by Julia Bergen
Do you recall 13+ (at time of writing) years ago in the late aughts? Before the internet soured and everything got complicated and worse? Just kidding. The aughts saw the rise of smart phone ubiquity and broadband connectivity’s revolution. And amid the tech boom, if you were to stroll in an analog bookshop, you’d fine rows and rows of books in the hot genre, urban fantasy.
It’s a broad term that technically just means fantasy set in a city, however time passes and changes and so do our lives and so do our cities. But it’s 2023 now—fanny packs are back, and so is urban fantasy. Both look a little different—in the 90’s I never would have worn my Sesame Street fanny pack over my shoulder, and I wouldn’t have been able to read these excellent urban fantasies from Tor that are perfect for our current year.
Hold onto your fanny packs and check them out!
Ebony Gate by Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle
One of the best parts about urban fantasy is taking myths and legends and refitting them for the modern world. In Ebony Gate, Julia Vee and Ken Bebelle draw on Chinese mythology to build a magical system full of demons, parallel dimensions, and dragon magic. What’s better, they set their story in San Francisco, a key city for the history of Asian diaspora. They masterfully use the idea of a magical world parallel to ours as a metaphor for the immigrant experience.
The Mystery of Dunvegan Castle by T. L. Huchu
If you haven’t started T. L. Huchu’s Edinburgh Nights series, you are missing out on some of the best urban fantasy around! Teenager Ropa uses Zimbabwean magic to solve ghostly mysteries on the streets of Edinburgh. In this addition to her series, she’s moved from the streets to a haunted castle. After all, a key component of living in the city is getting out for a little bit…and of course in urban fantasy there is no getaway without plenty of ghosts and murder. The blending of cultures and mythologies, plus the quality of prose and dialogue make this series an absolute delight to read.
Book of Night by Holly Black
The Masshole* in me is skeptical about calling anywhere Westa Woosta** urban, but Holly Black definitely gives central/western Massachusetts perfect urban fantasy vibes, earning Book of Night a solid spot on this list. What makes Book of Night feel so new and fresh is Black’s ability to create a unique type of shadow magic that she builds the rest of her fantasy world around. She weaves in societal conflicts analogous to those taking place in cities the world over, with the privileged, powerful, and wealthy hoarding knowledge and magic for themselves while others struggle to get by.
One for My Enemy by Olivie Blake
What makes any urban fantasy better? Baba Yaga. Add in battling witch families in a magical, contemporary Manhattan, and mix in a healthy dose of forbidden romance, and you have Olivie Blake’s knockout One for My Enemy. Genres come and go, but starcrossed lovers on opposite sides of a family conflict are forever.
*Tor Blog-cat’s note: Masshole = intrastate slang for ‘resident of Massachusetts.
**Tor Blog-cat’s note: Westa Woosta = Masshole slang for anywhere west of Worchester, MA