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24 August 2010 @ 08:49 am
Book Discussion: Midnight Never Come and In Ashes Lie, by Marie Brennan  
Hello. :)

One thing that struck me about both Midnight Never Come and In Ashes Lie is the setting. After having read a great many faery stories set in modern urban settings, I did not find much of a difference between today's New York and Elizabeth's London, in terms of the fae population. They live in their own version of the city, touching the human world while not being of it, and it raised the following questions in my mind:

Is it still "urban fantasy" if it's historical? Does "urban" necessarily mean "modern", or is it only a city setting that's required to classify a work as urban? Do you think there's a more accurate label, such as "alternate historical fantasy" or something else?

Does it even matter, to you as a reader, or do you think such categories are more useful for marketing and bookstore shelving?

HEY, BIRDS, HERE ARE COOKIES!: Breatheluminousmarble on August 24th, 2010 10:08 pm (UTC)
I think so! Meaning, I think that the shape and feeling of a city lends a different flavor to fantasy, and lends opportunities to explore fantasy and city living. For example, there's a difference between sneaking across the countryside and down a dark alley, between tackling Mt. Doom or sneaking into governmental headquarters. And hiding out! Caves vs. markets... But those are just trappings, I know; for me, it's in the (attempted) order of a city versus the more organic countryside.

I think that urban fantasy can fit anything historical, and I like it to describe alternate history fantasy where a city has an important role, but I'd argue with myself that when "urban" and "fantasy" are written as one term, it's got a meaning more and more of "vampires in a modern city."
shveta_thakrar on August 25th, 2010 01:32 am (UTC)
Interesting. When I read the books, the London atmosphere did have its own feel for me. But to answer your question, I think a historical urban fantasy is still an urban fantasy. The fae are of London just as much as they're apart from it. I can't picture the story happening in the countryside, for example.
Tour Guide Barbiekinderjedi on August 25th, 2010 01:46 am (UTC)
I don't think urban necessarily implies modern; I think any tale set in a city setting qualifies as urban. Certainly a story can be both urban and historical, or modern, or any other qualifier to further identify the time and place.
shui_longshui_long on August 25th, 2010 06:53 pm (UTC)
As a reader, I find categories largely irrelevant - and sometimes actively misleading. Good writing rarely fits neatly into a single category; and anyone restricting their reading to a category determined by the marketing droids is going to miss out on a lot of good writing. The publishers appear to have decided that "Urban Fantasy" sells; and that "Urban Fantasy" and "Paranormal Romance" are close enough to be interchangeable - which I wouldn't agree. But I wouldn't classify Midnight or Ashes as "Urban Fantasy" (though I would certainly classify both as good writing); if you insist on a category, "alternate historical fantasy" is probably close enough.

And I would also disagree with your comment that the setting in Elizabethan (or Stuart) London doesn't make much difference; one of the strengths of these books is the way in which the historical background, and the sense of place, is used very effectively, without making a great show of it.
Negotiation Barbiepraetorianguard on August 25th, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, marketing departments and your silly, silly labels. :)) I largely find labels irrelevant, occasionally helpful, mostly not. Though I wonder if they become more relevant or useful or something when you look at the...founding? creation? expansion? of the urban fantasy genre in the 1980s by folks like Charles de Lint and Emma Bull. Is it more useful to talk genre and labels in that context?

And perhaps a useful question is whether labels are wholly useless (meaning we'd throw out "fantasy" and "science fiction" and "Western" and so forth) or whether it's just labels in sub-genres that start to lose their usefulness, perhaps because we're trying to over-specify.

But to answer your question, do I consider the Onyx Court books to be urban fantasy? Absolutely. Fantasy in an urban setting. :P Or more accurately, fantasy in an urban setting in which the city itself plays a large role.

But I also agree with your statement that the fae in the Onyx Court books don't necessarily interact with the city much differently from their more modern relations. I found that interaction to be pretty sparse -- and pretty on par with War for the Oaks or Lesley Livingston's Wondrous Strange, where the fae largely kept themselves away from the city itself and its inhabitants (as opposed to, say, Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series where the non-human characters spend a lot of time in the city, interacting, though interestingly, even there, her fae keep themselves apart).
Jazztheironchocho on August 26th, 2010 11:38 pm (UTC)
Since the word ubran originated (I just looked this up, ha) in the 17th century, I don't think it has to refer to modern times. There is always the term urban contemporary to distinguish it from a historical setting. Personally, I stick with urban fantasy for modern settings and historical fantasy for historical settings so I don't misrepresent a story I'm describing to someone. I wouldn't want refer to a crossover fantasy as urban fantasy even if it does take place in a large, fictional city.