Genre Talk: Urban Fantasy & Magical Realism

Among the many genres out there, I have never read urban fantasy. Yet I have found myself, more than once, thinking, Oh, wouldn’t it be cool for a story to have a contemporary setting but there are fantasy elements? and then remembering, Duh, that’s urban fantasy. 

But any time I have ever read a synopsis for an urban fantasy title, it’s an instant pass, not interested. It doesn’t matter that I like the contemporary books I’ve read by Cynthia Hand and Jennifer Lynn Barnes, I have no interest in their urban fantasy. Why? Well, it comes down to that paranormal/supernatural elements that I have mentioned before as not being my cup of tea. I don’t want to read about fallen angels (unless it’s a la The Screwtape Letters) or vampires, because I just don’t have an interest there.


So is there urban fantasy where the fantasy elements aren’t supernatural as much as they’re just… fantasy-like? Maybe a secret underworld kingdom where they lead very different lives? I think A Corner of White has this sort of story line, but I haven’t read it. Harry Potter was sort of like that… Harry lives in Muggle world but finds out his heritage of wizardry. From what I understand Percy Jackson is somewhat similar. So are these stories urban fantasy? Or are they more magical realism (another genre I’m not real knowledgeable of either)?

I get a little weirded out when I’m reading a story and expect things to be normal, and then suddenly it’s not, but with Harry Potter I knew it going into it, and I enjoyed it. Perhaps the same could be said for other stories with magical or fantasy elements in an otherwise normal world.


Part of me blabbing about all this is not just a possible interest in reading these genres, but also in writing them. Sometimes I get story ideas I feel sort of fall into these lines, but I think, Oh, that won’t work out. It’ll seem dumb. But I’m thinking surely it can be done. I mean, I had no problem getting into the TV show Fringe and how it explored alternate universes. I know that it’s sci-fi, but why should it be different if it’s something more magical? As long as the story’s good and I can connect with the characters, that’s what matters.

So what do you think about urban fantasy and magical realism? How do you define the genres? Any books you’d recommend for me?