Random (but not really)

Monday, February 10, 2020

Categorical Books: Urban Fantasy

I probably have a slightly different definition of urban fantasy than most people. What I place into this category rarely has vampires and werewolves, and generally doesn’t have boinking. The magic tends to be more subtle (but not always) and the characters are rarely of the superhero category.

Sometimes they’re just stories where the people are magical or perhaps just don’t live in our reality (past or present).

I love Charles de Lint‘s writing. I came across Dreams Underfoot probably not long after it was published, and have eagerly snatched up all his anthologies and most of his books since that point. Most of his short stories are set in Newford, an imaginary northern town, and each story is a glimpse at one or more of the characters who live there: Geordie and Christie, Jilly, The Professor, Meran & Cerin, Sophie, the Crow Girls. So very many marvelous characters who over the years have shown us glimpses into their lives.

Aside from crafting amazing short stories, Charles de Lint has an amazing way of writing female characters. He also writes often about characters who have been badly hurt by the world, yet still have hope and love for the world.

Ellen carried a piece of string in her pocket, with four complicated knots tied into it, but no matter how often she undid one, she still had to wait for her winds like anyone else. She knew that strings to catch and call up the wind were only real in stories, but she liked thinking that maybe, just once, a bit of magic could tiptoe out of a tale and step into the real world.

They work because they make us concentrate so completely that the magic has to pay attention to us. It’s like communion and singing hymns in church. People really do get closer to God because they’re focusing on these rituals and no longer listening to that constant dialogue that goes on inside their heads.”


Raven BoysMaggie Stiefvater‘s Raven Boys series is YA, and it is AMAZING.

Let’s start with the fact that the character I kinda dislike in the first book is my absolute favorite by the end of the series. The series is about magic and love and growth and learning and pretty much all the things that go into being a teenager When you are shaking your head at these teenagers you still deeply love them. Even as you are yelling at them to stop making stupid mistakes, you understand why they are making those mistakes (mostly).

It’s beautiful and magical and all the things.

Blue turned it slowly to read each side: hyacinthus, celea. One side was blank.

Gansey pointed to each side for her. “Latin, Coptic, Sanskrit, something we don’t know, and … this is supposed to be Greek. Isn’t that funny that it’s blank?”

Derisively, Ronan said, “No. The ancient Greeks didn’t have a word for blue.” Everyone at the table looked at him.

“What the hell, Ronan?” said Adam.

“It’s hard to imagine,” Gansey mused, “how this evidently successful classical education never seems to make it into your school papers.”

“They never ask the right questions,” Ronan replied.

Also, the audio version is perfectly done.


Some (although not all) of Neil Gaiman‘s books qualify to me as urban fantasy, but to me American Gods and Anansi Boys are in this category. There is so much going on in the world just out of our sight, that it would strike amazement and wonder and horror if we caught a glimpse.

I feel like there are few humans who have not heard of American Gods at this point, but I also very much liked Fat Charlie’s story in Anansi Boys.

Shadow’s telephone rang.

“Yeah?” he said.

“That’s no way to answer the phone,” growled Wednesday.

“When I get my telephone connected I’ll answer it politely,” said Shadow.


Like Charles de Lint, Nina Kiriki Hoffman writes amazing short stories. I’d read many of her stories in various anthologies before I came across A Fistful of Sky. That story remains one of my favorite for the characters and the growth and how Gypsum comes into her own powers and learns to both love herself and stand up for herself.

Like the other books on this list, there is magic just under the surface of our world that few people can see, but like everything else, magic is neither inherently good or evil, it is what people make of it. It aggravates me that A Fistful of Sky is out of print, because there are so many girls in my life I want to give this to once they’re a few years older.

“Quit being such a martyr. Do something mean.”

I checked the clock. About twenty minutes after eleven. I couldn’t do math with minutes! But whatever I dropped on her, it would last until around six-thirty, say. “Do you have any plans for this afternoon?”

“Stop stalling!”

“Ultimate Fashion Sense!” I yelled.

That is one of my favorite things EVER.


Jane Lindskold has written straight up fantasy, but her urban fantasy is what I like best. Child of a Rainless Year is my favorite of her stories, and is unusual in so many ways–the first of which is that for much of the story the main character is a middle aged woman. She’s not beautiful. She’s not rich. She knows of nothing special about herself, yet she ends up taking a journey of self-discovery and learning that she herself is more than she every could have imagined.

Sometimes we need beauty and grandeur to inspire us to be the best we can be— to remind us of what humans are capable of when they turn their minds to something beyond the purely practical. We have the capacity for art, for beauty. I think we should use it.”


Lish McBride has two YA series both of which I really liked. Hold Me Closer Necromancer is about (wait for it) a necromancer. Firebug is about a teenage girl who is a firestarter and an enforcer for the Coterie–even though she’s rather just go to school and be a teen.

Lock stopped and crossed his arms, giving us a look that Ez and I knew well.

“Did we forget to do our homework?” Ezra whispered in my ear.

“Neither of you read the file, did you?” Lock said accusingly.

“I skimmed it.” I said. “Something about collecting money, blah blah blah.” “

I looked at the pictures,” Ezra added.

“There weren’t any pictures.”

This is a favorite category, and I am always looking for more books here, but it’s also a tricky category and I think a lot of these different from supernatural fantasy only by a feeling on my part.

Categorical Books

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