This is a problem that actually comes on both sides of the coin so to speak. You’ve got authors who think they are writing an urban fantasy, but they really aren’t (and they just don’t know it) and readers who think they are reading an epic fantasy (but they really aren’t and they just don’t know it) and then the readers who stare at the screen before one clicking after trying to figure out if the genre lists below the book mean anything at all.
Here we go, your one stop shop when deciphering what the hell kind of fantasy are you reading.
Often referred to as Epic Fantasy. Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Terry Goodkind, George RR Martin, Robin Hobb . . . all these are epic fantasy. A world all its own with no connection to our own. They might have their own religions, political situations, magic systems or even way of cursing (Blood and bloody ashes comes to mind). Classic or epic fantasy tends to run longer too than other kinds of fantasy. Let’s face it, you can’t create a believable world in four hundred pages (well maybe someone can but I haven’t seen it yet).
Expect these to be big, big books.
Usually a slight variation on the classic fantasy above. Think alternate history worlds. Books like Naomi Novak’s series about dragons in the Naploeonic wars (its on my TBR list) or Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart series set in an alternate France with a whole new twist on the words, Love as thou Wilt.
I’ve done a post on this but I will recap. Expect your characters to live in our world, but be surrounded by magic and monsters. These books are often crammed full of action, intrigue, fight scenes and twists at the 80% mark that will have your pulse pounding. I see most of these books topping out at the 350-400 page mark, a perfect read for a long weekend. Look for authors like Patricia Briggs, Kim Harrison, or me 😉
This is a story that’s going to (usually) be set in our world not unlike the urban fantasy above. The difference is there the story will revolve and rely heavily on the romance aspect. Expect sex scenes of varying smexy degrees. Expect billionaire bear shifters, wickedly handsome werewolves, and viciously violent and yet still somehow soft and sweet vampires. You’ll get magic here, you’ll get shifters, and you’ll get a ton of sexy time.
So while it technically IS urban fantasy, you might not see it as such except for glimmers here and there.
Now here’s where things get hard to decipher. An author can blend these together . .. for instance I have an urban fantasy that borders on being a classic fantasy (weird, I know) but I’ve created a an Elemental world within ours that doesn’t touch on the human world.
Having the definitions is nice for sure, and I hope they help, but the reality is, the fantasy world is a big place. One we can all be blessedly lost in from time to time.