top 5 wednesday: favourite urban fantasy books

I took a bit of a T5W hiatus during February as the topics were centred around romance and fictional pairings — not that there was anything wrong with that! I’m not much of a romance reader, but I loved hearing about the books that other T5W bloggers wrote about during the past few weeks. This week’s topic I can absolutely participate in since it’s a genre that covers a few books that I have read. I’m really excited about seeing other T5W lists this week because, while I enjoy urban fantasy, I feel like I’ve only scraped the service in terms of what’s available. Especially since a few of my picks aren’t exactly ‘pure’ urban fantasy… if that’s a thing.

So what is Urban Fantasy? Its one of those peculiar sub-genres that (like the wider genre of ‘fantasy’) can be applied to so many different types of narratives. As defined on the Goodreads Top 5 Wednesday group: ” subgenre of fantasy in which the narrative has an urban setting. Works of urban fantasy are set primarily in the real world and contain aspects of fantasy, such as the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence or conflict between humans and paranormal beings, and other changes to city life. A contemporary setting is not strictly necessary for a work of urban fantasy: works of the genre may also take place in futuristic and historical settings, real or imagined.” While the books I’ve listed below contain elements of other genres (horror, steampunk, etc.) they contain dominating elements that can allow them to be considered as their own forms of urban fantasy. That’s kind of what I love so much about this sub-genre. Anything is possible!

A friendly reminder as it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these: This post is a part of the Top 5 Wednesday series from the Goodreads group of the same name. Check it out for weekly #T5W post prompts and to see how other book bloggers have answered this week’s theme!

Without further ado, here are my picks for Top 5 Favourite Urban Fantasy Books:

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001) 

View on Goodreads

I was originally going to include Neverwhere on this list since it’s an incredible book and contains more traditional urban fantasy elements (a setting in London), but I wanted to give Neil Gaiman’s American based epic a moment in the spotlight. I absolutely love American Gods. I had no idea how much it would have an influence on me when I began reading it, or how often I would revisit the various settings scattering the country that bordered my own. I’ve always been a bit mesmerised with the whole Americana culture of sideroad shops and attractions, world’s largest whatevers, and stretches of highways that seem to go on for days without passing through civilisation let alone another car. My family and I did a three-day road trip from Southern Ontario in Canada to Disney World in Florida about 14 years ago and I think American Gods made me nostalgic for that. Just instead of my parent’s and sister the companions were a bunch of rowdy old gods preparing for war.

Soulless by Gail Carriger (2009)

View on Goodreads

Remember how I said I don’t really read romance? This series was a big exception for me. I have no concept of how popular these books are since I’ve unfortunately never had the pleasure of speaking to anyone who’s heard of them. I found this series, titled The Parasol Protectorate, about six or seven years ago when I was looking for a Steampunk novel for my commute to and from university. I’m a sucker for all things Victorian London, so naturally, one populated with vampires, ghosts, and werewolves was naturally a combination that would please me. The heroine Alexia is headstrong, intelligent and fearless when dealing with the less than pleasant aspects of living in a paranormal AU of London. Carriger is a great writer who plays on witty British banter and the stereotypical posh Victorian dialogue. It’s a very fun series that I do recommend to anyone looking for steampunk with a paranormal romance twist.

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

View on Goodreads

And speaking of Victorian London… I know this is probably not a typical choice for an urban fantasy, but hear me out. I love horror novels and I’ve always found that the line between horror and fantasy is oftentimes blurred. I especially found this with Dracula which I only just read last year after hearing mixed things about Stoker’s vampire classic over the years. I know my best friend didn’t love the epistolary storytelling and I had heard other’s disliking the ‘slow burn’ nature of the plot and lack of elements that today’s reader might find frightening. I had to disagree with all of the negative criticism as Dracula turned out to be something much different than I was anticipating. You always hear about Dracula’s isolated Transylvanian castle, but what I didn’t realise was that the book primarily takes place around England with parts focusing in on London. While the book takes place in rural locations such as the northern town of Whitby, it was the London portions of the book, the fear of the mythological vampire lurking around the corners of this familiar place that made me think that if the subgenre of ‘urban fantasy’ had been around in the late 19th-century that it probably would have applied to Dracula along with the obvious classification of Gothic horror.

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling (1997-2007)

View on Goodreads

It’s hard not to include Harry Potter on every list I ever write. But in all seriousness, Harry Potter has some of the best examples of urban fantasy I can think of without being a purely urban fantasy series. You might have noticed that there is an ‘I love London’ theme to the books I’ve listed (which is why I eventually moved over here), and I can thank Harry Potter for kickstarting a never-ending love for this city beginning from my childhood. I remember King’s Cross being this amazing magical place where I could potentially start my own Hogwarts journey. I wanted to visit London to tap my wand on various brick walls to see if I could discover Diagon Alley or to scour the streets of the city to find the headquarters of Order of the Pheonix. Harry Potter is a prime example of taking a city and making it ooze with magic and mystery. These books felt so real that over 15 years after I read the first book and having lived in London I can’t help but look around me and wonder if any of the commuters are headed towards the Ministry of Magic.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris (1999)

View on Goodreads

First of all, the cover art for this book is probably one of my all-time favourites. It reminds of the old Eye Spy books that I used to take out of my school’s library as a kid. While this might be more of a ‘rural fantasy’ as it takes place in a small isolated French town, it certainly has the charms and qualities of other urban fantasy books. And like Harry Potter, the main character of Chocolat is of the magical sort. But instead of fighting an evil wizard, she spends her time helpings others with her enchanting cholate shop.

Thank you for joining me on my new Top 5 Wednesday post! Have you read and loved (or hated!) any of these books? What are your favourite urban fantasy novels? Let me know in the comments!

6 thoughts on “top 5 wednesday: favourite urban fantasy books

  1. auroralibrialis says:

    I wanted to read the The Parasol Protectorate series a few years ago, but I let the romance aspect put me off. Now I actually enjoy romance novels and especially historical ones – so it should be right up my street. Thanks for putting it back on my radar! I’ve always been curious about Chocolat, I’m very happy to hear it has actual magic, that’ll bump it up on my tbr for sure. Great list 🙂

    • Ashley says:

      You’ll really love that series then! I’m tempted to re-read them all again. I can’t remember if I actually finished the series so I might as well start over at the beginning again haha. And Chocolat is such a cozy book. The magic isn’t ‘in-your-face’, its much more subtle. But it still fills the pages. 🙂

  2. veeshee says:

    All 5 of the books you mentioned in your top 5 list are favourites of mine! I love Soulless so much, even though it had a huge romance portion to it (I’m not a fan of the romance genre) and I can’t wait to continue with it! I loved Chocolat the movie so much and the book was great, too!

    • Ashley says:

      Yess! A fellow Soulless fan! I thought I’d fine one one day. And the Chocolat movie is just SO lovely, I actually watched it before I even realised it was based on a book. I need to read the other books in the Chocolat series still. Have you read them?

      • veeshee says:

        I don’t think I knew anyone who read the Soulless series before this post!! I also watched the movie before the book but I haven’t read any of the other books in the series

  3. Birgit says:

    Dracula was a good read overall but I was thinking that Dracula would be more but I think the tons of movies that have been made disrupted what i thought of Mr. teeth. I love the harry Potter series and was hoping you would mention them. I would be so tempted to try to find an opening to their world if i was in London. I have been meaning to read chocolat ever since I saw the film and I bet, as per norm, it is better than the film.

Leave a Reply