When Ana from the Book Smugglers bought to my attention an article called Angry Chicks in Leather, that Urban Fantasy author Lillith Saintcrow wrote for Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, I decided to take a look. I have to admit that I have never read Lillith Saintcrow, so I am not that knowledgeable about her own Urban Fantasy series. Her article raised some interesting points in regards to the Urban Fantasy genre as well as Paranormal Romance. The tone of the article was very much, “Girl Power!”, and I was cheering Saintcrow as she made the distinction between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, and why the majority of Urban Fantasy has a strong “kick-ass” heroine. Since I am more of a newbie when it comes to Urban Fantasy, Thea, (aka Buttercup) who has more of an Urban Fantasy background than I do, decided to post her thoughts and opinions on Saintcrow’s article in regards to that. I, in turn, was asked to post my own thoughts on the statements that Saintcrow raises about the Paranormal Romance genre.
I have to admit, that for the longest time, I was confused by the difference between both of these genres. The first question I have is, what is the difference between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal? I turned to Wikipedia for theses definitions:
Urban Fantasy: is a subset of contemporary fantasy, consisting of magical novels and stories set in contemporary, real-world, urban settings--as opposed to 'traditional' fantasy set in wholly imaginary landscapes, even ones containing imaginary cities, or having most of their action take place in them. The modern urban fantasy protagonist faces extraordinary circumstances as plots unfold in either open (where magic or paranormal events are commonly accepted to exist) or closed (where magical powers or creatures are concealed) worlds.
Paranormal Romance: is a literary subgenre of the romance novel. A type of speculative fiction, paranormal romance focuses on romance and included elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from the genres of traditional fantasy, science fiction, or horror. Paranormal romance may range from traditional category romances, such as those published by Harlequin Mills & Boon, with a paranormal setting to stories where the main emphasis is on a science fiction or fantasy based plot with a romantic subplot included. Common hallmarks are romantic relationships between humans and vampires, shape shifters, or fantastical beings (the Fae, Elves, etc.).
From these two descriptions, the only different between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance is that PR has what is exactly states- a romance, where as UF does not have any romance, or if there is one, it is very subtle. But from the words of Lillith Saintcrow, she believes that Urban Fantasy is all due to the kick ass heroine, as well as having an urban environment, and the wearing of leather has become very important also. She goes on to say that because Paranormal has a romance tag to it, it keeps it from being literature just as the fantasy part in the Urban fantasy keeps it form being serious.
I also was a bit disgruntled to see this statement:
“But romance or urban fantasy? You might as well start embroidering your own scarlet letter, honey. Paranormal romance is considered lowbrow and trashy because it's female. Despite the fact that it's a multibillion-dollar business, and every dollar a woman shells out for it costs more because let's face it, we earn a lot less), it's still that pink-jacketed crap for bored housewives.”
I am trying to figure out, just because Urban Fantasy or Paranormals may have a prominent love story, or even small one, makes it less than worthy because of some supposed high brow literature snob who believes that “romance” taints books. A superior Urban Fantasy book dare not have a love story, because than that it is just pulp to appease the masses. More and more, I feel that Paranormal Romance gets the short end of the stick, that redheaded stepchild if you will, because of the belief that Paranormal Romance is:
“vampire/werewolf/something girl meets vampire/werewolf/something guy, wackiness or danger ensues, happy ending happens.”
From what I continued to read from Saintcrow, is that Urban Fantasy, which again has mainly a female protagonist, is very masculine in its telling because of the testosterone thrown around by the protagonist. The feminine attributes are taken away as well as a promise of a happily ever after. Paranormal Romance, on the other hand, has a very feminine heroine who a has a happily ever after with the man of her dreams who gives her the best sex they could both ever imagine.
Perhaps the reason for this, is that the Urban Fantasy genre is more geared towards an infinite number of books, where it is understood that the main character will never achieve their goal, because if they get what they want in book one, there would be no more books sold. Paranormal Romance is also sold as series, but at the end of each book, the main characters have achieved what they have worked so hard for, with the exception of a select few, so that the series can continue on.
One such author who is trying to breach both these genres is JR Ward. Some of her fans have become less than thrilled that she has stop calling herself a Paranormal Romance author, and now considers herself, and her popular Black Dagger Brotherhood series, to be more Urban Fantasy. There is one big important BUT here, because at the end of each one on her books, there is some sort of happily ever after. And, you can always count on some love story to keep things moving along. Yes, the action and the urban like setting is more pronounced, but there is still that underlying love story within those pages. Wouldn’t be great if Ward could be the author to straddle both Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance?
Another author I once had great hopes for was Laurell K. Hamilton, which Saintcrow also mentions. I would say that LKH was the first Urban Fantasy like author who introduced me to this genre with her Anita Blake series. Since I have read LKH, my reading preferences changed mainly because of Anita Blake. Talk about feminism and the ultimate angry chick in leather that Saintcrow is talking about! For me, the Anita Blake character started it all. Anita was so very original and fresh, unlike any woman in literature I had ever read. The first seven books or so was straight forward action and suspense, with a tough nosed woman who could handle it all without the support of man beside her. Even when Hamilton decided to break certain taboos and give Anita some sort of love story between two men, and slowly cross that line into erotica, I was still in awe, because quite honesty, I had never read anything like it up to that point. Can you imagine if Hamilton stayed on that road where Anita would juggle both men, the werewolf and the vampire, and have incredible hot sex with either of them, or at the same time as this series progressed? Or perhaps even go one step further and give us the one big happy ménage a trios we always the reader was longing for? I really, truly thought Hamilton was ready for Anita to go the distance in regards to the sexual action with Richard and Jean-Claude, but making sure Anita was always still very much in control, and on top. Unfortunately LKH decided a different path altogether for Anita.
Why can’t Urban Fantasy, as well as Paranormal Romance be considered highbrow or literature? Why is it considered to be just mainstream fiction? Just because Paranormal Romances flies off the shelves, that makes it mainstream? So, if JR Ward or Laurell K Hamilton didn’t sell, their books would their be considered masterpieces? (Or, so says Tom Glossary of Book Publishing, which was also mentioned) Urban Fantasy has many characters that are strong and intelligent, who suffer, but still can beat the odds, just like the ones in the Paranormal Romances I read. But, at least with the characters in PR, they are getting laid and are enjoying it.
I will take my characters who have the big "O" with the promise of forever with their true love any day, thank you. And if that is considered to be pulp fiction, then so be it, because if so many masses are buying what I read, then something must be right.
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