“When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching — they are your family. ”
When fantasy leaves the confines of older periods of history it starts to linger into the modern day. From the world of the penny dreadful was awakened a love of horror, blood, and mystery. Bram Stoker’s Dracula could perhaps be considered part of a new genre that refocused the knowledge of folklore and legend into a setting for modern audiences. Over time this genre took on its own trends and to this day it is still synonymous with Vampires, Werewolves, and Witches. But, instead of being a world where magic hides in plain sight of ordinary denizens, it hides usually behind a cloak of mundanity. Many call this genre Supernatural, I prefer the term Urban Fantasy.
While many modern stories of supernatural creatures take place across a multitude of settings and terrains, it is the cityscape which has garnered the greatest impact. When Lestate reigns supreme in the world of Anne Rice’s vampire’s he did so in the lands of Paris and later Los Angeles. Magic is cast, and it melds itself with the fantastical, but often with darker tones and with greater cost.
Be Wary Traveler
Urban fantasy is one of those Genre’s that likes things such as ancient conspiracies, eldritch dying gods, and mad sorcerers. Many figures throughout the Urban Fantasy scape have come to mine older elements of cultural and historical events to create their own personal mythologies. One of the predominant concepts is the “Masquerade” the veil of life that is held over the normal people. Mortals are often not in the know about supernatural creatures and are in fact many times seen as prey or cattle. The popular roleplay game Vampire: The Masquerade which likely created the idea itself. Urban Fantasy thus is at its core heavily implied to exist on the notion of secrecy. In a few works is magick widespread and well known.
Because people are not overtly aware of what “goes bump in the night” they are often described as being naive or disbelieving. Many modern horror films play along with the “Occult” nature of the Supernatural and the fear attached to the dark impulses of the genre. Others who delve deeper into the mysteries of the world often find their perceptions change. Madness is a key often played up by Horror, and it is not at all a trait unheard in Urban Fantasy itself. Mystery and conspiracy are the bread and butter of Urban Fantasy and it is when both are ventured deep that the darkness bites back.
Adult VS Young Adult
Paranormal stories often found in Urban Fantasy change their name and their guise when they are written in different forms. Romance novels always spin them as “Paranormal Romance” and when they are placed within the Young Adult “genre” the story changes yet again. What is more interesting about the crossover is how the Genre adapts to the different categories while still keying its core elements. Adult novels are often written from a first person point of view, and often involved protagonists who are involved or are connected to law enforcement. Many protagonists in major novels such as Anita Blake, or the Rachel Morgan series are female. The central characters of Hellboy are neither human, and many are male or Female on the other hand. But what is key in both cases is a desire to hunt, investigate, and discover the sources of the supernatural in their respective universes.
Young adult sources are often quite different with respect to their protagonists. In many cases, the main characters gain their powers and are often inexperienced or lack any awareness of the supernatural world. The Mortal Instrument series sees titular character Clara Fray discovers her paranormal abilities after encountering supernatural entities. The focus of most Young Adult Urban Fantasy is discovery and coming into one’s own. Here the characters are not exactly hunting or being thrown into the supernatural as much as they are exploring it themselves.
Both categories of the genre often feature an undercurrent of romance or relationship tension between primary characters. This becomes all the more evident when the genre when it gets compared to its romantic counterpart of Paranormal Romance. Author, Jeannie Holmes provides a definition between the two as:
The two share 90% of their genre DNA. However, the main differences are this: Urban fantasy focuses on an issue outside of a romantic relationship between two characters. Paranormal romance focuses on a romantic relationship between two characters and how outside forces affect that relationship. The best litmus test to determine if a story is urban fantasy or paranormal romance is to ask the following question: ‘If the romance between Character A and Character B were removed, would the plot still stand as a viable storyline?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ chances are good it’s urban fantasy. If the answer is ‘no,’ it’s most likely paranormal romance.
Magic In The Modern World
No matter how you spin it, the urban modernity of our world is the setting that writers and authors use to create their worlds. Urban Fantasy is by its very definition a fantastical setting that drifts between what is real and what is magical. From that conspiracy, mystery, and outright danger filter through a world often inhabited by monsters, faeries, and wizards. How that world is then interpreted while existing in the confines of the concrete jungle .