If you’re like me and you enjoy stumbling across good, solid urban fantasy novels, then it’s likely nothing can get your heart pumping like another avid reader sharing their best obscure finds. Here’s a short list of my favorite unsung heroes in the urban fantasy genre (and a couple of books that aren’t UF, but are worthy reads).
Child of Fire
by Harry Connolly
If you ever want an example of what kinds of tragedy can be visited on great fantasy fiction when it falls into the hands of the wrong publisher, look no further than Harry Connolly’s Twenty Palaces novels. The first book in this series, Child of Fire, was originally released by a publisher who had no idea how to market the novels, and at a time when the publishing companies were scrambling to survive amidst the onslaught of the digital book revolution. The result? This fine urban fantasy series somehow fell through the cracks and failed to reach a broader audience.
Granted, some of the series’ lack of success might have been due to the fact that it was marketed as a sort of Harry Dresden meets Jack Reacher. However, it’s actually more like Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos meets Andrew Vachss’ grim antihero Burke. The main character is pessimistic, hardened, and he approaches every moral dilemma with the sort of “better you than me” attitude that only a career criminal with hard time under their belt can muster.
For some, this makes Ray Lilly an exceptionally difficult protagonist to like. Readers should note that you have to read through several chapters before you see the small nugget of gold that is wrapped up in the leather-hard heart of Connolly’s main character. Also, you should go into reading these books knowing that it’s not your typical sugar-sweet, feel-good urban fantasy. The world Connolly paints is both unforgiving and violent. If I had to pick one urban fantasy series that could be labeled “grimdark,” this would be it.
Yet, the books are worth the effort. Connolly’s prose is tight, and his characters feel like real people. Real people who are placed in the most horrible of circumstances, true—but real nonetheless. Pick these books up if you’re not squeamish, if you’re a fan of modern takes on Lovecraftian fiction, and if you like your heroes dark, conflicted, and very, very anti-heroic.
Princess of Wands
by John Ringo
Ringo has apparently caught a lot of flack for writing action adventure novels that make the later Gor novels look tame (I haven’t read them, I’m only repeating what I hear). I think that’s probably why these books have been overlooked by UF fans, and it’s a shame.
In Princess of Wands, Ringo brings us a wickedly funny protagonist, one Barbara Everette. Barb leads a quiet suburban existence as the perfect WASP housewife; church and PTA-going, dinner on the table at six and the kids to bed at eight. Very early in the story (thankfully) she becomes fed up with being super-mom, and takes off by herself for a weekend of sleeping late and some good Cajun cooking.
But the swamp near her B&B is hiding something sinister and hungry. And well… you’ll just have to read the book to see what happens.
Ringo also recently paired up with Larry Correia to co-write a new entry in the Monster Hunter International series titled Monster Hunters Memoirs: Sinners. It’s a hilarious and fun addition to the MHI book line-up, and highly recommended if you enjoy your UF with a bit of testosterone.
by S.A. Hunt
The first thing you should know about this pick is that it’s classified as horror by most reviewers on Amazon, but it’s an urban fantasy in every sense of the term. I grabbed this book last year based entirely on the cover and intriguing title, and I’m glad I did.
“Malus domestica” is a combination of Latin and Spanish, and is the species name for the orchard apple tree. It can be translated to mean “evil things domestic” or “evil domesticant” (which makes more sense, based on the story). As a bit of a play on words, it’s a fitting title for this gem of a novel.
Robin, the main character in Malus Domestica, is everything you want a protagonist to be. She’s smart, tough, resourceful, and kind. Yet, she’s no Mary Sue, and Hunt shows you her faults in a way that only makes you root for her more. I won’t spoil the story for you by dishing on the plot, but suffice it to say that there’s plenty of evil magic done by witches that are far nastier than the tame breed showing up in UF lately.
Give it a shot if you like your UF scary, dark, and with a healthy dose of transrealism.
Psst… Check Out These Bonus Reads
And, here are two bonus books that don’t fall squarely under the urban fantasy category, but nevertheless are great, underappreciated novels.
by Matthew Woodring Stover
Obviously, this novel doesn’t neatly fall into urban fantasy, since it’s a mash-up of sci-fi and high fantasy. But if you’re into LitRPG (which I would argue is a sub-genre of urban fantasy, but I digress) let me introduce you to the novel that was LitRPG before LitRPG was cool.
Heroes Die is a genre-bending work of science fiction and fantasy that follows the exploits of one of the baddest antiheroes ever to grace the pages of fiction. Caine is truly the antihero’s antihero, the fantasy badass that all others aspire to emulate.
Okay, maybe I’m laying it on a little thick, but this book definitely deserves a spot on the fave reads shelf of any die hard fantasy reader.
by Charles Colyott
Colyott knows how to weave an engaging tale, he knows how to make you care about his characters, and he knows how to write a great mystery novel. Add in the elements of magical realism and the oh-so badass martial arts scenes, and Changes is a great book to curl up with on a lazy Sunday afternoon.