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Urban fantasy and its problems

Discussion in 'Books and Anime Discussion' started by deyas, Mar 26, 2018.

?

Is there genuinely good urban fantasy besides the last 7-8 books of the Dresden Files?

  1. Yes (please, elaborate below)

    14 vote(s)
    60.9%
  2. No

    9 vote(s)
    39.1%
  1. deyas

    deyas Sixth Year

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    In looking through various online book review forums/websites, and reading a fair number of the most popularly recommended, it seems to me that urban fantasy tends to fall into one of two general spheres. I should note that these definitely feel like over-generalizations to one extent or another, but I swear to christ 95% of what I can find falls into one these categories.

    Sphere 1: The Thinly Veiled Paranormal Romance
    Usually written by a female writer, though not always, usually with a female protagonist, though again not always. The main character is usually some iterative version of tough, strong, no nonsense female with a weakness/strong sexual desire for the hyperviolent-but-brooding vampire/transformer/hunky guy or gal. If it's not within the first book, you can probably guarantee that the main character will sleep with at least one such individual by the end of the second. The plot can vary in quality wildly, but isn't usually as nuanced or interesting as even some of Butcher's worst works. Generally speaking, it is only divorced from being called paranormal romance outright by addition of more violence/gore. And granted, sometimes some pretty decent action scenes.

    Sphere 2: The Teenage Boy Power/Masturbatory Fantasy
    Usually written by a male author, though not always, usually with a male protagonist, though again not always. The main character usually falls into one of the archetypical hero/antihero tropes: tough but brooding because of reasons (death of a spouse/lover, lost control of powas and killed someone, etc etc.). Generally, the first attractive female (and god knows, by the end of the book, if not the first 3 fucking pages, the reader is going to damn well know she's attractive) will end up sleeping with said main character, if not by the end of the first book, then almost certainly by the end of the second. Sometimes said female character gets some type of power up over the course of the first few books, if she wasn't just a badass to begin with. Oftentimes reads like the author doesn't understand what pre-writing is for, or at least, doesn't understand why their 110 teacher kept telling them that they needed to write more drafts. Butcher's early novels can somewhat slot into this category, but at least he told a decent story most of the time.

    Am I missing something here? Is there anyone beyond late-stage Butcher that's offering a compelling look at a nuanced character, with relationships that don't feel like they were lifted either 50 Shades of Grey, or every crappy action movie from the last 20 years? I really do have a weakness for the modern day setting of urban fantasy: looking at how magic could coexist with our modern day technology/morals/governance, etc.; if the above is really all there is, however, then I guess I'll have to keep waiting for Peace Talks, and working my way through Sanderson's backlog.

    Edit: Also, I should add that most of the books I read were usually around 50k words. Not a problem inherently of course, but it is endemic of the issues I take with regards to the way romance is generally treated in these novels.

    Edit: I suppose I should also add this: if this an oft-repeated complaint that I just couldn't seem to find anywhere, I do apologize for my unproductive bitching. This is the first time I've gone actively looking for new authors to read since I was a middling teenager, and far less critical than I am now.
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2018
  2. 99redbloons

    99redbloons Second Year DLP Bronze Supporter

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    Would the Percy Jackson series fit into this category? It's a high quality fantasy book series (with a sequel series) set in a modern era and I really enjoyed reading all of the books and the spin off short stories.
     
  3. KHAAAAAAAN!!

    KHAAAAAAAN!! Troll in the Dungeon Prestige DLP Supporter

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    Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, and American Gods are all legitimately great novels, but I would also say they are all a little too Gaiman-y to be called pure urban fantasy.

    There's also Lev Grossman's Magicians series (HP for adults and the ongoing SYFY show is miraculously still consistently good).

    There's the god-tier Bartimaeus sequence and/or Artemis Fowl (but like Percy Jackson those series are little more YA than what I assume you're looking for).

    Most everything else of even semi-quality is a Dresden or Mercy Thompson knockoff. And I have huge problems with both of those series.

    P.S. -- Who do I have to blow to get a Bartimaeus TV show?
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2018
  4. EsperJones

    EsperJones Death Eater

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    I think it really depends on what you're considering 'urban' magic.

    If you're specifically referring to the 'hidden world' trope then there's not much room to play around there given that your setting must adhere to current reality, more or less. Any sufficiently game-breaking components would have to be severely nerfed given the fact that to get to today's society, none of them played a role.

    If you're looking for more recommendations: Kelly McCullough's WebMage series (computers + greek mythology) and Jim C. Hines's Libriomancer series (book magic) come to mind. They might veer towards the second category but do avoid some of the pitfalls.
     
  5. GreatRedDragon

    GreatRedDragon Banned

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    First Book of The Magician's series is pretty good (don't however recommend reading past that if you don't like plot holes and whole portions of plot ignored and written out), the Syfy series is progressive propaganda that accentuates features of certain characters, such as sexuality, ethnicity, gender, etc... rather than caring about a good plot.

    Other than that, I haven't really read much Urban Fantasy. I think there's a saying that goes "Length of an Ocean, depth of a Kiddie Pool" and that is essentially the Urban Fantasy genre, a lot of books, not many with anything new or original. I think that's a big reason why Fanfiction exists, it's so much easier to expand upon someone else's sandbox.
     
  6. deyas

    deyas Sixth Year

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    @KHAAAAAAAN!! @99redbloons

    I had genuinely forgotten about both Percy Jackson and the Artemis Fowl series. Percy Jackson I can't recall reading, though I do remember it being fairly popular among my friends. And I think I watched a movie of it at some point and was rather underwhelmed. Artemis Fowl I remember enjoying somewhat, but not really grasping some of the more mature elements of the plot. Or at least, I interpreted them as mature at the time. Judging from the release date of the novels, I was perhaps 7-10 when I finished reading the second one.

    YA does not inherently bother me, only when it descends into, how shall I say, MTV teen drama. Think "Teen Wolf," or "The 100." Or honestly, just about anything released on The CW, these days. If it doesn't sink to that level, perhaps I'll try Artemis again. Hadn't ever heard of Bartimeaus; I'll give it a look, thanks.

    Speaking of melodrama, while I enjoyed the TV series of The Magicians, and found it to be well done, it had started descending into territory that just isn't really to my taste. I might get around to finishing it at some point. Is the book series at all reminiscent of the show, or do they have fairly different tones as @GreatRedDragon intimates? I don't buy the "progressive propaganda," notion that he's selling, but drama for it's own sake, or perhaps more aptly put, drama created solely by the character's own immaturity/unwillingness to communicate, isn't really my thing.

    On Gaiman, judging by the American Gods TV show, which I loved, I might well love his books. I'll definitely get around to reading him eventually, it just seemed like he might write books best enjoyed slowly. I'm more looking for an easy read to pass some time with. Unfortunately, I've become critical enough recently that is proving more difficult than it might have been when I was younger.

    @EsperJones

    I hadn't heard of either of those series, they both seem quite interesting, thanks. Granted, for the WebMage series, it seems like something that could get really cringey, really, really fast for anyone with an ounce or two of knowledge on how hacking actually works. And on the notion that anything extreme doesn't have to exist to get to modern day, I don't think I agree. One of the fascinating parts, to me, about well written urban fantasy is how authors can take real history and, for want of a better term, infuse it with magic while keeping the historical outcomes the same. When done well, with adequate work on the author's part, I find it pretty entertaining. When done poorly, it feels like I stumbled upon the author masturbating.

    I feel I should clarify something else, here, too. None of the tropes I mentioned above I feel are inherently awful; romance, of any variety, is something that I quite enjoy when written very, very well; brooding antiheroes are such a common trope that I would have a hard time enjoying much media at all if they bothered me for their own sake. But they do take a decent writer, and a decent number of words, to pull off well. And for whatever reason, I've not run into many urban fantasy authors with that necessary skill.
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2018
  7. GreatRedDragon

    GreatRedDragon Banned

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    @deyas I respect your opinion and I won't argue against it. But, yes, the book and the show are extremely set apart in terms of what we see and what is shown, and even how Magic works. It starts to become a little more like the show during Book 2 and 3 (erasing a huge chunk of character development for Quentin in order to get there, though). I'd recommend reading it just for the experience, I almost wish Harry Potter was written by someone like Lev Grossmen.
     
  8. Shinysavage

    Shinysavage Madman With A Box Prestige

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    Check out the work of Kate Griffin - The Matthew Swift series and spin off Magical Anonymous, six or seven books in total. Matthew Swift is a sorcerer who wakes up one day to find his eyes have changed colour to electric blue, which given he was horribly murdered a couple of years previously is the least of his problems. What follows are a series of adventures taking in evil wizards, magical drugs, religious cults, urban fairies, demons, apocalyptic threats, a ridiculous number of explosions and the quirks of the London Underground. Also one of the best magic systems I've seen. The Magicals Anonymous spin off follows Sharon Li, apprentice shaman and organiser of the titular self-help group, a band which includes a druid whose allergies have stalled his career and a vampire who can only drink one blood type, which causes obvious problems. Slightly fewer explosions, no less awesome.

    Also, Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant books, about a young Met officer who takes a witness statement from a ghost, and whose life just gets weirder from there. These are proper police procedurals, with cases of the week mixed in with an arc plot about magical crime bosses, and a more scientific approach to magic while still feeling fantastical. Also explosions.

    I'll second Neverwhere, mentioned above, and also suggest Kraken, by China Mieville (his Bas-Lag cycle probably also qualifies, especially the first and second books, with the caveat that they're not even slightly real cities, and closer to epic fantasy in terms of length).
     
  9. Perspicacity

    Perspicacity High Score: 3,994 Prestige DLP Supporter

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    I second the recommendation for Gaiman's novels. They're objectively good fiction.

    Benedict Jacka's Alex Verus series is another that is very good and one that I recommend for those who enjoy Dresden Files. There's the whole hidden magical society thing and an underpowered central character who, through preparation and cleverness, manages to punch above his weight class.

    I'm ambivalent on Grossman's The Magicians series (of books; I've never watched the television show) in part because it had too much wink-wink, nod-nod, this is a Narnia subversion of Harry Potter framed with "more clever than thou" cookie-cutter MFA workshop twaddle. All the literary tradecraft tricks in the world don't help when your central character is an unrepentant shit who passes at least two moral event horizons in the first book alone.
     
  10. Glimmervoid

    Glimmervoid Seventh Year

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    An example of a Sphere One urban fantasy I actually like is the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. It has all the troupes: tough, strong, no nonsense female who, none the less, falls is serous lust with the brooding, dangerous, maybe-I-can-fix-him male lead (in this case a werelion). Despite that, is is still really entraining.

    It is a the-magic-came-back type Urban Fantasy and set in a post-post apocalyptic Atlanta. Before the series started, mankind pushed cosmic pendulum to far towards tech and it swung back towards magic with a vengeance. As a result, the world has periodic magic and tech waves - where technology and magic don't work respectively - with the general assumption that the tech will go away entirely.

    To start with, it's a pretty standard urban fantasy mystery/adventure. Enjoyable enough. But then the deep background starts coming in and we find some beings from the last age of magic survived the tech and are now waking up. Most importantly, we find out who the female lead's father is.
     
  11. GreatRedDragon

    GreatRedDragon Banned

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    On an off-note, don't you find it weird how most male protagonists in fiction are written by females and vice versa?
     
  12. KHAAAAAAAN!!

    KHAAAAAAAN!! Troll in the Dungeon Prestige DLP Supporter

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    Depending on your read speed, Anansi Boys and American Gods would probably take you two to four days each. You can knock Neverwhere out in an evening though, and once you start it, I can basically guarantee you won't put it down. It is still probably Gaiman's best novel to date, and what's more, he's finally getting around to writing a sequel which should drop in 2019 or 2020.
     
  13. Zombie

    Zombie John Waynes Teeth Prestige DLP Supporter

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    Re: The Magician series:

    The books are decent but even the own author admits to them being a pretty much a fever dream. There are inconsistencies and there are plot devices that are either under used or over used in lieu of other things, but I found them enjoyable.

    Urban Fantasy is a hard classification I've always felt like there are too many books featuring a strong female lead. Iron Druid was a decent series for the first couple of books. So is Sandman Slim series. If you're looking an alternative to Dresden Files in regards to Urban Fantasy with a male lead.
     
  14. Anarchy

    Anarchy Fourth Champion DLP Supporter

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    Honestly, I feel like at I'm the point where I dislike Dresden Files more than I like it these days. And looking at the numbers kind of shows it I guess, since I don't like books 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13. And, I'm on the fence about 14 though I still currently like it more than I don't like it (book 11 was in similar flux, as was 3). I feel like at the current stage of the series, it's not even that much better than something like the Southern Vampire Mysteries, which also has its fair share of bad books (mostly 8-13, which is coincidentally when the TV show that is losely based on the books got made). It falls firmly into your sphere one assessment, but then again, I don't think the Dresden Files has done enough to escape your sphere 2 assessment.
     
  15. deyas

    deyas Sixth Year

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    Honestly, it's likely that I might have a much harder time breaking into the Dresden Files if I were picking them up fresh today. Since I have 10+ years of loving them behind me, though, it makes it pretty hard for me to not enjoy them. I will say I didn't much care for Ghost Story, though. It's one of the few I haven't re-read.

    When I have time later, I'll pick through the reccomendations in depth; thank you to everyone that's giving them out, though.
     
  16. Mutton

    Mutton Unspeakable

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    The Magician books were godawful. I liked the show a lot more.

    If you want good urban fantasy and are willing to have an emphasis on the latter part as opposed to supernatural sex, The Crafts Sequence is amazing. Wizards are basically lawyers, deals with issues of utilities, hedge funds, and gentrification through a fantasy lens
     
  17. Shinysavage

    Shinysavage Madman With A Box Prestige

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    Can't say the thought had occurred to me, and off the top of my head I'm not sure I'd agree that the statement is true anyway.
     
  18. Zombie

    Zombie John Waynes Teeth Prestige DLP Supporter

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    Max Gladstone?
     
  19. Sataniel

    Sataniel Groundskeeper

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    Why limit yourself to English language fiction?

    Night Watch and its sequels by Sergei Lukyanenko are a Russian urban fantasy about Watches the groups of supernatural policemen that oversee the world of paranormal. Fully translated into English, though I can't say anything about translation's quality as I've read Polish translation.

    Boogiepop is a series that made light novels popular. It tells the stories about actions of the male alternate personality of high school girl who is a defender of the humanity. All the cases are presented from the perspectives of other characters. The translation is decent enough, so far volumes 1-3 and 6 were released, but are out of print. 1-3 got digital releases, but as it finally got anime announced 1-6 will be released in two omnibuses in print and the missing volumes will be also released digitally.
     
  20. Damy

    Damy Squib

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    I got a similar craving for urban fantasy a few months ago, and coincidentally needed something to entertain me while I was in Vienna.

    What I picked up was the "Legacy" series by Ryan Attard. 5 books in main series for now (very much so in the middle of things, but on the other hand he seems to have decent throughput when it comes to works). Also 2 books dealing with the main character's father. I haven't read them yet, but given what I know of the father, it is likely to be very different from the main series.

    The books are competently written, no masterworks, but good enough that I'd say I liked the writing. If nothing else, the quality is better than I've usually experienced in cheap books, and shouldn't be the deal-breaker.

    Setting is a (probably fictional) city in the US - no NYC or Chicago, but it never felt as if it was a town.

    Basic plot: Main character is a mage (or whatever they were called) who can't use magic outside his body or proper spells really (for reasons - which are quite cool), and then shit happens. Insert a sister who continues the family business of [description of her basement/prison: "Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if Cthulhu and Lord Voldemort were locked up down there."]. Also insert a lot of interested parties with conflicting desires, and things get interesting.

    The main character is - as per usual - a bit older (mid-to-late-20s) and experienced (but not with the scale of shit that is thrown at him in the series). On one hand he is pretty OP later on, but on the other it takes plenty of buildup and ends up having side-effects, and frankly it is barely enough to not get crushed by the more powerful things around. The take-away, which made me enjoy that part, was that there was a power-creep, which nicely added a feeling of progress (I rather dislike it when it feels like the character has stagnated and won't improve anymore). Also, bonus points, he mostly isn't that brooding or humorless - frankly the humor in the series was pretty good.

    Additional fun parts are the main character's sister, who plays a big role (and is pretty awesome), his familiar (a demon lord of hell in the shape of a talking cat), who is the source of a lot of nice banter, and his apprentice, who actually develops nicely during the series, and they've yet to fuck (though the main character does hook up with some people briefly).

    Bonus quote (and indication of a lot of humor):
    Amaymon rolled on all fours and let out a screech. "Oh, for chrissakes, get on with it, man. This is worse than the acting in porn movies." He turned his little feline head toward her. "You're a succubus."
    Amaymon, master of subtlety.
    "I'm a what?" she asked.
    "I was easing into it," I told him.
    "Easing into it?" he echoed exasperatedly. "No wonder you never get laid."
    "I'm a what?" she repeated.
    "I was trying to use tact," I insisted. "Ever heard of it?"
    "Dude, grow a pair," he shot back.
    "WHAT THE FUCK IS A SUCCUBUS?"
    That got our attention.
    "You're a sex demon," Amaymon said.
    "Technically, half a sex demon," I added.
    "You mess with people's heads to get laid."
    "It's more like procreation," I said, thinking that would somehow soften the blow.
    It didn't.
    "You'll fully manifest when you're twenty," Amaymon said.
    "Which is plenty of time to learn how to control yourself," I reassured her.
    The cat snickered. "And grow a good rack."
     
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