25 Great Urban Fantasy Series
Urban Fantasy is a slippery sort of sub-genre, but to me, calling a book urban fantasy means it is set in a modern, urban society with an overlay of fantasy elements (e.g., magic, monsters, etc). However you define it, it’s been a wildly popular field for some time and there’s lots of great books out there. Randy does the selction and purchasing of fantasy, science fiction and horror books for our library, and listed below are his suggested Urban Fantasy titles. His favorites are marked with a star ( )
|Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch
(First in the Peter Grant series)
From Publisher’s Weekly: “In this fast-paced paranormal police procedural, Aaronovitch introduces Peter Grant, a rookie cop who can see ghosts. This unusual talent saves him from a potential life of office work when Chief Insp. Thomas Nightingale sends him for wizard training. Britain’s police force has long known of the supernatural, and Grant is to assist Nightingale in solving many of London’s magical problems-most notably, the mysterious string of violent attacks that tend to end with the perpetrator’s face falling off. As the brutal epidemic spreads, Grant must race to finish his magic lessons and solve an ages-long dispute between the rivers of Britain. Though the novel sometimes feels just a little too jam-packed with plot points and adventures, it’s witty, fun, and full of vivid characters, and the plot twists will keep even seasoned mystery fans guessing.
|Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
First in the Kate Daniels series.
From the Barnes & Noble Review: “Ilona Andrews’s Magic Bites features saber-wielding heroine Kate Daniels, a “magic-touting mercenary” who investigates the brutal murder of her legal guardian only to be pulled into a volatile power struggle between two rival groups within Atlanta’s supernatural community.
Atlanta is a city immersed in magic. Like the tides, when the magic is up, modern technology fails (guns don’t fire, cars don’t start, etc.) and magicians and other supernatural beings rule the world. In the midst of all this are organizations like the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid whose mission it is to keep the peace. But when knight-diviner Greg Feldman — the guardian of Daniels — is ripped to shreds by some unknown monstrosity, the butt-kicking heroine vows to avenge his murder at any cost. Her investigation, however, places her directly between the Pack, a powerful clan of shape-changers, and the Masters of the Dead, a group of necromancers who control a virtual army of vampires… [T]he strength of this novel comes from brilliant pacing and atmosphere. The narrative is as fluid as it is direct; and Andrews’s dark and lyrical description of the supernatural underworld of Atlanta — especially at night — masterfully draws the reader into her urban fantasy realm.”
|Borderline by Mishell Baker
(First in The Arcadia Project series)
From Publisher’s Weekly: “Fully articulated, flawed, and fascinating characters combine with masterly urban fantasy storytelling in Baker’s debut novel. Millie, a former filmmaker, is a lost soul in soulless Los Angeles. A suicide attempt has left her body broken, and a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder both shatters and relieves her. She’s at loose ends until a mysterious woman named Caryl comes to the mental institution where Millie lives to offer her a job with a secret group called the Arcadia Project. A fae noble has gone missing, and Millie’s unique skills and perspective are needed to bring him home before interdimensional war breaks out. Not only does Millie have to learn to navigate life outside an institutional setting, but she also has to transition to a new normal, one that incorporates both mental and physical challenges. The richly nuanced presentation of Millie’s multiple diagnoses allows for a deeper knowledge of the character, which, in turn, serves to enhance an already beautifully written story that is one part mystery, one part fantasy, and wholly engrossing.”
|Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein
First in the Fated Blades series.
From Publisher’s Weekly: “Bein’s gripping debut is a meticulously researched, highly detailed blend of urban and historical fantasy set in modern Tokyo. Det. Sgt. Mariko Oshiro is fighting an uphill battle against sexism and tradition in the narcotics division of the Tokyo police. Her antagonistic boss assigns her to a mundane case involving the attempted theft of a sword, but it gets a lot less boring when Mariko winds up on the trail of a ruthless killer. As she learns the hidden history behind a trio of ancient magical swords, she discovers that she may be destined to wield one of them. Alternating segments switch between Mariko’s present-day adventures and other owners of the swords throughout history. Bein’s scrupulous attention to verisimilitude helps bring all the settings to life, respectfully showcasing Japan’s distinctive cultures and attitudes.”
|Written in Red by Anne Bishop
(First in The Others series)
From Library Journal: “Meg Corbyn is a cassandra sangue, a blood prophet who sees the future when her skin is cut. Along with others like her, she has lived under the tight reins of her Controllers, with no actual experiences of the real world. Knowing that eventually blood prophets lose their usefulness and, usually, their lives, Meg seeks refuge at the Lakeside Courtyard, a part of the city owned and operated by the Others-shapeshifters and other supernatural creatures. Even though the Others have ample reasons to despise humans, they give Meg a job as the Human Liaison, dealing with the elements in the outside world that do business with the shapeshifters. As Meg learns more about both the world of experience and the society of the Others, she also becomes aware that her Controllers are not going to let her go without a fight. VERDICT The award-winning author of the Black Jewels series continues to craft well-plotted fantasy that is filled with sensuality and detail and populated with characters who compel the reader’s attention.”
|Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore
First in the Eric Carter series.
From Publisher’s Weekly: “Fifteen years after necromancer Eric Carter last saw his younger sister Lucy, he’s devastated to learn that some “thing” tore her apart in her home. Despite their earlier estrangement, Carter drops everything to investigate, but what he uncovers increases his feelings of guilt: the killer left a hidden message that only he could read, making it clear that Lucy was just a convenient route to Carter. Blackmoore employs Chandleresque prose (“The Port of Los Angeles sits on the edge of an industrial pit called Wilmington that stinks of diesel, burnt oil, and dead dreams”) to smoothly incorporate a hard-boiled sense of urban despair into a paranormal plot, with occasional leavening provided by smart-aleck humor. Urban fantasy readers will appreciate the polished, assured writing and hope for a bevy of sequels.”
|Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
First in the Mercy Thompson series.
Mercy Thompson is a shapeshifter, and while she was raised by werewolves, she can never be one of them, especially after the pack ran her off for having a forbidden love affair. So she’s turned her talent for fixing cars into a business and now runs a one-woman mechanic shop in the Tri-Cities area of Washington State. But Mercy’s two worlds are colliding. A half-starved teenage boy arrives at her shop looking for work, only to reveal that he’s a newly changed werewolf–on the run and desperately trying to control his animal instincts. Mercy asks her neighbor Adam Hauptman, the Alpha of the local werewolf pack, for assistance. But Mercy’s act of kindness has unexpected consequences that leave her no choice but to seek help from those she once considered family–the werewolves who abandoned her…
|Storm Front by Jim Butcher
First in the Dresden Files.
From the publisher: “In the first novel in the #1 New York Times bestselling Dresden Files series, Harry Dresden’s investigation of a grisly double murder pulls him into the darkest depths of magical Chicago… As a professional wizard, Harry Dresden knows firsthand that the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most of them don’t play well with humans. And those that do enjoy playing with humans far too much. He also knows he’s the best at what he does. Technically, he’s the only at what he does. But even though Harry is the only game in town, business—to put it mildly, stinks. So when the Chicago P.D. bring him in to consult on a double homicide committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name…”
|The Devil You Know by Mike Carey
First in the Felix Castor series.
From Publisher’s Weekly: *starred review* “A violent ghost in a world where spirits are rarely mean-spirited is a clue to a deeper mystery in this engrossing dark fantasy debut from comics-writer Carey. Felix Fix Castor is an itinerant exorcist who (like a certain famous group of Hollywood ghost-evicters) alternates between dispatching spooks and doing stage magic at ungrateful children’s birthday parties. When he’s summoned to end a haunting at London’s prestigious Bonnington Archive, he finds a vengeful specter with a blood-veiled face that resists methods for extirpating the usually docile dead. When Castor begins probing more deeply, he quickly finds himself harassed by a ravenous succubus, a belligerent fellow exorcist and a slimy Eastern European pimp. The resolution of this ingeniously multilayered tale will satisfy fans of both fantasy and detective fiction. Fix Castor’s wisecracking cleverness in the face of weird nemeses makes him the perfect hardboiled hero for a new supernatural noir series.”
|Spider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep
First in the Elemental Assassin series
From Publisher’s Weekly: “Bodies litter the pages of this first entry in Estep’s engrossing Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series. In the corrupt Southern metropolis of Ashland, weather witches mingle with vampires, giants, and dwarves. A mysterious client hires assassin Gin Blanco, known as the Spider, to murder a whistle-blowing financial officer named Gordon Giles. Then the client attempts a double cross and brutally kills Gin’s mentor. Now Gin, a stone elemental with a hard-boiled attitude, a closely guarded heart, and a penchant for throwing knives, has to join forces with one of the few honest cops in Ashland, sexy detective Donovan Caine, who hates her for killing his partner. Fans of Estep’s humorous paranormal romances may be taken aback by the gritty violence and steamy sex, but urban fantasy fans will love it.”
|Bookburners: Season 1 by Max Gladstone et al
(First in the Bookburners series)
From Publisher’s Weekly: “This perfectly fluffy urban fantasy yarn, a compiled “season” of 16 serial “episodes” (all published online by Serial Box as both text and audio), begins with NYPD detective Sal Brooks rescuing her brother, Perry, from demonic possession with the unexpected aid of a team from the Vatican Black Archives: cool ultra-warrior Grace, hunky master hacker Liam, magic-dabbling archivist Asanti, and doubt-tormented moral lynchpin Father Menchu. Perry remains in a coma, so Sal joins the team on their mission to confiscate the books that demons use as portals into our world. The action jumps around the globe, with side trips to other dimensions, while the writing briskly slides between vividly horrific and flippantly camp. The plot becomes agreeably complicated as Sal and her friends frantically tamp down fresh outbreaks of magic even as experience blurs their notions of good and evil. Reading all 16 episodes in one go is as much fun as binge-watching a full season of a Showtime series.”
|Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
First in The Hollows series
From the Barnes & Noble Review: “Set in and around an alternate Cincinnati where Inderlanders (witches, vampires, werewolves, faeries, etc.) have officially been recognized, the novel begins with Harrison’s leather-loving hero, Rachel Morgan, quitting her job as a runner (a kind of supernatural bounty hunter) for Inderland Security. The only problem is that no one walks away from Inderland Security — and lives. Her boss, an ill-tempered ghoul named Denon, immediately puts out a contract on her, and within a matter of hours, her life is officially forfeit. She finds herself evicted from her apartment and almost assassinated on a city bus. Thank God for friends. With the help of Ivy Tamwood, a non-practicing vampire, and Jenks, a temperamental pixie, Rachel tries to begin a new life by starting an independent investigation service based in an old church in an area called the Hollows. But first she must survive the week!”
|Graveyard Shift by Michael Haspil
First (and only, so far) in the series.
From Booklist: “This action-packed and fast-paced story begins with a murder investigation, plunging the reader into a world rife with intrigue, corruption, and a general sense of unrest. Alex, a reincarnated mummy, and his partner, Marcus, a Roman vampire, are detectives in the Miami Police Department, working in a special-forces group to address crimes that no one else will touch. Vampires have integrated into society as a result of synthetic blood, enabling them to walk among the living without the threat of feeding on them. But while the new society seems utopian, underneath the harmony lies tensions between the living and the undead, and a rash of vampire-related crimes across the city threatens to disturb the newfound peace. Haspil weaves elements from the old noir films as the detectives race to bring down a conspiracy to sabotage the vampires’ safe blood source. Fans of Jim Butcher will enjoy a fresh take on this supernatural crime novel that puts its own spin on the genre. Part crime novel and part fantasy, Graveyard Shift is a bloody good read.”
|Hounded by Kevin Hearne
(First in the Iron Druid Chronicles)
From Publisher’s Weekly: “Hearne, a self-professed comic-book nerd, has turned his love of awesome dudes whacking mightily at evil villains into a superb urban fantasy debut. Staying alive for 2,000 years takes a great deal of cunning, and sexy super-druid Atticus O’Sullivan, currently holed up in the Arizona desert, has vexed a few VIPs along the way. High up on that list is Aenghus Og, the Celtic god of love. It’s not just that Aenghus wants his sword back-though it is a very nice magical sword-but that Atticus didn’t exactly ask permission to take it. Atticus and his trusty sidekick, Irish wolfhound Oberon, make an eminently readable daring duo as they dodge Aenghus’s minions and thwart his schemes with plenty of quips and zap-pow-bang fighting.”
|Blood of the Earth by Faith Hunter
First in the Soulwood series.
From Library Journal: “When Nell Nicholson Ingram met skinwalker Jane Yellowrock, she had been exiled by the cult she was raised in, God’s Cloud of Glory. Nell has power, and her connection to the forest that surrounds her Soulwood Farm protects her. After Jane refers her to PsyLED, a federal agency that polices paranormals, Nell gets drawn into the investigation of an antiparanormal terrorist group called Human Speakers of Truth. Joining this PsyLED team will bring Nell back into the world—one full of strangers and possible friends, and the Blood Master of Nashville. When the Master’s vassal is kidnapped, Nell and her team are forced to go deep into the heart of the very cult Nell fears. VERDICT Hunter introduces a new heroine with ties to her “Skinwalker” series that will please fans of those books. Plenty of action, magic, and fascinating characters, both familiar and new, create another terrific urban fantasy from an established author.”
|Fated by Benedict Jacka
First in the Alex Verus series.
From Publisher’s Weekly: “Jacka’s extremely promising urban fantasy series starter introduces cheeky British diviner Alex Verus, who’s caught in the middle of a conflict between Light and Dark mages over an ancient magical weapon. Alex can not only see all possible futures but can often choose which ones to make real, so both sides want to use him as a tool. Alex, alienated from other mages because he has developed empathy for the beings around him, refuses to take sides. To save himself and his dependents-Luna, a lonely, cursed young woman, and Starbreeze, an ancient air elemental who’s “dumb as a sack of rocks”-he’s forced to think and move nimbly through London and its associated magical realms. Jacka deftly invents the rules of magic as he goes along, creating an emotionally satisfying story arc and a protagonist who will keep readers coming back.”
|Charming by Elliott James
First in the Pax Arcana series.
From Library Journal; “John Charming, formerly a member of the modern Knights Templar and sworn to protect mortals from supernatural threats until he was infected by a werewolf, now tends bar under an assumed name in a small Virginia town. When a stunning blonde and a vampire intent on creating havoc enter his bar on the same night, he embarks on a strange partnership that leads him to confront his true nature as well as his destiny. VERDICT This debut introduces a self-deprecating, wisecracking, and honorable-to-a-fault hero who can stand up to such established protagonists as Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden and Seanan McGuire’s October Daye. Combining action and romance-with an emphasis on action-this is a top-notch new series opener for lovers of urban fantasy.”
|Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
First in the Sandman Slim series.
James Stark’s great rep got him sent to hell. When his fame as a teenage magician attracted the attention of demons, they snatched him up and dispatched him to the inferno, where he spent the next 11 years as a sideshow freak entertaining Satan’s minions. Now released and hell-bent for revenge, Stark loses no time seeking out the dark magic cabal that nearly destroyed him; but he soon discovers that in the war between heaven and hell, he is not the only one with big plans.
|Jade City by Fonda Lee
First (and only, so far) in the Green Bone Saga.
From Library Journal: “For centuries, the Green Bone warriors defended the island of Kekon from foreign invasion by using jade to enhance their physical and mental abilities. But now the peace is disintegrating as rival families compete to control Janloon, the capital city. Heading the No Peak clan are the Kauls. Eldest son Lan leads as Pillar, but he struggles with health issues and his grandfather’s efforts to seize control; sister Shae gave up her jade when she chose another path, but she has reluctantly been brought back into the family; youngest brother Hilo wields power as the Horn but is burdened by family issues. Yet as the Mountain clan, led by the notorious Ayt family, moves onto No Peak’s territory, and the Kauls try to stop their inevitable slide into clan war, the siblings discover much more is wrong beneath the surface tensions. VERDICT Making her adult fiction debut, YA author Lee (Zeroboxer) draws on her Chinese heritage, passion for gangster stories, and strong writing to launch a Godfather-inspired fantasy series that mixes bold martial-arts action and vivid worldbuilding. The result is terrific.”
|Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
(First in the October Daye series)
From Booklist: “*Starred Review* October Daye is half human and half Fae and a licensed PI. It was her last case for the local duke (and her liege lord) that caused her to end up as a carp in the Japanese Tea Gardens for 14 years. Alone and still recovering (it’s not easy being a carp), Toby resists taking up any more PI work and avoids everything Fae. But what she can’t resist is a death-fueled charm wielded by one of San Francisco’s oldest faeries, which requires her to discover Countess Winterrose’s killer. Toby’s investigation gets off to a dramatic start as she dodges hired hit men and silver bullets, continuing at a frenetic pace as it becomes clear that the supreme powers in the local faerie world are all involved in the case. The brisk pacing, the effective mixing of human and magical characters, and the PI ambience all make this an excellent choice for fans of Butcher’s Harry Dresden series. Toby is nearly as troubled and lonely as Harry, equally fond of her cats, and just as likely to sacrifice herself to save someone else. Toby’s unusual heritage and her uneasy relationships with her mother’s family will remind readers of Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series, and Thompson fans will appreciate Toby’s tough and self-reliant character. This outstanding first novel is a must for fans of genre-bending blends of crime and fantasy.”
|The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
First in The Checquy Files series.
From Booklist: “This Australian author’s first novel adroitly straddles the thin line between fantasy, thriller, and spoof. Myfanwy Thomas awakens in a park with no memory of who she is and not a clue about whom all these dead bodies belong to or why they’re all wearing latex gloves. Finding an envelope in her pocket, she reads the letter inside and discovers that she is an executive in a shadowy organization, the Checquy Group, that keeps the world safe from all manner of supernatural threats. And apparently, Myfanwy has been plunked down, memory-less, at a time when an ancient enemy of the Checquy Group is massing for a resurgence. The book has, in approximately equal measures, an X-Men vibe (the Checguy Group runs a boarding school for gifted youngsters) and a Tom Holt vibe (the story is about an ordinary woman thrust into an extraordinary world and scrambling to play catch-up). O’Malley is a nimble writer, effortlessly leaping back and forth between comedy and action. There’s plenty of room here for a sequel that readers will no doubt begin clamoring for before they’ve even finished this book.”
|Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older
First in the Bone Street Rumba series.
From Publisher’s Weekly: “Older’s debut novel, which launches the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, pits half-dead Carlos Delacruz, an agent for the New York Council for the Dead, against an ancient sorcerer. Carlos (familiar from stories in Older’s collection, Salsa Nocturna) is an inbetweener, “alive and dead at the same time,” with no memory of his past. He and other COD agents work to protect the mortal world and the land of the dead from each other. The task of removing some annoying imps gets complicated fast when Carlos learns that they herald the arrival of Sarco, a powerful spirit bent on destroying the barriers between the living and the Underworld. Carlos is a winning protagonist, with a murky past, troubled present, and smart, smart-ass narrative voice. Older’s magical New York City is fresh and richly envisioned, a gritty and genuine urban setting rife with strange forces and thoroughly enlivened by the fixers, dealers, and supernatural creatures who inhabit it. Fans of urban fantasy will greatly enjoy this entirely lively novel.”
|Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
First in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy.
From Publisher’s Weekly: “National Book Award finalist Taylor again weaves a masterful mix of reality and fantasy with cross-genre appeal. Exquisitely written and beautifully paced, the tale is set in ghostly, romantic Prague, where 17-year-old Karou is an art student-except when she is called “home” to do errands for the family of loving, albeit inhuman, creatures who raised her. Mysterious as Karou seems to her friends, her life is equally mysterious to her: How did she come to live with chimaera? Why does paternal Brimstone eternally require teeth-especially human ones? And why is she “plagued by the notion that she wasn’t whole…. a sensation akin to having forgotten something?” Taylor interlaces cleverly droll depictions of contemporary teenage life with equally believable portrayals of terrifying otherworldly beings. When black handprints begin appearing on doorways throughout the world, Karou is swept into the ancient deadly rivalry between devils and angels and gradually, painfully, acquires her longed-for self-knowledge. The book’s final pages seemingly establish the triumph of true love-until a horrifying revelation sets the stage for a second book.”
|California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout
(First in Daniel Blackland series)
From Library Journal: *starred review* “In the Southern Kingdom of California, Daniel Blackland is a thief and an osteomancer, able to use the magic imbued in certain bones to give himself power. As a child he witnessed the killing of his father by the mysterious ruler known as the Hierarch and then went underground. The local crime lord wants to hire him for a job, but Daniel isn’t interested until he hears that it might finally be a chance for him to steal back a weapon made by his father that contains Daniel’s own bones. He puts together a crew to break into the Hierarch’s compound, but even the best thieves in Los Angeles are going to have a hard time stealing from the most powerful man in California. VERDICT In van Eekhout’s first hardcover for adult readers, a combination of caper novel and urban fantasy packs a wallop. Daniel and his team banter even while up to their necks in danger, and the magic system in which eating the bones and flesh of creatures can grant you their power is unique and fascinating (if a little icky). Highly recommended.”
|Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
First in the Miriam Black series.
From Publisher’s Weekly: “In this horror-tinged adventure, Wendig (Double Dead) plays with the concepts of predestination and free will. Miriam Black, cursed to know the destined death of anyone she touches, has resigned herself to acting as an agent of fate, facilitating deaths and looting the bodies left in her wake. Then she meets trucker Louis Darling and discovers that she’ll be present at his murder in the near future. In a rare attempt to defy destiny, she abandons Louis, only to end up as the unwilling accomplice of con man Ashley Gaines. This brings her back into contact with Louis, and gets the attention of a merciless band of murderous criminals who prove that although Miriam can see the future, it’s near-impossible to change it. Visceral and often brutal, this tale vibrates with emotional rawness that helps to paint a bleak, unrelenting picture of life on the edge.”
Except as noted, annotations are supplied from the SELCO catalog