We Love: Urban Fantasy

Okay, not everything in fanfiction is always so dour. I really liked this post on how Urban Fantasy really needs to go all the way regarding mixing Fantasy with the modern world. I couldn’t help but be reminded of some of my favorite Urban Fantasy books, while reading this.

This is a long one, but it was lot of fun to read all these speculations, and I’ve provided some rec’s for similar types of Urban Fantasy, after. (Oh and apologies for the format. It’s annoying but unavoidable.)


regional differences












“oh hey,” she said, “it’s a really touristy area, but since you’re gonna be passing through anyway, you might as well stop by pier 29, see the dragons. also, there’s a—”

“hold on,” i said. “i knew your city had mountains, but. dragons? uh, actual living dragons?”

“dude, it’s not a big deal. they’re there all the time. of course they’re majestic and everything, but they’re loud and cranky and mostly they lie around eating garbage. now and then the city council will talk about trying to make them roost somewhere else, but—”

“dragons,” i repeated. i knew it was making me sound like a rube, but it was a lot to take in. “you live in a city that hasdragons.”

“no, it’s cool, we used to go see them when i was a little kid. it’s worth doing. but that whole area is mostly dragon-themed gift shops, and the commercialization is kind of a bummer. also, sometimes a dragon will melt somebody’s car and it’s a whole problem.”

“fairytale-style, giant scaly fire-breathing dragons.”

“honestly, i forget other cities don’t have them?” she said. “there’s a few other sites on the west coast where they gather. portland calls them wyverns, but that’s a portland thing.”

“chicago’s got, like, bunnies and songbirds,” i told her, “but otherwise it’s just your typical vermin. pigeons, rats, sphinxes—”

“sphinxes? what the hell.

“oh, yeah, they nest in the el tunnels. sometimes a fucking sphinx will flap down out of nowhere, bring the whole train to a halt until the front car answers a riddle.”

“that sounds exciting,” she said.

“it’s the worst. your train winds up being twenty minutes late, and you just have to hang out hoping somebody up there read their mythology. there’s supposed to be a program where the conductors get trained in riddling, but i don’t know. rahm emmanuel keeps saying it’s not a budget priority.”

“huh,” she said. “guess the grass is always greener and all that. but on some level, it’s nice to remember that even with all these big box stores, the country still has some variety left in it.”

“yeah, did you know that in rhode island they call water fountains ‘bubblers’?” i said.

“whoa, seriously?”

“i read it somewhere. crazy, right?”


i am here for urbanized mythological creatures

Switzerland has a lot of dragons, but dragons have long since moved on from collecting gold. There’s a purply-scaley one that roosts behind the Mad Mex that refuses to stop hoarding signposts. The city uses banners for the main roads and sells a lot of maps.

Golems love cities–with their stone buildings and sidewalks. There are strict laws about what one is allowed to say to them, because golems tend to be rather literal and very obedient. There’s always one kid who thinks he knows better. He doesn’t.

OH MY GOD THE CHICAGO SPHINXES, DON’T GET ME STARTED. Here’s the thing. When you buy your Ventra card at the machine – which is another one of Rahm’s scams, leasing that out to a private company, wtf was he thinking – it’s supposed to have the answer to the riddle on it, right? The sphinx is supposed to scan the bar code and let the train through.

that never fucking happens. Especially on the Blue Line which is down for maintenance all the time and constantly switching tracks and running shuttles, which means half the time you’ve got a sphinx that came over from the fucking Orange Line or some shit and is full of riddles that only the Irish mooks from Bridgeport understand. Or it’s in Polish only. Or it’s got a glitch that makes it stutter and if you interrupt it, it’ll get snippy and bite your head off. LITERALLY. They hush it up but it happens. Businesses lose millions from sphinx-related tardiness every year.

And then there’s a case back in ‘96 when it was proven after the fact that the “wrong” answer the Red Line Sphinx got was actually A PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE REGIONAL VARIATION but by then, the Sphinx had already eaten half a car full of drunken Cubs fans. I know, not much of value was lost there, BUT STILL.

You think SPHINXES are bad?  Detroit has imps, thousands of them, and you know what they love?  Buses.  You know the major form of public transit in Detroit is?  BUSES.  So the drivers have to literally shoo away imps at every fucking stop, making them 30 minutes late, an HOUR late, and it’s not like there’s anything you can DO, because they’re all leftover from when the car companies were big, and ALL OF THOSE FUCKERS CLOSED.

So of course there were hundreds of orphaned imps, and they kept SAYING they were going to reopen the factories, or at least get some good junkyards, but nooooooooo, they never did, so the imps just bred and bred, and now they’re all over every bus and it’s not like you can ever count on getting anywhere on time and long story short, I’d take a sphinx over imps ANY day.

yeah as someone who did high school and college in michigan and now lives in chicago, i have to say that as far as the age-old sphinxes vs imps debate goes, they’re both terrible in different ways. the imps are way more common and they probably have a wider total reach, and oh my god nothing like trying to board a bus already covered in those little suckers when said bus is already forty minutes late—

(sidenote: ugh people from bloomfield hills saying stuff like “well if i lived in detroit, i’d have the sense to carry around a nice heavy club or walking stick—” yeah dude good luck with your walking stick against two dozen imps)

but the sphinxes. let’s not, uh, sugar coat this: the sphinxes don’t just slow commuters, they kill people. and yes, if you know the riddle, you’re fine. but what if someone else offers their answer first? what if you get some overly cocky freshman philosophy major who takes it upon himself to answer for the whole car?

i think in the back of our minds, all chicagoans know that rahm emmanuel’s administration isn’t gonna lift a finger until one of the sphinxes goes after a wealthy tourist and it makes national news. and even then, we’ll get, like, flashy riddle-solving software installed in all the red line trains, and maybethe brown line, but no way is it gonna cover the whole infrastructure.

basically if you ever need to take the green line or the pink line, you wanna start studying your classical mythology and folklore fucking yesterday.

@copperbadge do puns work on Sphinxes as well as riddles?

You bet your sphinxter they do.

(Sphinxes hate that one but they’re obliged to honor it.)

I heard they sometimes get bad Selkie problems in Monterey Bay…

It was so weird moving to the South and then to the Midwest after growing up in New England because apparently everywhere else unicorns are a big joke to people? I get it, New Hampshire has the lowest teenage pregnancy rate because we’re all a bunch of virgins, ha ha like I’ve never heard THAT one before, but seriously, you try growing perennials when every year the goddamn unicorn herd comes through and eats all your bulbs. MY BACK YARD IS NOT YOUR PERSONAL TULIP BUFFET, LIGHTFOOT.

The Bunyips have a fondness for the sewers. Which is really something when you’re down at Bondi for an early-morning dip and find that the damn beach is closed because another Bunyip has gone for a swim in the sewerage outlet and then waded back in to shore. Oh, sure, the outlets are supposed to be distant enough that the effluent doesn’t come back to shore, but the damned council who proposed it didn’t think about what was going to happen to all those Bunyips who were missing the swamps that got drained when they built Kingsford Smith Airport in Botany Bay. Sure, a population of nearly 10,000 bunyips is going to make do with a couple of waterways that mostly reek of industrial waste. Not. BRILLIANT TOWN PLANNING, Sydney Council. FUCKING BRILLIANT.

On the other hand, for something really spine-crawling, I suggest you look up “Rio Tinto Mining vs. The Quinkins (Imjim). Cape York, 1985.” That was a clusterfuck and a half – the extra half-clusterfuck got added when they tried to bring the military in to ‘solve the problem’. Fourteen of the children have never been recovered, the roads up into the property are impassable, and the closest you can get is within five klicks by air, land, or sea before all the instrumentation goes haywire. The last chopper to try a landing got a mayday out before readings said it plummeted like a stone.

Also, have you seen the sheer idiocy of a government trying to prosecute local spirits who aren’t going to turn up in court for one and wouldn’t recognise your white man’s law even if they did? Not one of the better periods of Australian government.

I suppose Baltimore has it easy, somewhat? Maybe? Cause the people who get in trouble the most with the mermaids are well, tourists. And there’s SIGNS up. All over. Heck, there’s signs in BRAILLE!

But of course you’ll get the drunk, handsy college boys going down to the Inner Harbour cause some older one wants to initiate a freshman, and some freshman thinks it’ll be cheaper than a strip club to see ‘free’ bare boobs.

It’s like none of them read anything to know that above those boobs, behind those lips are a whole bunch of sharp pointed teeth the better to eat them with.

But mostly it’s the tourists who do read the signs, and don’t go hanging over into the water, or trailing fingers from the water-taxi into the water; But who refuse to wear proper sanctioned ear plugs. Some of them just bring their own which aren’t strong enough to block out the sirens. But others just…. don’t believe for some reason?

I don’t know. But it’s in the news a lot when it happens and some tourists will inevitably say they didn’t think the earplugs were important, cause mermaids are beautiful and nice.

Disney has a lot to make up for – not that it’ll ever do it. But. A lot.

And then there’s the other thing. All the jokes about how they ‘thought the city with mermaids would be Seattle’, nudgenudge, wink wink.

And someone has to smack them down with; how many lost women tossed overboard by the slave trade did Seattle get drifting into their harbours in the under-currents? If there’s no proper bodies for mermaids to lay their eggs, there’s no mermaids.

I used to live in Canton, and there’s lovely apartments there. It’s just a touch expensive for the soundproof glass, y’know? But still, early Saturday morning, watching the mermaids float and sun themselves can actually be pretty, if you’re three stories up, a hundred or more yards from the water and with good soundproofing; all the brown and bronze  and I saw a red tail once. She was gorgeous, dark skin, red tail, upper body all muscled like a dancer.

Source: idiopathicsmile
Aren’t these stories awesome?
The closest thing  I’ve ever read, to anything listed above, was about my hometown, and titled The Dragons of the Cuyahoga, and its sequel, The Dwarves of Whiskey Island.
Now here’s a few recs, if you’re interested in something much like the above.


Urban Fantasy Recs:

The Prometheus series by Elizabeth Bear – The writing takes a bit of getting used to as she sometimes doesn’t come right out and say what she wants the reader to see, but once you get used  to turning left instead of right, you’re good to go. About a secret society of magicians in New York and their search for the new Merlin. Her newest book in the series is One Eyed Jack, about the physical embodiments of various cities and towns, jockeying for power in America. No, it’s not like American Gods. It’s much stranger.

Mike Shevdon’s Bedlam series – This is about a father who discovers London’s magical underbelly and how closely he’s connected to it. A lot of the magic in these books involves important London landmarks and rituals.

Matthew Swift Series by Kate Griffith – This is one of my personal favorites, where its not just magical creatures living in London, but the city itself that produces magic, and people can tap into that to perform miracles. Matthew Swift dies by magic and becomes a part of the electrical and communications grid, The Blue Electric Angels, as The Midnight Mayor. A lot of the magic in this book is like taking a walking tour of the London streets.

*The Magicals Anonymous Series by Kate Griffith – By the same author above, this is about a support group of magical creatures who get together to save London, solve crimes, and have therapeutic conversations about being monsters. Consisting of a troll, a banshee, and a deeply neurotic vampire, the group is headed by one of the young, female, successors to Matthew Swift and takes place in the same ‘verse.

*The Rivers of London: by Ben Aaronovitch – This too is one of my favorite series, about a London cop who stumbles across the magical underworld of London, meets ghosts, learns magic, and falls in love with the physical embodiment of one of London’s many rivers.

*The Bone Street Rumba series by Daniel Jose Older – I just started this series but what I have read is a lot of fun. Lots of magical creatures, half dead assassins, and plenty of attitude.


The Magical Cops series by Paul Cornell :London Falling; The Severed Streets – This is a little grittier than The Rivers of London series, with saltier language and more violence, and involves a team of police gaining the ability to see, and know, the magical communities of London.

The Magic Bites Series by Ilona Andrews – I’m still interested in this series, which is set in Atlanta, and is about the re-introduction of Magic into the modern world. Its very good and the characters are lots of fun.There’s something like 9 or ten books now, along with several anthologies and shorts, and it has moved to hardcover, as well.

*The Leandros Brothers Series by Rob Thurman – I don’t ever seem to get tired of visiting this particular version of New York, where two brothers, one half human, and the other a ninja, along with their best friend, a several thousand year old Puck, named Goodfellow, hunt monsters, and cope with their traumatic pasts. It would be too grim were it not for the snarky voices of the characters, and how much all these characters truly love each other. These books have all the heartbreak of Supernatural, but with a lot more guns, and humor.

The Sandman Slim Series by Richard Kadrey – This is another series that would be too grim to read if it wasn’t for the lead character’s propensity for snark. Sandman, a nephilim,  was once a gladiator in hell. He’s saved the city of LA multiple times because of his connection to God and Lucifer. My favorite novels are whenever he gets to revisit all his old frenemies in Hell.

American Gods and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and King Rat by China Mieville.

Yeah, just read them. This is how Urban Fantasy is done.

Also: Tom Pollock’s Skyscrapers Son series, about a young man born of, and by, the city,  with the city’s magic in his blood.

The Demon in the City series by Liz Williams, starting with The Snake Agent, which is set in a magical Hong Kong, connected directly to various Hells and Heavens, which all collide and have to be sorted out by the protagonist, a magical detective, who is married to a demon.

ETA: Urban Urban Fantasy novel, Black Beauty, by Constance Burris, about young black girls dealing with colorism, growing up, and trying to survive voodoo practitioners, in the inner city. And let’s not forget: Maurice Broaddus’ Kingmaker series, which is a remix of Urban Noir, and Arthurian Fantasy, set in the inner city, with an entirely Black cast. Also,  The Underworld Cycle series by Cameron Haley, with magic, zombies, and old gods in LA. The city is a big player in the books, too.

*Anything in the Harry Dresden series by: Jim Butcher – regardless of how problematic people consider these books to be, I always have the most fun when reading this series. I love the characters and situations, and I’m not quitting these anytime soon.

*I’m sure you’ve noticed a theme going on here. Obviously, I like my Urban Fantasy to be seriously Urban. Thats the reason certain books have been left off this list. The  cities all  these characters inhabit are also characters within the story, where you can learn as much about the cities themselves, as you do its inhabitants, from the Los Angeles of Sandman Slim, to Dresden’s Chicago, and Matthew Swifts’ London, this is the type of Urban Fantasy I prefer, (and I’d read the hell out of any of the ideas suggested in the above posts.)

Another plus for having the city as a setting is there tends to be a lot more diversity of protagonists and supporting characters. All of the above stories have at least one PoC, or LGBTQ character, along with plenty of women, who are fully fleshed out characters of their own, and are important to the narrative.





2 thoughts on “We Love: Urban Fantasy

  1. Done!
    If you can recommend more books about magic in the inner city, I’d love to do a post on those one day. I’m glad to see black authors branching out into other genres while still keeping that Urban flavor. It’s still so new, and rare that I’m still up for it.

    Keep in mind I’ve read one hellovalotta books, (at one point, over 200 books a year.) It’s only been in the last five years of working full time, that my reading level has slacked off. But anything published before, maybe 2010, I’ve probably read. I loved to read some new ones though.


  2. This is so timely. I’ve been doing some urban fantasy research for my next writing project. I just finished Shadowshper by Daniel Jose Older super great. I’d also like to recommend my urban fantasy/horror book Black Beauty. The book explores beauty issues through a horror/fantasy atmosphere.


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