Thursday, October 20, 2011
Posted by Simcha 5:07 PM, under | 6 comments
Urban Fantasy and I have a complicated relationship. While I really like the idea of Urban Fantasy there are very few books within this genre that I've actually enjoyed. In fact, most of those that I have read irritated me so much that I couldn't even finish them. After a while I gave up searching for those gems that I knew much exist somewhere in the Urban Fantasy book world, and just stuck with those few authors whose books I didn't want to throw on the floor and stomp on.
I probably wouldn't have paid much attention to The Urban Fantasy Anthology, with its traditional UF cover image of a tank-top clad woman covered in tattoos, if its wasn't for Peter Beagle's name displayed prominently on the front. But I figured that if someone like Beagle had a hand in this book then there is probably some merit to it. And after a quick search on the Internet which brought up several favorable reviews of the book, I was eager to give it a try myself.
The Urban Fantasy Anthology is divided into three sections: Mythic Fiction, Paranormal Romance and Noir Fantasy. Each of these sections is prefaced with an essay by an author, explaining a bit about the sub-genre and how it relates to them. Charles den Lint discusses his relationship with Mythic Fantasy, Paula Guran (who I admit to not being familiar with) talks about the development of Paranormal Romance and Joel R. Lansdale comments on Noir Fantasy and some of the authors who have influenced it.
Given my experience so far with Urban Fantasy I was a bit apprehensive about what kind of stories I would find in this anthology and I'm happy to be able to tell you that I enjoyed nearly all of them.
In my mind Urban Fantasy has become synonymous with tough young women (with the aforementioned tattoos and tank tops) battling vampires and demons as they come to learn about their own inhuman abilities and/ or parentage and fall in-love (or in bed) with an equally tough and tattoo covered man. But this anthology reveled to me that there are so many other directions that an urban fantasy can take, and which might not involve any sex or tattoos at all (shocking, I know). It was a very eye-opening experience and through these stories I've come to a new appreciation of the genre, along with a list of new-to- me authors whose books I plan to seek out.
One of my favorite stories in this collection is not even an urban fantasy but since I enjoy people's true-life stories even more than their fictional ones, Neil Gaiman's piece about a visit to L.A, early in his writing career, really appealed to me. Gaiman humorously accounts some of the absurd situations he found himself in, in Hollywood, dealing with writers, movie producers and cab drivers. Though it was Gaiman's interactions with the elderly grounds keeper of his hotel that was the real heart of the story. During his stay Gaiman was regaled by this gentlemen with stories of the many known, and not so well-known, movie stars who had passed through the hotel, and especially of one particular silent-film star of whom the old grounds keeper was still enamored, almost seventy years later.
Surprisingly, the stories that I enjoyed the most were the ones in the Paranormal Romance section, since I don't usually like Paranormal Romance. I think this was because the forced brevity eliminated those sections that annoy me so much and just left the stories and their characters which were a lot more satisfying than I had expected.
In Companions to the Moon, by Charles de Lint, a woman suspects that her boyfriend of seven years is cheating on her. In order to find out the truth she decides to follow him one night when he heads out on a mysterious trip and ends up making a shocking discovery that will change everything.
In A Haunted House of her Own, by Kelly Armostrong, a couple buys a supposedly haunted coach house with plans of turning it into a inn. But after staying at the house for several days Tanya comes to suspect that the house may really be haunted, especially given her boyfriends strange behavior lately.
Since Patricia Briggs is one of the few Urban Fantasy authors that I read I was particularly looking forward to her story, Seeing Eye, which follows two minor characters from one of her Alpha and Omega books (though you don't need to have read them to appreciate the story). Moira is a young witch whose sight was destroyed years ago due to an act of deception. Tom is a werewolf whose brother has been captured by a dangerous witch coven, that no one is willing to go against. No one, that is, except for Moira. While Moira and Tom are suspicions of each other at first, the unlikely pair begin to develop feelings for each other as they work to track down Tom's brother.
In one of the darker stories in the collection, Boobs by Suzy McKee Charnes, a girl on the brink of puberty uses her new-found shape-shifting abilities to get revenge on a boy who has been harassing her at school.
And the story that touched me the most is Gestella by Susan Palwick. This story is narrated in second person, with “you” being the protagonist, a young female werewolf in-love with a man name Jonathan. Jonathan had discovered the werewolf in the alps and brought her home with him, teaching her to live as a human while reveling in her inhuman abilities. Though as the years pass by, and her once-vivid beauty starts to fade, Jonathan begins to tire of his companion, who by now has become completely reliant on him, much to her detriment.
There are many other good stories in this collection and I believe The Urban Fantasy Anthology is a book that would be greatly enjoyed by regular readers of the genre as well as those who are new to it.
Thank you to Tachyon Publications who supplied me with a copy of The Urban Fantasy Anthology for review.