I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
I’ve been a fantasy reader all of my life. I started as a little kid with books like Waldo the Jumping Dragon. I continued as a teenager with The Lord of the Rings. And although I still have an enduring love of the regular fantasy genre as well as science fiction, I have found my true love in the Urban Fantasy subgenre.
Urban fantasy seemingly has it all: vampires, werewolves, fairies/the Fae, spies, time-traveling librarians, Medusas, talking mice, druids, magicians, goblins, intergalactic inns, magic swords, you name it! It also has a propensity towards tough, ass-kicking main characters, be they male or female.
But no matter how impressive the main character, they suffer from the same problems as you and I do. They sometimes doubt their abilities (Seanan McGuire’s October Daye). They have difficulty with their families (Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels trying to cope with her god-like father). They struggle with their finances (Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden). They experience confusion in their love lives (Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse). They worry about their careers (Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant). They make bad decisions that have lasting effects on their lives (Kevin Hearne’s Atticus O’Sullivan). They’ve lost people who are important to them (Ilona Andrews’ Dina Demille). They’re having problems with their supervisor at work (Genevieve Cogman’s librarian, Irene). They struggle to provide for their families (Ilona Andrews’ Nevada Baylor).
In short, these characters share the same problems that we have in the mundane world. Just as the Harry Potter books speak to regular kids’ problems (sports, tests, bullies, misunderstandings between friends), Urban Fantasy represents a subset of somewhat more adult problems.
Plus, Urban Fantasy is all about relationships and not just romantic relationships. Building a supportive circle of friends and allies. Making a good reputation for yourself. Finding a good partner, both in work and in love. Finding out what you stand for. Basically, it is about building a well-rounded life for oneself.
When the main character is female, she is generally a take-charge woman. She’s a mechanic like Mercy Thompson or a vampire-librarian like Jane Jameson or an Inn Keeper like Dina Demille. She’s got a quick wit and quicker reflexes. They are us the way we would like to be. I don’t know about you, but I always think of the perfect rejoinder about two days later and I often feel like I’m in danger of tripping over my own feet. This is the REAL fantasy of these novels—the fantasy that allows up to enjoy this feeling of competence that is occasionally missing from the daily grind.
I love the hopeful nature of Urban Fantasy—the belief embodied in it that we can all find our place, find our people, and find our way in the world.