The Trouble with Urban Fantasy

If you’ve read almost any of my posts under the categories “Books” and “Writing” you’ll know that fantasy is my genre of choice when I’m shopping around for a book to read on a rainy day, or well, a book to read in general. I’ve flirted with horror, historical fiction, science fiction, romance, even a little erotica actually my ereader is full of erotica but I keep coming back to fantasy and all it’s wonderful subgenres.

Today, I would like to talk about urban fantasy, but more specifically, I want to talk about where urban fantasy is going these days–straight off a cliff.

First, a definition, broadly speaking, I would define urban fantasy as “fantasy that takes place in an urban setting” (that’s, you know, the “urban” part). Most of the urban fantasies I’ve seen on the shelves these days are set in contemporary urban environments (like, let’s say, present day Toronto) but they can be set in the future (as Lilith Saintcrow’s books are) or the past, but the primary requirement is that they take place primarily in a city.

Lately though, there’s a particular trend in urban fantasy that I think is now ubiquitous enough to merit it’s own name, I’m going to call it “BAMF [Bad Ass Mother Fucker]” Urban Fantasy, if someone knows another name for this trend, let me know in the comments.

Here are some characteristics of BAMF UF:

  1. Usually written by women (though not always) and usually has a female protagonist, said protagonist will inevitably be one of these things:

a) be the only person of their kind in the area

b) have at least one missing parent

c) be mixed-race (chances are, they get their  powers from their  Magical Negro parent of color), despite their heritage, they are seldom subject to racism or classism

1a. Job-wise, the BAMF protagonist is usually one of the following:

a) Law enforcement (especially if they’re part of the branch of law enforcement that handles crimes of a fantastical nature (ie. illegal vampire feeding, rogue witchery)

b) Private eye (for those who want all the thrill of law enforcement without having to deal with pesky regulations)

c) Bookstore owner

d) Occult/magical supply store (which often contains a bookstore)

e) Bartender, waitress, bouncer

1b. BAMF protagonists usually do not get along with law enforcement (even if they ARE law enforcement, especially if they are law enforcement)



2. A BAMF protagonist, by their very nature of being a BAMF, will seldom have:

a) close friends

b) if female (which is the case, most of the time) they will seldom have any female friends


3. There will be a love triangle at some point, love triangles usually work out in this way:

a) Necrophilia vs. bestiality Vampire vs. Werewolf

b) alpha male vs. nice guy

Notice how I’m constantly referring to guys as love interests? That’s because the vast majority of BAMF UF heroines are heterosexual (more on this later).

In doubt as to which guy the protagonist will end up with? Go with the alpha male, always the alpha male.


4. BAMF UF novels will usually feature some of the following fantastical species or extra special humans:

a) Vampires — and they will own nightclubs

b) Werewolves — and the alpha is always the Supreme Overlord of the pack)

c) Fairies — usually arranged into courts, particularly courts named after seasons (Summer and Winter)

d) Demons — pretty much Always Chaotic Evil unless one happens to be the love interest, then we’re cool

e) Spellcasters – some of the more popular spellcasters are witches (usually female) and necromancers (usually evil, because, you know, all that dealing with the dead stuff), BAMF UF protags, when they aren’t shapeshifters, are usually some form of spellcaster


5. Typical plot elements you might find in a BAMF UF story:

a) A denizen of the supernatural community has been murdered, it’s up to our protagonist to figure out who killed them. (This is your basic first-book-in-a-series plot.)

b) An anti-non human group of some sort (sometimes, the plot will involve infiltrating such a group)

c) At some point, all of the fantastical species will be out for the protag’s blood (usually because the protag has pissed them all off at once by that point)

d) Relationship woes (see section on love triangle above)


This is just a short list of some common elements you will find in BAMF UF. How else can you recognize a BAMF UF? Look at the cover. Here is a handy slide show to help you out (note: not all of these are UF novels, but most of them are). Go watch it, it’s funny and sad and funny:

Anyways, I was thinking of trying my hand at UF, but then I looked at a similar list to this one and was like “Who will read an UF about a gay protagonist who is happily married to a black cop?” and it’s sad that I have to say that, because it seems like every UF novel either has a love triangle or no romance at all. Is it really so much to ask for stories that don’t have trite, seen-it-all-before Romantic Plot Tumors. I mean, honestly, if all you can write about is how your BAMF is so torn between Alpha Male One and Alpha Male Two, why not just write paranormal romance? (Seriously, the paranormal romance genre is in desperate need of better worldbuilding). Seriously, human beings think with more than their genitals. Are all UF protagonists really that unpleasant that they don’t have any close friends? And no, I’m not talking about friends who are jealous of the protag’s uber-specialness, I’m talking about real friends. I’m assuming authors have friends, too, so WTF?

Oh wait, I know what’s wrong. You’re afraid that if your protagonist has too many great friends, they’ll steal the spotlight. No one can possibly be better than your protagonist! Oh come on, this is bullshit. One of my good friends has always been the better writer, another has a easy time learning musical instruments. I’ve tried, I just don’t have the patience to learn the piano.

Each one of us is better than the other at doing something, and somehow, we’re all friends. You have no excuse, UF protagonists, and if it’s really bothering you that much, find other friends, seriously.

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