Once upon a time…. long, long ago…. Laurell K. Hamilton wrote actual urban fantasy. It wasn’t very GOOD, but at least something interesting was going on.
Then she got divorced from her first husband, hooked up with a fanboy, and decided to turn her entire series into one long naked run with weird fetishes, borderline pedophilia, and her Sue just becoming more and more of an batshit goddess of evil with every new book. She’s made some token attempts to get back to that pesky plot thing, but keeps getting bored and going back to Anita being
So instead of being nestled among horribly written vampire porn,what should you read instead?
These are now considered some of the best examples of the genre. The first two books are kinda wobbly and generic, but it really gets brilliant with the third one, and everything goes up up and away after that.
One of the best things about this series is how incredibly full and well-populated this universe is – you’ve got three different breeds of vampires, five kinds of werewolves, ghosts, faeries of two courts plus an array of others, wizards, holy Knights, angels, a talking skull, ghouls, zombies, demons, the Fallen, and whatever else Butcher wants to throw into the mix. And yet his books never feel crowded or busy, mainly because he doesn’t include everything into every book – and he weaves together stuff like vampires and the mafia. Furthermore, he takes the series in places that most UF series never dare to go, including KILLING the main character and enslaving him to a cruel faerie queen, killing whole species and introducing others.
And even better, his books are so GEEKY and genre-savvy. Quite a few homages to the great JRR Tolkien, lots ofStar Wars gags, Monty Python jokes, and mockery of silly genre cliches like the bad guy standing there talking about his evil plan. It also has some awesome moments like a vampire being killed by a frozen turkey, human cop Murphy slaughtering a plant fae with a chainsaw in Wal-mart and… well just look!
It’s a zombie T-rex running through the streets of Chicago, being controlled by a mortician playing a one-man polka suit. Does it get any more awesome than THAT?
And now we have Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series.
On the surface, this seems like just another Anita Blake knockoff: tough woman with awesome weapons who is underappreciated in her job and spends a lot of time dealing with weres, vampires and so on. However, Andrews succeeds at EVERYTHING Hamilton fails at. Kate starts off a little too angry, but soon she becomes a really strong, take-charge heroine who has some rather shocking secrets in her past. AND she pals around with a pretty-faced traumatized werewolf teen, and does NOT have sex with him, nor does she seem interested in it. Try finding THAT elsewhere in urbfan.
Additionally,her world is REALLY brilliant and dark, with magical waves that knock out technology, and an Atlantis swarming with monstrous vampires, sorcerers and weres ruled by a werelion. So if you want a tough kickass female character, look no further than this.
And then we have Seanan McGuire’s series:
… which is all about a half-fae outcast who keeps getting sucked into that fantasy society despite her attempts to have a “normal” life. This author really gets what mesmerizes us about fae creatures, and manages to make them seem cruel without being cartoonish. There’s also a very gritty feel to this series that makes it awesome. Speaking of which…
This is the trilogy that spawned all those “girl discovers she’s a faerie and falls for a fae hottie” knockoffs that are currently flooding the YA market, but Black’s writing really elevates this idea. Very gritty, funny and full of brilliant little touches, also a dead-sexy fae warrior love interest. Which leads me to
which is a similarly gritty urban fantasy that focuses on curse workers, who are able to basically cast spells just by touching bare skin. The main character is a really awesome one, in that we’re kept wondering through most of the book if he murdered his best friend, and why he would do so. There are a lot of great twists.
This guy really came up with a cool but potentially disastrous idea: what if the president had a vampire who is a secret agent, and who deals with all sorts of crazy supernatural shit across the world? Even though LKH fancies herself to be the manliest man to ever have a vagina, this book is pure MAN – you’ve got action, gore, warfare, zombies, and a kickass vampire who doesn’t wangst or whine even though he truly believes himself to be damned.
There aren’t a lot of epic vampire novels, but this guy has actually come up with one: a postapocalyptic story about a US that’s been wrecked by insectoid vampires. Is it flawed? Hell yeah! But you gotta admit that Cronin has a lot of ambition, and he really knows how to freak you out along the way.
Guillermo del Toro/Chuck Hogan
If you’re a fan of urban fantasy movies, you probably already know that this guy directed Blade II. But he also recently got started on the literary vampire train, and if you like dark, gory and horrendous stories you will probably enjoy this trilogy – the vampires are just so HORRIBLE and grotesque, and it’s made even cooler because there’s an elite class of ubervampire who’s ruling over it all. Also: NUCLEAR EXPLOSIONS at the climax. Is that cool or what?
This is another series that follows through on the storytelling promise that LKH had – a cool heroine who strikes a good balance between smarts and toughness, and who lives in a world of secret werewolves, fae and vampires. Mercy is a really nice, unpretentious heroine (she’s a car mechanic), and Briggs does a great job of sketching out a complex subculture for the weres and the people in the local werewolf pack.
And Briggs has come out with a spinoff series set in the same universe, but with an all-new cast.
This one is all about a young werewolf Omega who has been badly abused by her old pack, and who is rescued by the Marrok’s son Charles. Anna is a very different heroine from Mercy, in that she’s been beaten down and treated like crap for years so she’s kind of timid, and because she’s also an Omega werewolf – she makes other werewolves feel calmer and better, which is a very necessary trait in this series. And the way it’s written is very different from Briggs’ Mercy books, because here we’re in the middle of lots of high-stakes werewolf…. stuff.
The author describes this book on her site as her “adventure novel about a neurotic vampire/thief and her wealthy blind client, now with Bonus! Cuban drag queen and military intrigue.” Who could want more?!
And yes, this is a clever, edgy, action-packed urban fantasy series with a clever heroine and lots of good writing.
This talented woman was doing what LKH prides herself in doing long before anyone else. You know, the tough woman detective uncovering supernatural perils with the aid of a sexy bisexual vampire… except Vicky Nelson actually DOES uncover supernatural perils, and the sexy vampire isn’t a Pepe Le Pew cartoon, but the son of Henry VIII. This are… the Blood Books!
And yes, there’s a TV series made out of this, which tragically was cancelled instead of the current glut of vampire crap that we’re being assaulted with. It was really good and had some great actors in it, especially the yummy Kyle Schmid. I know this is a “what to read” list, but this is just such a good series that I’ll cheat.
And now we have Kitty, who is sort of the antithesis of most urban fantasy women. She isn’t outwardly sexy, her job isn’t exactly kickass, she starts off as an abused lower-tier wolf in a rotten pack, she’s monogamous, and she has to work her ass off to develop self-confidence and strength. But she does, and while the first book is kind of depressing, Vaughn really gets awesome in the books that come after it. Also has some delicious jabs at the Anita Blake series, and one of the few urban fantasy heroines who gets married!
And recently Vaughn has been expanding out in some different urbfan stories, such as Discord’s Apple, which is a really well-done time-spanning fantasy about a family entrusted with a storeroom filled with mythical objects. Arthurian stuff, faeries, gods and the Trojan War!
P. N. Elrod
Elrod is another one of those authors who was doing what LKH says she does, even though she doesn’t really do it. In this case: vampire noir, with a hard-bitten vampire detective and his partner solving crimes in 1920s Chicago. Very gritty, hard and edgy, and the detectives are really awesome in a Humphrey Bogarty kind of way.
Simon R. Green
The Nightside series is kind of like the Dresden Files if Lewis Carroll had written it – the wise-cracking main character is a lot like Harry Dresden, but the world he’s in is a dangerous, wild, crazy place where anything can happen and usually does. It can be kinda light on plot, but Green has a lot of great ideas and he just splatters them all over.
And then we have the Secret Histories series, which is set in the same universe but a very different part of it. This centers on the Drood family, who are a sort of supernatural mafia family except they think that controlling the supernatural world is just fine. They also have an evil secret in the first book, which ne’er-do-well Eddie Drood has to somehow unravel so he can set things right. It’s not as imaginative or fun as the Nightside series, but it’s still pretty entertaining.