantasy’s roots date back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when readers were introduced to the possibility of supernatural, fantastic beings in modern settings, and later authors contributed to the development of what is now identified as “traditional urban fantasy”.

Buffy-the-Vampire-SlayerUrban fantasy describes a work that is set primarily in the real world and contains aspects of fantasy. These matters may involve the arrivals of alien races, the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence between humans and paranormal beings, conflicts between humans and malicious paranormals, and subsequent changes to city management. The protagonists are often under a responsibility or in a position to help others survive or get justice from a world even more bizarre than our own.

Many urban fantasy novels geared toward adults are told via a first-person narrative, and Brooklyn Knightoften feature supernatural beings, protagonists who are involved in law enforcement or vigilantism. There has always been a strong noir element to adult urban fantasy, as there is often an underlying mystery to be solved in the books, even if the protagonist is not technically on the side of the police. The characters’ struggles to manage both the extraordinary and mundane sides of their lives tend to be difficult, especially when family or romance is involved, drawing a parallel with the general difficulties of adult life.

TwilightbookOn the other hand, teen urban fantasy novels often follow inexperienced protagonists who are unexpectedly drawn into paranormal struggles. Amidst these conflicts, characters often gain allies, find romance, and, in some cases, develop or discover supernatural abilities of their own. A common thread running through almost all teen urban fantasy is that as well as dealing with the fantasy element, they’re also coming into their own and learning who they are. These coming-of-age themes and a teen ‘voice’ are what distinguish young adult urban fantasy from adult books in the genre.”

So there you are – thanks Paulo!

Please join in with Cityread by reading the book this April.  You can also meet the author at Kilburn Library on 20th April – please see our website for details of this and other Cityread events.

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Filed under books, Cityread London, Crime, Libraries, reading

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