As my colleagues have mentioned at various points, DGLM has its own bookclub. Every couple of months we choose a general category of fiction—for example, Booker Prize winners, young adult novels, debut novels, etc.—and each of us reads a representative work, usually something fairly recently published. It’s a good way to stay in touch with the market, keep tabs on the trends, and broaden our exposure to writers we might not otherwise gravitate toward. This go-round was urban fantasy, a category that I’ve not read, and despite the fact that I had to hide the book’s crimson cover from my always inquisitive four-year-old: “Why, mommy, does that man have such big teeth? And why does that lady have blood on her neck?” I was glad to finally get a glimpse of a genre that has, as we all know, proven tremendously popular. The last vampire novel that I read was Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, and before that I’d wager that it was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, neither of which offer much insight into the present paranormal trend. After reading my bookclub selection, I did some further investigating—not least trying to figure out why the genre is called “urban fantasy,” which strikes me as an odd and imperfect sort of label. I’ve read a few explanations, but again: Why urban? The fantasy part I get.
So obviously I’m far from expert, but I find it interesting that the romantic tropes are fairly similar to non-paranormal romance: the heroine must discover her own heart and secure the love of a brooding, mysterious, slightly-threatening-but-ultimately-good man. The surrounding stakes, however, are a good bit higher (and where the undead are concerned, sharper). Here the conflicts are cosmic in scope. To proceed to her happily-ever-after, the heroine must dispatch demons, fight the armies of evil, and often save the planet. The domestic space that was once the usual canvas for women’s fiction is not quite big enough to contain the kind of challenges these women face, nor are these ladies simply resilient—they are physically powerful, sometimes lethal, and pretty much undaunted by gore. At risk of reading too much into the present trend, I wonder if the epic nature of the conflicts in which these fictional women triumph does not, in some small way reflect the way real women view their own less fantastical, but perhaps no less challenging, lives. Indeed, there’s something appealing about the notion of seeing myself as the action hero of my own story. In which case, I’m off to battle the forces of darkness, one pitch letter/contract clause at a time.
If you are a reader of urban fantasy, I’d love to hear what you love about it.