The Urban Fantasy Anthology: Not what I expected it to be

The Urban Fantasy Anthology edited by Peter S. Beagle and Joe R. LansdaleThe Urban Fantasy Anthology edited by Peter S. Beagle & Joe R. Lansdale

The Urban Fantasy Anthology edited by Peter S. Beagle and Joe R. LansdaleIt’s no secret that I’m not a fan of most urban fantasy. I tend to find problems with almost every urban fantasy book I’ve tried to read. When I got this book in the mail, I kind of rolled my eyes and shot it to the top of my “to be read” pile so I could get it over with fast. I didn’t expect to actually enjoy this book. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d open this anthology and think, “hot damn, this is good stuff…” but I did. I cracked open this book, started reading, and shocked myself by enjoying it.

As with every anthology, not every story will be a hit. Where The Urban Fantasy Anthology seems to differ from many other anthologies was the fact that the stories all appealed to me differently due to their plots, not due to their quality, which is the case with many other anthologies. This book is filled with some heavy-hitting authors like Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Patricia Briggs, Emma Bull, and many more. With names that famous in the speculative fiction genre, the stories better be high quality, and they are.

Another surprise with The Urban Fantasy Anthology was the fact that each story was so different than what I expected it to be. Despite what the cover shows, there really weren’t any tattooed heroines who are overly tough (yet jaded by love) falling head-over-heels for the first mysterious hunk they come across. No, this anthology was broken into three distinct sections, Mythic Fiction, Paranormal Romance, and Noir Fantasy, and none of them are what you’d expect them to be (except maybe Mythic Fiction).

Each section starts with a brief essay discussing the history and importance of the specific portion of urban fantasy that they are highlighting, after which the stories begin. Mythic Fiction and Noir Fantasy are filled with some incredibly powerful and well-written stories that will stick with the reader long after they finish reading. However, Paranormal Romance suffers quite a bit beside those two sections. The stories included are rather awkward and don’t really seem to fit in with the section they are supposed to be part of. None of the stories are very romantic, and the endings are pretty grim, which isn’t the case for most paranormal romance you’ll find in book stores. I’m not sure if Peter S. Beagle and Joe R. Lansdale were trying to broaden the paranormal sub-genre or what, but the stories, while good, left me feeling like they were the genre’s awkward step-children who had no real place to belong.

The Urban Fantasy Anthology is dark. Mythologies and common perceptions of the genre are turned on their heads. There are more dismal endings than happy ones, which may surprise some readers when considering the genre this book is part of. While I don’t really feel like I have a better understanding of current urban fantasy trends, this book did make me realize that if more urban fantasy books were written like these stories, I would probably be a huge fan of the genre instead of the pooh-pooher that I tend to be now. That being said, I do feel that the editors included stories in the book that seek to broaden current urban fantasy, rather than stories that show what current urban fantasy trends are.

In the end, this is a strong book. I enjoyed it immensely, more for the fact that I didn’t expect to enjoy it rather than the feeling that any of the stories were absolutely mind blowing or amazing. While I do feel that this anthology doesn’t show the current urban fantasy trends, it does show what urban fantasy could be (and is, if you search hard enough for the right books). The Urban Fantasy Anthology isn’t what you’d expect it to be, and for someone as jaded with urban fantasy as I am, that’s the absolute highest compliment I could ever pay it.

Published in 2011. Star-studded and comprehensive, this imaginative anthology brings a myriad of modern fantasy voices under one roof. Previously difficult for readers to discover in its new modes, urban fantasy is represented here in all three of its distinct styles — playful new mythologies, sexy paranormal romances, and gritty urban noir. Whether they feature tattooed demon-hunters, angst-ridden vampires, supernatural gumshoes, or pixelated pixies, these authors — including Patricia Briggs, Neil Gaiman, and Charles de Lint—mash-up traditional fare with pop culture, creating iconic characters, conflicted moralities, and complex settings. The result is starkly original fiction that has broad-based appeal and is immensely entertaining.

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SARAH CHORN, one of our regular guest reviewers, has been a compulsive reader her whole life, and early on found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a published photographer, world traveler and recent college graduate and mother. Sarah keeps a blog at Bookworm Blues.

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