Monday, 9 December 2013

What makes fantasy ‘urban’?

I’ve suffered a slight existential crisis writing my upcoming book, A Wolf of Her Own. Not a debilitating crisis, merely a question nagging at the back of my head. Am I writing urban fantasy?

There seems to be two approaches to genre writing. One school adheres to genre conventions, attacking impurities, and ejecting from the canon authors who do not follow the rules. Another school believes that an author has a freedom to write what they want, that genres do not matter, and that any resemblance to genre conventions is coincidence. Others still, that genres are dead altogether.

Personally, I like the framework a genre offers, but I try not to be a slave to it. Any genre needs innovations to remain interesting to authors and readers alike. Nevertheless, I have fancied myself an urban fantasy author. I like the sound of it. My Two-Natured London books are set in modern, albeit parallel, London, the city a character among others.

Urban fantasy is, by definition, fantasy that takes place in an urban setting, i.e. in a city. According to Wikipedia, it doesn’t even have to be a modern city, as long as the setting is civic. But my upcoming Two-Natured London book is set in the countryside. Hence the minor crisis. It’s not merely the setting that is country. The driving force of the story is agricultural. So, can a book that features sheep and pigs be urban fantasy?

I would like to think it can. I have explanations ready too. Genre is more a guideline, not a rule; London is mentioned in my book, and the two main characters have their lives there; the book is third in a series that is otherwise set in London; the fantasy elements remain the same as in the previous books. But. It’s not the hectic urban environment energising the book; it’s built around a slower pace of a farm.

So, I’m constantly of two minds about it. It’s paranormal romance, yes, but can I call it urban fantasy? What do you think? Do you think a city is the most important defining factor of urban fantasy? If not, then what is? And if you do, is there a name for a similar genre set outside a city?

A Wolf of Her Own by Susanna Shore
In the meanwhile, the book should come out later this week. Those who subscribe to my newsletter will get a notification by email. For the otherwise curious, there is a sample chapter on my webpage.


  1. Snap, Susanna!
    I have just the same issue - although my latest does have some parts taking place in the city of Inverness, much of the action occurs out in the Scottish Highlands, well away from civilization.
    When I was hunting for an agent, before deciding to self-pub, I discussed this with more than one and their take was that it was definitely urban fantasy, they saw no requirement for the city setting to be a dominant factor in categorisation.
    I reckon they would say the same - after all, you have to plump for a category whey you publish/upload - it's not as if you can make your own up.

    1. That's great to know. I try not to care about definitions, but then I think of readers and their expectations. What will they think if they pick an urban fantasy book that features pigs. :)

    2. That you're telling porkies?
      The problem here, just like mine, is that short of inventing a new category, you have to go with the nearest. And if you're uploading an ebook, you're looking at choosing two. Bit of a quandary if your book doesn't really fit in any of them, let alone two!
      Broadly speaking, if it's a contemporary setting but not primarily romance, then it's urban fantasy. You'd be more likely to upset readers by calling it paranormal romance, when it isn't really romance.
      Contemporary fantasy is your only other option, and as you need to choose two, those are the only three options on offer.
      Have fun with the pigs ;)

    3. LOL. Porkies. I have to remember that one. :)