Blog: The Genders of Urban Fantasy

Bonus blog today. I figured since I waxed poetic, or at least ranted and pooled information from a lot of other bloggers and websites, about the uneven treatment of genders within genre, I should touch base on Urban Fantasy. This fantasy sub-genre focuses on fantastical activity (werewolves, psionists, vampires, elves, spellcasters, etc.) in a contemporary setting, usually in a big city like New York. Some sub-sub-genres include Historical Urban Fantasy (Thieftaker Chronicles series by D. B. Jackson starring a wizard set in revolutionary Boston) and Suburban Fantasy (Witch Way to the Mall(an anthology) edited by Esther Friesner). Closely related to Urban Fantasy is Near-Future Sci-Fi, where a story is set in nearly modern times but the fantastical elements have a scientific bent.

I love Urban Fantasy, but have found it to be very gender-divisive. While some series are “generic”, for example the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher and Deadly Curiosities series by Gail Z. Martin, most are either clearly “female” or “male” sub-genres. The female subgenre has romance (or at least heavy sex), usually with two love interests, the woman kicks-ass, rarely needs help, and has magical powers of her own. Nearly all males of the story are defined by their relation to the main character, often portrayed sexy but needing the woman through some mystical link. (An example would be theAnita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton.) The male version usually has one female love interest, but the true love is guns and explosives. The stories have lots of violence. The lead character is larger than life, but came from “every-man” beginnings like accounting before magic intrudes on his life. All women are defined in their relationship to the main character, and the first description is not about personal competence but what they look like…how sexy they are. (An example would be the Deacon Chalk Bounty Hunter series by James R, Tuck.)

Both versions have a lot of wish-fulfillment, feature loners, and are unrepentantly sexist. The male version read like old westerns or spy novels and the female versions read like supped-up bodice rippers and, again, traditional spy novels. And everything about them is a guilty pleasure.

Sometimes the authors take the sexism too far. When none of the women in the Male Urban Fantasy have agency (the ability to act on their own) and all exist as sex objects, and the story is basically glorified gun porn, plus the Alpha Male walks over everyone in the story because his mission/opinion is the only one that matters, nothing about the story is likable or identifiable. In the female version of bad Urban Fantasy, when all of the men are weak and let the female treat them like crap, the story is basically self-empowerment of one female who belittles or demeans even her female friends, and magic solves all issues, again the story becomes unreadable.

Am I going to stop reading “female” version Urban Fantasy? Not likely, but then I will also continue to read the “male” version and the “generic” version as well. I enjoy the strong agency of the females in Female Urban Fantasy and the exceptional fight scenes in the Male Urban Fantasy…and the cool magic all around. I do wish more authors could find a way to create a powerful main character without belittling the opposite sex – Ms. Martin and Mr. Butcher in their “generic” versions prove it can be done.

Any comments or thoughts on Urban Fantasy by gender split? Have you noticed the difference? Does it bother you on an emotional or intellectual level? If only one, why do you think it appeals to your emotions/intellect but bothers your emotions/intellect?

Urban Fantasy Heroines cover art breakdown

Image acquired from OrbitBooks – Link to original here

Author Spotlight: J. Matthew Saunders

Book Cover for Daughters of Shadow & Book Book I: Yasamin

Cover from Amazon

Author J. Matthew Saunders first full-length novel “Daughters of Shadow & Blood – Book I: Yasamin” is a delight of wordsmithing. Images of the Prologue alone are worth the price of admission to this book; Darin Kennedy of the Mussorgsky Riddle correctly describes as “Dracula meets The DaVinci Code, a contemporary thriller masterfully interwoven with historical dark fantasy.”

The weaving of four different main timelines and locations, plus a few side trips, produces a spell-binding story. Book 1: Yasamin captures the horrific beauty of the first bride of Dracula.

Matthew Saunders lives in the greater Charlotte NC area and has published numerous published fantasy and horror short stories. He has degrees in history, journalism and law – and like most lawyers, in very elegant with his words. He is an unapologetic European history geek, which is woven throughout his first novel.

His author blog can be found at Write Wrote Written and centers on his passion of history and monsters. He put together a cool soundtrack of music related to Yasamin – link here.

Book Review: The Mussorgsky Riddle

Book cover from Amazon

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON
The Mussorgsky Riddle by Darin Kennedy

Psychic Mira Tejedor possesses unique talents that enable her to find anything and anyone, but now she must find a comatose boy wandering lost inside the labyrinth of his own mind. Thirteen-year-old Anthony Faircloth hasn’t spoken a word in almost a month and with each passing day, his near catatonic state worsens. No doctor, test, or scan can tell Anthony’s distraught mother what has happened to her already troubled son. In desperation, she turns to Mira for answers, hoping her unique abilities might succeed where science has failed.

At their first encounter, Mira is pulled into Anthony’s mind and finds the child’s psyche shattered into the various movements of Modest Mussorgsky’s classical music suite, Pictures at an Exhibition. As she navigates this magical dreamscape drawn from Anthony’s twin loves of Russian composers and classical mythology, Mira must contend with gnomes, troubadours, and witches in her search for the truth behind Anthony’s mysterious malady.

The real world, however, holds its own dangers. The onset of Anthony’s condition coincides with the disappearance of his older brother’s girlfriend, a missing persons case that threatens to tear the city apart. Mira discovers that in order to save Anthony, she will have to catch a murderer who will stop at nothing to keep the secrets contained in Anthony’s unique mind from ever seeing the light.

 

MY REVIEW
I am a worldbuilding whore. I want a world as layered as an orchestral movement, as nuanced as a master painting, one that twists and turns and takes you away from the here and now to another world. One you can touch, hear, smell, feel. The Mussorgsky Riddle is one of these books.

Falling into the imprecise category of Urban Fantasy or maybe Paranormal Suspense, the story follows a psychic as she journeys through the mind of a boy trying to find the identity of a killer. But is so much more than that.

The complicated parallel Mr. Kennedy made between Pictures at an Exhibition, both the music and the original inspiring paintings is amazing. And this was just his Debut Novel; if his next is half as good, he has a reader for life.

He is presently in edits of the second book, this one centered around a ballet.