My Kind of Town: The World of Urban Fantasy

Imagine the worlds of CSI, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or Killer Women – but with vampires, ghosts, wizards or werewolves. Congratulations! You now have an urban fantasy. Urban fantasy is a very popular subgenre of fantasy where the setting is a real city, but the action revolves around the presence of paranormal forces or creatures. Anyone who has been avoiding reading fantasy novels because they're too “out there” should consider picking up one of the books mentioned below. The stories feel more real, because of that realistic base setting, but you also get exposure to fantastical elements.

One of the best places to start is with Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, beginning with Storm Front. Harry Dresden is Chicago’s only openly practicing wizard, and he uses his magical abilities to run a private investigator business. In Storm Front, an open-minded police officer brings Harry in as a consultant on a case involving a grisly double murder because there are signs that point to the occult. Harry has a sharp wit, a strong sense of principles, and an inability to give up in the face of obstacles, making him an incredibly likable character in the hard-boiled detective tradition. The plot is quick-moving and there are lots of fantastic, almost cinematic action sequences, which keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat. The best part? There are now 14 books in this series, with a 15th coming out in May.

If long series aren’t your thing, and you’d rather begin with a stand-alone, there’s no better place than Neil Gaiman’s amazing novel Neverwhere. Gaiman is a true wordsmith whose prize-winning writing has earned him four Hugo Awards and two Nebula Awards. If you enjoy literary fiction, this is also definitely worth a look. Neverwhere is about a young Londoner named Richard Mayhew who is ordinary in every respect until one fateful night when he stops to help a young girl bleeding on the sidewalk. That simple act of kindness pulls him into a dark underworld beneath London filled with strange and menacing supernatural forces. Will Richard survive long enough to navigate back to the London he knew? You’ll be glued to the page, desperate to find out.

What about woman characters, you ask? Well, look no further than the Greywalker series by Kat Richardson. If you’ve heard about Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series or Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series, but decided you’re over the whole vampire thing, this series is a great alternative. Greywalker begins when Harper Blaine, a PI in Seattle, ends up the victim of a terrible assault and dies – for two minutes. After she is revived by medical professionals, she discovers that she can see and navigate the supernatural world of ghosts, vampires and other things that go bump in the night. Her newfound ability attracts ghosts and other otherworldly creatures who believe she can help them with unfinished business. First, though, she has to figure out how to deal with her new abilities and sensitivities, and the horrors they bring. 

Urban fantasy is a rich genre that often features elements of mystery, action and horror. Fans of almost any kind of popular fiction will find something to love here. What urban fantasy novels have you tried? If you have any must-read titles, tell me about them in the comments.


One of my favorite authors, Charles De Lint, is a master of this genre (with perhaps not as much horror as some of the works that you describe). Thanks for writing about these books!

Thanks for mentioning him. Back in 2009 I tried reading his tween/teen novel <i>Little Grrrl Lost</i> and gave up on it, but it looks like I should try one of his novels for adults. Any suggestions about where to start?

A good one to try might be Mystery of Grace (2009). I think his Newford series, which begins with Memory & Dream, is his strongest work.

I also like The Nightside and Secret Histories by Simon R. Green. I just finished "The Devil you know" the first book of the Felix Castor Series by Mike Carey which seems to be promising. The Hollows series by Kim Harrison is fun.

Any of his Newford series are great adult urban fantasy. Orson Scott Card has a great one, called Magic City, about Los Angeles (and magic).

Thanks Katharine! I love Orson Scott Card's writing. I read Magic Street, but not Magic City.

Thanks for this great review! This is by far my favorite genre to read and I am so happy it's getting some great credit. :)

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