I like urban fantasy.
Rather, I like urban fantasies that happen to be good stories. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Vampire Diaries, Grimm, Supernatural, all of these are urban fantasies, though two of them definitely include more than a little vampire romance. There’s just something appealing about bringing the wonders and horrors of the old stories into a modern setting. In addition to showing us how far we’ve come, and how we still have so far to go, they can rather pointedly tell stories about human nature and current issues.
So, really, I like urban fantasy.
But while I’ve found an abundance of urban fantasy, most of the quality stuff seems reserved for the screen, rather than literature. Easily the best I’ve read are the Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher, and the Monster Hunter series, by Larry Correia. And those, as it happens, are the first ones I remember reading. The bar may have been set a little high, but, still, as I kept trying new titles, I began to realize that none of them were measuring up. At all.
I had purchased a number of urban fantasy novels for my kindle, and they were basically just waiting for me to eventually get around to them. When I realized I’d been disappointed by the genre three or four times in a row, I decided to nudge these titles to the top of my reading list. I was frustrated enough to just go straight for them, see if any of them made me want to finish them.
The results were very disappointing.
I didn’t find one urban fantasy that I could squarely say of it, “This is a good story.” Dresden Files and Monster Hunter remain alone in that category.
And, as empty as the “good” column remains, there’s a dozen that I can add to the “bad” column. I managed to finish and review some of these, so I won’t dwell on those outside mentioning them and linking to said reviews. But as for the rest, I couldn’t finish them. Not after the last few failures, which gobbled up my patience.
Quickly elaborating on these, in alphabetical order of their author, as libraries arrange their fiction:
Firstborn, by Ryan Attard, first book of the Legacy series. I made it through two chapters. We go straight into some sort of mystic mercenary clearing lizard men out of a school, saving children on behalf of the human police. That should have hooked me more than this did. Not sure exactly where it failed to grasp me, but I just couldn’t mount up the interest. (you’ll find that’s a recurring theme here: lack of a proper hook)
Dead Things, by Stephen Blackmoore, first book in the Eric Carter series.
Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper, by JL Bryan, first book in the same series. I can admire a good, business-like approach to a situation where the danger, while very real, might not be so imminent as it seems. However, a good, business-like approach to relating the story is not so entertaining.
Sweet Blood of Mine, by Michael Corwin, first book of the Overworld Chronicles.
Beyond the Veil: A Muse Urban Fantasy Novel, by Pippa DaCosta, first book of the Veil series. Not much of a hook, really, and we’re dropped into the deep end of the pool, where relationships are already established and someone wants to kill the female protagonist for some reason. I really should have just seen the bit about an ex-boyfriend being the prince of greed and just dropped this one into the discard pile.
Every Little Evil, by DC Farmer, first book of the Hypposync Archives. Something or other about fae, a missing prime minister, and some sort of agent on the case? This just didn’t hook me is all.
Dead Man, by Domino Finn, first book of the Black Magic Outlaw series. How much of a simpleton do you have to be to not notice you’re dead, and a zombie? There’s no hook, there’s a lot of lengthy, technical explanations very early on, not delivered in an entertaining way. Boring.
Skinwalker, by Faith Hunter, first book of the Jane Yellowrock series.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness.
Death’s Hand, by SM Reine, first book the Descent series. This is just one of those that sort of has an interesting premise, but they go too epic with everything. There’s no emotional hook, no reason for me to invest in feeling for these characters. It also just doesn’t seem to be a very well-crafted story, and shifting between one apocalypse years ago and another crisis at hand is a bit disorienting.
Working for the Devil, by Lilith Saintcrow, the first book in the Dante Valentine series. I actually didn’t read this one, but listened to Graphic Audio’s depiction of it, and this was a few years ago. But, as I was considering the urban fiction I’ve encountered, especially the less appealing kind, this popped up. It is way too dramatic and emo. “Oh, the pain of living! It’s so painful!” Everything was also pretty obvious, except for how a demon had lied to Dante somehow, what he’d said that was a lie, I didn’t follow that. And the way they managed to kill the enemy by having her have sex with a demon. Not a big fan of that. And this is probably the “best” of this lot.
Obsidian Son, by Shayne Silvers, first book of the Nate Temple series. Nate was advertised as being another Harry Dresden. What a disappointing comparison that is. I just didn’t like how the story was being told. Nate’s parents apparently just died, he’s a millionaire in the middle of nowhere, but has a small book shop that has an upper floor he lives in. It’s painfully obvious that everyone, including his friend, is actually looking for exactly the same thing, and he is far too slow and stupid to notice. Pretty much everywhere are the hot women he could feasibly couple up with. And what’s with the sudden spouting of poetry like a madman?
Out of all the urban fantasies I’ve first encountered (for the first time) in the last, oh, two, three years or more, the best are these three titles, and, really, I’d put them in under the “middling” column,” neither particularly good or particularly bad, really.
I Bring the Fire Part I: Wolves, by C. Gockel, first book of the I Bring the Fire series. This one’s on the positive side of “neutral.”
Free Agent, by JC Nelson, first book in the Grimm Agency series. This one’s on the negative edge of “neutral.”
Envy of Angels, by Matt Wallace, first book of the Sin du Jour series. This one’s… just neutral. I do appreciate the novel idea, approaching the supernatural from the culinary perspective of a catering service. The humor and obvious parodies aren’t so bad either. Still, it didn’t feel like it offered much of anything meaningful that we could take away after the story was done.
So, now that I’ve ragged on enough titles to anger a small army of their fans, and bemoaned my unfortunate choice in test subjects, here’s where I get to ask you, my audience: what do you think? What urban fantasies have you liked and disliked? Am I being to hard on the genre, and on these books? Even more, do you have any suggestions for other books I could try?