books, writing

Delving into urban fantasy genre with a five book challenge

I’m taking some (writerly) advice: read lots of books in the genre you want to write. Pretty obvious really, however narrowing down my intended genre has been a challenge.

If I were to name the first five books that spring to mind when someone asks me what I like to read (and this loosely translates into: what I’d like to eventually write), I would say:

  1. Every Day by David Levithan
  2. The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger
  3. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
  4. Night Film by Marisha Pessl
  5. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

From memory (and it has been a while since I read most of these) I would consider most of these to contain a blend of urban fantasy and science fiction. They are all set in a real world urban or city environment with a twist of mysticism or fantasy.

However, a quick googling tells me otherwise – here are the suggested genres for each of these titles:

  1. Every Day: young adult / fantasy / romance
  2. The Time Traveler’s Wife: science fiction / romance / speculative fiction / novel
  3. Pattern Recognition: science fiction
  4. Night Film: mystery / thriller
  5. The Shadow of the Wind: mystery

Hmm. Not an ‘urban’ amongst them, even though ‘Shadow of the Wind’ contains magical elements, ‘Every Day’ is set in, well, everyday urban settings as the protagonist keeps swapping bodies (so why isn’t this also considered science fiction?), and I would not restrict ‘Pattern Recognition’ to the sci-fi realm without mentioning the urban settings and mystery elements.

I’m a little conflicted, and that means only one thing: setting myself a little reading challenge to read five “urban fantasy fictions / novels” to help me better understand what the genre is capable of, and to identify if my intended novel fits into that genre.

It’s also a little bit fun because, for the next few months, I get to change my reading habits. As I settle into the world of urban fantasy, I’m beginning with this one:


Borderline by Mishell Baker is clearly defined as “urban fantasy with a cinematic punch” according to NPR’s review, and it gets quite the write up.

The cover caught my attention immediately; it’s reminiscent of the tone and style of my copy of ‘Pattern Recognition’. The second drawcard is the female author, and that’s important for my project. The third attraction is the diversity in the characters and themes (okay, that’s really four great reasons to read this). For example, the protagonist lives with BPD (borderline personality disorder) and a disability (two prosthetic legs after an attempted suicide). The setting is downtown LA in the film world with an overlaying fairy fantasy world. It sounds fantastic!

Funny, when I googled ‘Borderline genre,’ it suggested: dance / pop (Madonna, anyone?)

Let’s see how this goes – more details later on the other four books. I have some reading to do.


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