While I’m not a big fan of romance novels, I don’t mind them nearly as much when the characters are gritty and preternatural creatures are involved, downplaying the sappiness associated with most novels where the word romance is used. Paranormal romance novels are the next big thing and filling the bookstore shelves in record numbers. Spurred on further by young adult novels such as Twilight, this newly developed niche genre has been spreading like wildfire.
When I first heard the term urban fantasy used to describe a sub-genre of fantasy, I wasn’t exactly sure what the term meant. Most times the word urban brings to mind things associated with black people. I know that the word actually means, ‘relating to or belonging to a city’ however, urban radio, urban news, urban plight, the urban center are merely PC ways of referring to things associated with blacks.
The first novel I read—remotely fitting into this genre—was Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton, featuring vampire hunter Anita Blake. The novel was originally billed as a horror/mystery novel, which is as accurate of a description as any. The novel contained all of the elements of a mystery and read like a Robert B. Parker mystery novel which is a BIG compliment coming from me. However, the paranormal elements were present as well. Vampires, werewolves and zombies, oh my!
Another urban fantasy author named Jim Butcher popped up with a novel titled Storm Front, which introduced us to Chicago wizard Harry Dresden. The most common links between Hamilton and Butcher’s novels was:
a) both were set in major US cities, and
b) they both featured paranormal creatures.
I would also like to bring to light another commonality of the two novels—which is true about most novels in the genre,—in that the main characters were white. I have no problem with either author having predominately white characters because the authors are white and you often write what you know. However, shortly after I discovered these authors, I was introduced to another author named L.A. Banks. I was pleasantly surprised that a black author was writing in this genre and the novel featured a black main character. I found other black authors in the genre, yet those I did find such as Seressia Glass and Maurice Broaddus—were far and few between.
Another problem for blacks writing in this genre is the whitewashing of their book covers. Far too often you see books with black protagonists who aren’t featured on the book covers. Why is this? It’s almost like in the sixties when blacks weren’t allowed to be on the covers of their albums because the white mainstream wouldn’t buy them. I’m happy to say that Banks, Broaddus and Glass feature their black characters prominently on the covers of their books, which is as it should be.
The sad truth is there just aren’t that many black authors writing in this genre. As a writer whose work fits within the urban fantasy genre, I intend to add my voice to the fold with my debut urban fantasy novel, The God Killers due out this summer and published by Seventh Star Press. Over the years, I’ve spoken to countless people who are hankering for more works from black authors. Which lead me to believe that we should be working towards bringing black urban fantasy writers to the forefront of people’s minds and the bookstore shelves. I know there’s a market for black urban fantasy novels and that urban fantasy has small black roots which we must nourish and help to grow.
© 2012 John F. Allen