So where would we find Urban Fantasy (UF)?
Currently, anywhere from horror (Kelley Armstrong) to science fiction/fantasy (Patricia Briggs) to romance (also Patricia Briggs :) ).
Urban fantasy is a relatively young genre, though maybe older than you think. The Wikipedia Entry says it's been around since the late eighties and cites authors such as Emma Bull. The entry defines it as "a subset of contemporary fantasy, consisting of magical novels and stories set in contemporary, real-world, urban settings...". Okay, that's a pretty broad spectrum. But in recent years (for me at least) urban fantasy has come to mean certain things. I've come to expect certain conventions when reading an UF novel.
- Usually written in first person or very tight third person. The reader experiences the urban fantasy world through the eyes of the protagonist.
- The story has a modern urban setting - that's kind of critical. :)
- The worldbuilding is TIGHT.
- The protagonist and their situation are the focus of the plot - this could be anything from just doing their job to trying to integrate into society. The plot may or may not involve a romantic/sexual relationship. But said romantic relationship will not overshadow the main storyline.
- If a relationship is included as part of the storyline a happy hearts and flowers ending is not guaranteed.
- Often the books are a series following the protagonist over a period of time.
If rules are meant to be broken, then I agree that conventions are meant to be bent. Everyone wants to read something original, the next big thing, but the conventions are there for a reason. If one of the conventions is broken then the rest of them better be outstanding.
I agree that there is a gradation from urban fantasy to paranormal romance that isn't always easy to define. I'd include the following authors as writing UF - Kelley Armstrong, Simon R. Green, Patricia Briggs, Jenna Black (Morgan Kingsley), Karen Chance, Kat Richardson. Paranormal Romance - Sherrilyn Kenyon, Alyssa Day.
Then there are those authors that fall in between more gritty that PNR but with more romance that UF and I'd include Nalini Singh's Changeling series here. I'd also include the first three books in the BDB series here. The following books in that series I'd classify as paranormal family saga (lol speaking of making genres up on the spot) not urban fantasy, mainly (among other things) because there is a lack of single protagonist.
So why is this important?
It's important to me because urban fantasy is my favourite genre, it's my comfort read, it's the place I go to when real life sucks.
When a publisher labels a book PNR when it's clear that it's urban fantasy and there's a reader/reviewer outcry it annoys and frustrates me. When publishers latch onto the urban fantasy label as they latched onto the Paranormal Romance label and slap it on everything regardless it annoys and frustrates me.
I predict that in the future a lot of books previously labelled as PNR will be labelled UF. Not because they are UF but because it's the next big thing* (despite being around for 30 years or more).
* - I actually think the next big thing (which has also been around for a while) is going to be Steampunk. Can't wait to see how that gets labelled.