OK, so you’ve read last week’s post on Urban Fantasy and you’re wondering “What should I read first?” Fear not! I’m back with some recommendations on where to begin your Urban Fantasy journey. Selections marked with an asterisk are ones I’ve read and particularly enjoy, so keep an eye out for them.
1987’s War For The Oaks is one of the first Urban Fantasy novels, and for that reason alone it makes the list. Set in Minneapolis, the story follows musician Eddi McCandry as she becomes entangled in the world of the fairies. I’ll admit, I have not read this one, but while there are some problematic elements I’ve heard that it’s a fun read, especially if you like 80s rock music. (and I do!).
I can’t write about Urban Fantasy without mentioning Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, but I also can’t in good conscience recommend reading more than the first couple of books. Anita Blake is the progenitor of the typical UF heroine, so you’ll want to catch Guilty Pleasures to get a good sense of where the genre got its footing. Things get WEIRD the further you read into the series, so proceed with caution.
Originally a TV miniseries by Gaiman and comedian Lenny Henry, the Neverwhere novel is just as compelling as the original show. Set in London, the book follows businessman Richard Mayhew as he encounters an injured woman named Door, an encounter that leads him into the fantastical world of London Below. The miniseries is also worth your time, though I generally prefer the 2013 radio play that aired on BBC Radio 4 starring James McAvoy as Richard and Natalie Dormer as Door.
The New Millennium
Storm Front is the first book in Butcher’s Dresden Files series, arguably the most popular Urban Fantasy series out there. As I mentioned last week, it’s where I started reading in the genre and it’s still one of my favorites. Storm Front introduces us to Harry Dresden and explores the seedy magical underbelly of Chicago as he tracks down a murderer using magic to rip his victims’ hearts out of their chests. It’s a fast read that evokes the hardboiled detective novels that inspired Butcher. If you’re looking for a good starting place in Urban Fantasy, this is it.
Kate Daniels is a mercenary living in a post-apocalyptic Atlanta, where the world shifts between technological and magical dominance. The series follows Kate as she deals with all manner of mythical beings now rearing their ugly heads.
“But Molly!” you cry. “Magic Burns is the second Kate Daniels book, not the first!”
I have DNF-ed the first book, Magic Bites, on three separate attempts; I can’t recommend starting there. Magic Burns will give you a much better introduction to the series; you can always go back and read Magic Bites later, once you’re familiar with the characters and setting.
If you like werewolves, you’ll love Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. Mercy is a mechanic hiding a secret: she is a shapeshifter who has been shunned by her pack. When a young werewolf shows up at her shop, she is drawn back into the world of shifters and forced to ask for help from the pack that abandoned her.
The Next Generation
If you read Storm Front and liked Harry Dresden, you’ll love Eric Carter. I’ve seen Blackmoore’s necromancer hero described as “Harry Dresden, but competent” and I can’t agree more. I like this series a lot, but I’ll caveat that it’s a lot darker than the Dresden Files so keep that in mind. But if you like a clever smart-ass who can do magic, you can’t really go wrong with Dead Things.
I first encountered this book when looking for more diverse Urban Fantasy (another issue we’ll get into next week). I’d read Older’s Buzzfeed list on writing the other and decided to pick up Half-Resurrection Blues because of it. I was not disappointed. Carlos Delacruz is another clever smart-ass like Harry Dresden and Eric Carter, but his view of both the world of the dead and a vibrant, multicultural, blue-collar Brooklyn are unique and interesting among Urban Fantasy novels and I highly recommend it.
OK, we’ve had plenty of heroes and heroines doing magic in the Big City, but what if the cities themselves were the heroes? That’s the premise of The City We Became, and while I haven’t read it yet it won the 2021 Locus Award and was nominated for both the Nebula and the Hugo Awards that year, so I had to include it. Jemisin is a brilliant writer, and I have no doubt that this novel does the premise justice. I can’t wait to dive into this one!
There are so many more books I could list here. Urban Fantasy is so wide and deep that you’ll never run out of books and stories to read. While it may not be as popular as it once was, it’s still a vibrant and growing genre. I hope this list gives you an entry point, and that you’ll explore everything the genre has to offer.
Next week, we’ll talk about some of the issues in the genre, including a lack of diversity — both inside the books and out — and the copaganda that continues to rear its ugly head. Until then, you can find me on Instagram and Bluesky. Happy reading!