The Differences Between Urban and Contemporary Fantasy

As we touched on just barely during the Subgenre Study, while many people consider urban and contemporary fantasy to be synonymous, they’re not actually.

Examples!

  • Story 1 takes place in modern times in a major city. The story is both urban and contemporary fantasy.
  • Story 2 takes place in London in the 1800s. The story is urban but not contemporary fantasy.
  • Story 3 takes place on an isolated farm in modern times. The story is contemporary but not urban fantasy. (My story, To the Waters and the Wild, featured in The Best of Turtleduck Press, Vol I, is this.)

The reason the two are synonymous to most people is because, in most cases, stories fall into category 1 above. And you can argue that most modern settings–even small towns–can be interpreted as “urban” because the growing omnipresence of technology, even in more remote areas, changes the feel of the location.

I’ve read a lot of category 1 and a few things in category 3, but I may be reading my first category 2 now. It’s Libby Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty.

It’s not that I haven’t read fantasy before that takes place in a historical setting and a city. But, as we talked about a lot throughout the Subgenre Studies, intent has a lot to do with perceived subgenre. For example, something like the Temeraire series could technically be considered urban fantasy in places, but it reads more like historical fantasy. And books like The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters could probably be considered urban fantasy as well, but it reads more steampunk. (Which, if one wants to get really into it, probably could be a subgenre of the urban fantasy subgenre. But then you get a little too “Yo I heard you like subgenres so I put subgenres in your subgenres” for me.)

This feels exactly like any YA urban fantasy you’d pick up anywhere. It’s first person present tense. It follows all the main urban fantasy tropes. The only difference is that it takes place in the late 1800s and there are occasional mentions of bodices. So, yes, it may be the first true case of an urban, but not contemporary, fantasy I’ve ever read.

What do you think, Squiders? Do you have examples of urban, but not contemporary, stories that you’ve read?

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