Look, I love castles and dragons as much as the next nerd. I've written at length about Song of Ice and Fire conspiracy theories (don't even talk to me unless you think that Aegon is a Blackfyre pretender). I've read a lot of books with characters who have apostrophes in their names. I'm the dungeon master for my D&D group. But even I can admit that high fantasy isn't for everyone. Not everyone gets equally excited about sweeping, vaguely European Ren Faire adventures. And even if you do love books with made up maps in the front (which I do), you might want to branch out every once in a while and see what other kinds of fantasy are out there in the wild. Here are a few great urban fantasy novels to get you started.
Technically, "urban fantasy" is simply any kind of fantasy with an urban setting, regardless of time period. An urban fantasy story can take place in our own real world with a few added werewolves for sexual tension, or it can take place in some alternate version of the past, or in some utterly imagined fantastical world (as long as there's a city in there somewhere). So check out these slick city adventures for a magical read that doesn't play into any tired medieval tropes:
'A Darker Shade of Magic' by V.E. Schwab
Kell is from Red London, where magic still exists. As one of the last few magicians with the ability to travel between worlds, though, Kell frequently travels to White London, with its bloody politics, and to boring old Grey London, with its complete lack of magic and its mad King George. But when Kell is robbed (and then saved) by an ambitious cut-purse, the two find themselves on a wild, multi-world adventure that just might lead them across realities to the fourth, forbidden London.
'Moon Called' by Patricia Briggs
Mercy Thompson is a Volkswagen mechanic in Washington. She also happens to have the magic ability to shape-shift into a coyote at will — not to be confused with her neighbor, who's just a standard werewolf. Also her former boss is a gremlin and her new client's a vampire. Mercy's world is full of mundane monsters, but her connection to the underworld is about to get her in a whole lot of supernatural trouble...
'Witchmark' by C.L. Polk
Miles Singer has been magic marked since he was a baby. He was meant for a life of suffering, doomed to be a slave to his family's demands or to be put away for good in a witches' asylum. So Miles Singer has decided to fake his own death an reinvent himself as a doctor... but it's not so easy to escape a magic mark, and Miles soon finds that he must choose between keeping his identity a secret and getting to the bottom of a patient's murder.
'Bitten' by Kelley Armstrong
Elena Michaels is a werewolf, and she's over it. She's tired of spending her life in hiding, using violence and threats to hunt down rogue werewolves. She's tired of being angry all the time. And most of all, she's tired of being the world's only female werewolf. So she's leaving it all behind and moving to Toronto, to start life as a normal human lady... but of course, as soon as she finds a nice, mellow life and a nice, handsome man, her old pack comes calling, looking for Elena to complete one last wolfish mission.
'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman
Beneath the streets of London is another world entirely. It's a world of monsters and angels, where unspeakable beasts stalk the train tunnels and people can create doors out of thin air. And when Richard Mayhew stops to help a troubled woman on the street, he finds himself jerked abruptly out of his humdrum life as a businessman, and catapulted into the chaotic magic of London Below in this urban fantasy classic.
'The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 1: The Faust Act' by Kieron Gillen, art by Jamie McKelvie
Every 90 years, 12 gods come to Earth to live as human beings. They are loved and feared and then, after two years as mortals, they die. The Wicked + The Divine is a gorgeously illustrated, absolutely bizarre graphic novel in a world where pop stars are literal gods, and where immortals must come to terms with their limited time on Earth.
'Angels' Blood' by Nalini Singh
I mean... is it really an urban fantasy novel if you don't have at least one steamy romance between a kick ass lady vampire hunter and a sexy angel? Queen of dark fantasy and paranormal romance Nalini Singh brings us exactly that in Angels' Blood, as experienced vamp hunter Elena Deveraux tries a new gig on for size: tracking down an archangel gone rogue.
'Undead Girl Gang' by Lily Anderson
BFFs Mila and Riley have long dabbled in amateur witchcraft (there's not much else to do in their sleepy little hometown). So when Riley and two school mean girls die under strange circumstances, a horrified Mila knows exactly what she has to do: grab some lip gloss and a spell book and bring her best friend back from beyond the grave.
'Darkfever' by Karen Marie Moning
Mac can see into the world of the Fae. It's a gift (or maybe a curse?) that she's only just acknowledged. But with her sister's sudden death, Mac suddenly has no choice but to accept her own strange magic, investigate a gruesome murder, and track down the elusive Dark Book before someone else grabs control of both the human and the Fae realms of reality.
'Labyrinth Lost' by Zoraida Córdova
Alex is a powerful bruja... but she's not a fan of magic. She has no interest in being the most powerful witch in her generation. She'd much rather just lead a regular life in Brooklyn like everyone else. So on her Deathday celebration, she decides to magic away her own powers... and winds up banishing her entire family instead. Whoops. Now Alex must team up with a suspicious brujo and rely on her magic to save her family before time runs out, or risk losing them forever.
'Food of the Gods' by Cassandra Khaw
Rupert Wong is juggling two jobs: by day he cooks up human hors d’oeuvres for ghouls, and by night he does paperwork for the Ten Chinese Hells. He's saving up to give his ghost girlfriend a chance at reincarnation (and maybe buy a car), but his dual careers land him smack in the middle of a war between pantheons in this wild, celestial fantasy that takes us from Hell to London to Kuala Lumpur.