As a child I read voraciously and indiscriminately. Genres and age-appropriate books were things I knew existed but never paid any attention to. Before delving into my favorite genre, let me tell you how I found out about the classifying power of genre.
The library in my hometown was set up in such a way that there were children’s books (on the right side of the library) and “adult’s books” (on the left side of the library). That was pretty much the classification. There were gradations in the children’s books (A, B, and C, with C being for the oldest children) but I didn’t care much and the books were more or less randomly assigned by the lovely volunteers who staffed the library.
I strayed from my assigned aisle many times, even incurring the wrath of one eager librarian who forbade from taking home a book by a famous Dutch children’s book author. It was this one. This happened when I was 9. Pissed off little me took my mom and went back to get it the next day anyway and that librarian has snubbed me since.
Seven years later me and my family went on holiday to the US. We drove, in a white van, through California. I mainly remember the long stretches of road (we don’t have that in the Netherlands) and the utter feeling of freedom. And, of course, the excitement of spotting a Barnes & Noble.
Barnes and Noble was a revelation to me because it had a “young adult” section, and I loved these books that seemed tailored just for 16-year old vampire-loving me. I also loved the paperback section, the fantasy section, the fiction section… The world of genres, perfectly ordered books in a way that seemed random but made so much sense to me, was to be honest the highlight of my holiday. (Does that make me pathetic? It was a fun holiday, I just fucking love book stores).
So I bought a stack of English books and tore through them. I brought them all home with me too, but then back in the Netherlands I had a problem. These awesome series I started (I read the whole Twilight series [not apologizing] and started the Darkest Powers series) weren’t yet out in the Netherlands. So, finally I went to Amsterdam to the American Book Center. And there I found, all the way in the back, a tiny section of books under the header “Urban Fantasy.” And so I found my favorite genre.
Story time over, kids. Let’s wrap it up!
My favorite urban fantasy series
- Darkest Powers by Kelley Armstrong. This is what really got me into the urban fantasy genre, and it also gave me one of the first female characters who was strong, independent, and actively striving to not be saved by her love interest.
- The Hollows by Kim Harrison. I found this at the library and it was honestly one of the best finds. The only reason I picked it up was because it was physically close to Charlaine’s Harris’ books (do you think this is the reason Dawn Cook picked Harrison as pseudonym…?) and the ones I wanted from her were out on loan. I am so glad I went with Harrison’s books. Kick-ass protagonist and a host of utterly lovely and well fleshed out secondary characters. Loved it.
- Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. Fun, gore-filled, and with many descriptions of mundane American life through the eyes of a waitress in the south. Of course the hunky vampires are a big part of the appeal, but what drew me in were Sookie’s descriptions of what she dealt with as a home-owner. My favorite part was when Erik, the big bad boss vampire, had gravel delivered to her driveway. Not a euphemism.
- Women of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong. This is just a great series with many flawed characters who really develop throughout the series. Armstrong switches point of view a couple times during the series, which seems jarring at first but for me worked really well as Armstrong uses this to showcase the rich background of her stories from different angles.
- Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton. No, hear me out. Before it got super weird it was really good. The protagonist was strong, female (sensing a theme to this blog yet?) and unafraid. The storyline was pretty compelling too. And if nothing else this was an education into how urban fantasy could be both so good and so bad. Fantastic introduction into the genre.
- Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud. A bit of a departure from the female-led books mentioned before, but I just loved this series. The footnotes to which the story spills over are reminiscent of Terry Pratchett, and they are hilarious. This was a fun read that offers a bit of a different perspective on what urban fantasy can be. (I totally forgot about this series until I spotted it here, if you are looking for more recommendations do check out this awesome list).
- Morganville Vampire series by Rachel Caine. This is one of those series I started in the U.S. and then never found again in the Netherlands, but I absolutely loved it. This is a very sweet book, and there is a focus on the human side of being in a world populated with supernatural beings that I found particularly refreshing.
- The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. To me this always felt like the birthplace of urban fantasy. I don’t know how true that is, but I love the book. I also love that I now get the references that are made to this series, and its vampires, and feel like I know them. One of the reasons I put this series here is that it’s such a good reference point for urban fantasy series, with a cult-like status (and a pretty good film adaptation to boot).
- Midnight, Texas series by Charlaine Harris. Alright, this got pretty bad reviews across the board. But if you love creepy isolated towns, Harris’ southern charming characters (even if they only represent the American South to my European eyes), and some just plain weird storylines (talking cats, anyone?) you will love it too.
- Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. Another one that got very bad reviews. But this one has a special place in my heart since I picked it up on my U.S. holiday, and because it was one of the first books wherein 16-year old me became aware of the way relationships in books are portrayed in such a way they can be a template of what you want. In this case, teenagers having a respectful relationship. And, of course, there is fairy trouble. (I love fairy lore, I just really do).
Clearly I need to read more, since I have put both Harris and Armstrong in there twice. Through this blog I hope to get into reading even more instead of just rereading series I already know I love. And that’s the thing, my second criteria was that these series made me love them. The first, of course, was that they must be urban fantasy.
This list is a tad skewed, by the way, since I started urban fantasy as a teenager and as such hold some YA novels dear that I might not read or enjoy anymore. But with all of these lists, I love explaining why these books are part of my top ten, since we all have different reasons for loving books!
How did you find out about genres? What is your favorite urban fantasy series? Any recommendations for me based on this list? What are your reasons for loving a series? Do you have a love for some objectively bad books you are dying to share? Please let me know in the comments or on Twitter if you’re so inclined. I’d love to hear from you!