Genre Guide: Urban Fantasy for Teens
Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy. For a novel to be an urban fantasy, fantastical elements exist in an urban setting. However, this can be a broad interpretation. Really, an urban fantasy is such where fantastical elements are in play in a real-world setting and not in a fantastical world. Urban fantasies occur in the present day, and can go back in history to around the start of the Victorian Era. When urban fantasies are written for teens, the protagonist or protagonists are often inexperienced when it comes to dealing with the fantastical forces at play. They are also usually drawn into a struggle, find romance, and/or develop their own fantastical abilities.
Authors to Know
- Holly Black
- Kelley Armstrong
- Rachel Caine
- Rick Riordan
- Cassandra Clare
- Alyson NoÃ«l
- Cynthia Leitich Smith
- L.J. Smith
- Lili St. Crow
- Maggie Stiefvater
Main characters are often drawn into a struggle with fantastical creatures or elements. In these conflicts the protagonists often find new friends on either side (human or creature), and they usually find love (again, with either human or creature). Protagonists may also either develop powers of their own or hold a secret key or power that can resolve the conflict. A common theme of urban fantasies is that the main character is “the one” or “the chosen.” Another common theme is that the main character is a halfling (half human, half fantastical creature) or has a bloodline that has been mixed with that of a fantastical creature. This allows them special abilities and/or gives them the key to the conflict resolution. Additionally, the fantastical creatures that are present in urban fantasies are often in our world but are disguised or can’t be seen in their true form unless a human has special abilities.
Urban fantasies allow for fantastical elements to exist in our world. A teen could put themselves in the place of the protagonist and have an easier time relating to the character than in other novels set in a completely fantastical world. The idea that the protagonist is usually different or even not entirely human appeals to teens as they search to define who they are. Action and adventure, and oftentimes romance, are usually guaranteed in urban fantasies.
A wide range, depending on the themes of the book.
Urban fantasy found its footing with teens when fairies and vampires were all the rage about five years ago. Most recently, angels have been the most popular creatures in urban fantasies. An interesting trend to watch is that of myths coming into play in urban fantasies. Greek myths have been popular in the past, but some authors are currently using other cultural myths and settings them in our world in the present day (Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, for example).
- Read On…Speculative Fiction for Teens by Jamie Kallio (Libraries Unlimited, 2012)
Most publishers both large and small produce urban fantasy novels.
The RT Awards for Young Adults has a Young Adult Urban Fantasy/Paranormal category
- Tithe by Holly Black (2005 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2003 Best Books for Young Adults, 2003 Teens’ Top Ten)
- Glimmerglass by Jenna Black
- The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan (2010 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults)
- Embrace by Jessica Shirvington
- Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast (2008 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers)
- City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (2008 Teens’ Top Ten)
- Blue Bloods by Melissa De la Cruz (2007 Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers)
- Raven by Allison Van Diepan
- Evermore by Alyson NoÃ«l
- Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
- Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (2011 Top Ten Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)
- Night World by L.J. Smith
- Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow
- 13 to Life: A Werewolf’s Tale by Shannon Delaney
- The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore
— Colleen Seisser, currently reading The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson