I started reading urban fantasy way before I even knew what it was called. I suppose the definition means something different to each person and publisher.
To me, an urban fantasy book is one that is set in a contemporary setting, and incorporates all kinds of fantastical, possibly mythical, beings and beasts. I know there’s a wide range of topics covered by that definition, but that is what makes urban fantasy so great. Authors can build worlds, an elaborate exercise in creativity on their part, and readers get a lesson in open-mindedness and acceptance. Authors make up the rules, and the readers have to follow.
You have to be relatively open-minded to just accept the facts of urban fantasy worlds. If the author says that vampires have been out of the coffin for the last five years, or that animators are normal people whose job it is to raise the dead for court proceedings, so be it.
People who prefer classics and more technically written fiction, often view urban or contemporary writing as an indication of the degradation of the English language. However, there are more similar than most think. Both classics and urban fiction are built in worlds that have set rules. Any rule breaking is profoundly frowned upon and may result in losing readers.
When Jane Austen was writing her books, the rules of society were very important. Girls had to behave a certain way (Mrs. Manners was based of the rulebook they lived by), be skilled in certain things (e.g. piano forte, needlepoint), and conscientious to not bring shame upon the family. This was because, back then, women could only ensure their comfort in life by getting married. Those who were lucky enough to be born to a high status family had more options, but those who were not so lucky, could only attempt to improve themselves in order to be seen as worthy of a “man of good fortune”. Rules of the then contemporary society.
Urban fantasy books also have rules. Authors world build, taking a lot of time and effort to create complete functional societies on paper. Readers then accept this information as fact, and when facts are invalidated, readers get upset. Even within the genre there are set rules that when broken, readers need a little adjustment period before being able to jump on the bandwagon.
For example, traditionally vampires have an age and power structure: the older they are, the more powerful they get. This phenomenon has been explained in many ways: powers maturing over time, the vampires gaining more experience with their powers and therefore can do more with them… the list goes on. Then Twilight happened. Then suddenly, readers had vampires who were born with their power on at full max, actually got less strong as they aged, and they sparkled (not knocking twilight here, I own the movies and books). The younger generations soaked it up like a sponge (poor things didn’t know any better). The rest of world was in reader shock (we knew what made a good vampire). Conversations between older readers probably went something like this:
“Did you know that the vampires from Twilight don’t burn in the sun? They sparkle!”
“Seriously, that’s why they can’t go out in the sun? They sparkle. Heck, I slap on a little bronzer every day just to get that “diamond glow”. You’re telling me that those Twilight vampires literally had diamond skin, and they were hiding it?”
“Really, they don’t turn into instant ash, or have horrible sun burn when exposed to sunlight.”
“Why bother go see the movie then?”
All we saw on the news was The Twilight Craze! The world, especially the news reporters, was just so baffled why this book, which went against practically all of the fundamentals of being a vampire, was so popular.
This need for governing rules applies to all entertainment media (all of life really). Just two weeks ago, I was watching Grimm (love that show, so much eye candy!), and there was poor Juliette who doesn’t want to be a hexenbiest anymore, doing the whole self-loathing wesen thing. I turned to my sister and go, “Why doesn’t she just bite Nick? Worked like a charm for Adalind”. She laughed herself silly.
Anyway, enough ranting. The take home message is, both types of readers (classic and urban) need consistency of rules in the books they read, the authors just play by different playbooks.
To me …
“Urban fantasy is never a bore
It has vampires, and shape-shifters, and monsters galore
Even the main characters, who seem human, are not
Because urban fantasy likes stirring the pot
It teaches acceptance of what people can do
Enabling them to understand me and you
The genre of making new worlds readers adore
And affects popular trends even more and more
Urban fantasy keeps our creativity alive
And keeps the world from thinking like a beehive”