Urban fantasy books that AREN'T Harlequin romances with magic?

In theory, I really like urban fantasy as a genre. In practice, it’s often just a rather thin veneer of urban fantasy over a thick nougat of romance novel.

Even good series like the Patricia Briggs “Mercy Thompson” and the Ilona Andrews “Kate Daniels” books have way too much, “Oooh, he’s a sexy werebeast! Rarr!” in them.

I don’t mind romantic sub-plots. I don’t mind realistic (even just a little realistic, please!) romance at all, but I hate the romance novel idea of what love is–where she is either irresistible to all men or some mousy introvert who has never had a date and he is gorgeous and violent and overpowering and MUST HAVE HER NO MATTER WHAT! And in urban fantasy, he’s often dead.

Truth is, for me, there’s nothing remotely sexy about a vampire, a zombie, a werewolf, a demon, anything that is now or is occasionally dead, drinks blood, or transforms into something with more legs than two.

That appears to have left me with Jim Butcher and Carrie Vaughn.

Am I alone? Am I out of luck? Am I just too weird? Fine! But recommend me books anyway!

This is a thread I’ve nearly started many times, so I’ll be watching. Thanks.

Personally, I love Emma Bull’s stuff, particularly War for the Oakes. There’s still a big dollop of romance, but it’s not half as cliched as what you are describing and I like her focus on music too.

China Mieville is very urban, those perhaps it’s more steampunk than fantasy. But very good IMHO and little romance.

You might like the Repairman Jack series.

Neil Gaiman might be worth a try. In particular, I quite enjoyed Neverwhere.

Yep. I came in here to mention Dresden Files and Neil Gaiman. Anansi Boys and American Gods might also be up your alley.

I always thought they were more horror than anything. Am I wrong?

I have read and, well, been mostly indifferent to Neil Gaiman: Stardust, Anansi Boys, Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and Good Omens.

Charlie Hustons Joe Pitt series might be up your street.

Dresden’s pretty much the go-to. I’m addicted. I don’t think there’s ever been another book series where I just want to reread the same books over and over.

But the OP mentioned Butcher already, so that’s kind of redundant. :stuck_out_tongue:

Indifferent to Good Omens? :eek: Ah well, I have a friend who says she can’t stand how Pratchett writes, so I guess anything’s possible.

This is mostly older stuff, but Tim Powers wrote a lot of good “historical fantasies”, mostly in the 80s and 90s, where he’d weave a magical explanation in and out of actual historical events; The Stress of Her Regard treads over the Sexay Vampire line a bit, but the rest don’t come anywhere near it.

James Blaylock writes interesting stuff as well; I haven’t read his more recent (as in the last decade) stuff, but his older stuff - The Digging Leviathan, The Paper Grail, Homonculous, The Last Coin - treads the line between urban fantasy and steampunk.

I don’t know if Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde counts as “urban fantasy” as the OP is thinking of it; but, it is fantasy, all the action takes place in London, and there are no romantic subplots.

It was better than the others, but I put it in the same category as something like Douglas Adams. It’s enjoyable but not really memorable. I like Pratchett as well, but he’s not a favorite.

Mercedes Lackey has written quite a bit of urban fantasy that might fit the bill, in a couple of different settings.

One features the SERRAted Edge books (elves and mages involved in stock car racing, among other things), the Diana Tregarde stories (protagonist is a witch and a romance writer who mocks romance writers–she does get involved with a vampire, though), and the Bedlam’s Bard series (elves and bards in the modern US).

Sacred Ground’s protagonist is a PI and Native American shamanic apprentice in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Elemental Masters series stretches “urban fantasy” somewhat; they’re urban, but not modern. They’re loose interpretations of fairy tales with elemental magicians living and working in secret in the early 1900s. (The Wizard of London is an exception to the period–it’s a prequel set in Victorian England.)

Might I suggest three series by Mercedes Lackey:
SERRAated Edge-Elves and racecars
Bedlam’s Bard-Good mix of science and magic in a modern setting
The Diana Tregarde Trilogy-Witchcraft

edited to add-if only I had posted before the doorbell rang!

What, no Charles de Lint?

(Admittedly I have never been able to finish one of his stories, but that may be me.)

That’s what I was going to suggest. You can hardly get any more urban and fantastic!

Matt Ruff’s “Fool on the Hill”, “Sewer, Gas & Electric”, and “Bad Monkeys.”

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians was pretty good. It takes place at a boarding school for mages and I think of it as a grownup version of Harry Potter and Narnia. I’m not sure if that’s urban enough for you though.

I just came in here to recommend Charles de Lint. :slight_smile: Many of his urban fantasy books have some degree of romance in them, but they’re secondary (or tertiary) to the rest of the plot and they’re not graphically described at all. Jack of Kinrowan (a volume that combines Jack the Giant Killer and its sequel Drink Down the Moon) is one of my favorites of his – it’s a retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” (with my favorite fairy tale, “Kate Crackernuts,” involved in a subplot) set in a city in modern-day Canada (and Jack is Jacky, a girl).

Mike Carey’s Felix Castor novels are decent and worth trying ( stronger than Butcher’s stuff IMHO, though I’m only on book 5 of the Dresden series, which is getting a little better - the first three were adequate but pretty forgettable ). The first one is The Devil You Know.

I’ll strongly second the recommendations of Blaylock and Powers. I’ve recently been recommended John Meaney’s Bone Song but haven’t gotten around to it myself.

Not a big fan of De Lint myself ( though I haven’t read the Kinrowan book and probably should ). He’s a bit too neo-Bohemian twee and fey in style for my taste and as I mentioned elsewhere I find his purist dissing of The Pogues an intolerable insult ;).

Only read one DeLint myself, I think Moonheart, which didn’t impress. Kind of struck me as Little, Big with training wheels.