I’ve had this post brewing in my brain for a while, and now, finally, after binge reading two urban/paranormal fantasy series in close succession, I’ve decided today is the day. I hope you’re ready.
So this sub-genre of fantasy isn’t for everyone and that’s okay, to each their own. I really enjoy escaping into these worlds and I think the main attraction for me is how fast paced they are. I find urban/pn fantasies are really quick reads for me and there always seems to be a mystery/crime of some kind that needs to be solved by our protagonist so they tend to be page turners too. They tend to hit my romance loving spot too. There is always a love/potential love interest in these stories and their early interactions are always cute and make me smile. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for realistic love stories in these novels, but they add an extra dimension that is often missing in standard fantasy fiction. I always find it a bit odd in fantasy how characters can spend so long together/go through so much at each others’ sides and not even think about getting comfort from one and another – it’s human nature, why hide it? So not only do I get a good murder mystery, cute romances and fast paced plots, I get a full cast of fantastical characters and magic. Done well, they’re so much fun.
So without further ado, here are some of my current favourite series…
Um, also, if I do persuade you to try any of these, please, please, please ignore all of the covers – this genre is notorious for misleading and hideous covers.
Fever by Karen Marie Moning
I think this series was my first taste of the genre and woah did I love it. I should point out that I’ve only read, and only plan to read, the first five books in this series. The perspectives shift after the fifth instalment and I’ve heard the later books in series aren’t as strong. Luckily the end of the fifth book is great so I don’t feel like I’m missing out. We follow MacKayla (Mac) Lane as she travels from the States to Ireland to look into her older sister’s grisly murder. Naturally, it turns out magic, folklore and the fae are involved and soon Mac is hunting an ancient artefact that both the good and the bad guys want, but does she know which is which…?
It’s no surprise really considering how steeped in Irish folklore/Celtic mythology this series is that I love it. I’ve read all five twice and both times I binge read the series one book after another. I really like Mac as Moning doesn’t shy away from making her a tanned, blonde haired beauty at the start and turns her into a kickass, smart mouthed, strong woman who fights her own battles. That’s not to say I agree with all of her comments and decisions, but that’s the whole point isn’t it? Also, Jericho Barrons is everything. Always. Sigh… You want to start with Darkfever.
Hidden Legacy by Ilona Andrews
Next up we have a perhaps lesser known series by this husband and wife team. Most people have heard of their epic Kate Daniels series, of which I have read the first three books and enjoyed, but this trilogy is truly excellent. This follows detective Nevada Baylor as she tries to rein in a mad ‘Prime’ (the highest rank of magic user) whose specialty is with fire. What I particularly enjoyed about this trilogy is that Nevada lives with her family, they’re all involved with the family business and all have different levels of magical ability. ‘Normal’ family dynamics are rarely explored in urban fantasy, there’s always something dysfunctional about them, but these guys are close and complex. They don’t take over the story but they help expand the magical lore and of course there are hidden hereditary traits desperate to emerge. It was also fun watching the male protagonist (I won’t name names, you’ll have to find out for yourself) interact and try and fit in with the whole gang. Especially as he loosens up and tries to protect them.
Nevada is another kickass female, to be fair all of them are… , who is more than capable on her own and yet also has a lot of growing to do, mainly with discovering her own powers and sense of self, rather than growing up. I was so pleased that the third book had just come out when I picked up the first book so I didn’t have to stop. I now want to reread them… hmm. You want to start with Burn For Me.
Dorina Basarab by Karen Chance
Where to start with Dory? She’s a Dhampir – half vampire, half human – assassin which is unusual for a dhampir as they’re notoriously unstable and usually don’t live very long before going insane yet Dory’s managed to hold on for 500 years by unleashing her crazy side on rogue vamps. She’s had a rocky relationship with her dad (vampire) and is understandably wary when he turns up asking for her help to reign in her mad uncle Dracula.. yes, that Dracula. This one is different to most U/PN fantasy series as there isn’t really a romantic element, there’s a stronger focus on history and her relationship with her dad and uncles. I grew really attached to the characters in this series as we see a lot of their vulnerabilities and more often than not, it’s their familial love. It can be heartbreaking and I am rooting for Mircea (daddy vamp) and Dory to sit down and work everything out. There’s so much history between them and although Dory learns why things have been the way they have, I don’t think she understands fully Mircea’s sacrifices and how much he must love his daughter. It is extremely well done and I can’t wait to see their issues play out.
I also really enjoyed how much it referenced Romania and Romanian history – I’ve been searching for a good history book on Romania as this really got me interested in the time period. It is set in ‘modern day’ though, not sure you can get a historical urban fantasy :D.
As the books progress more elements of the fantastical world (fae as well as vamps!) open up and we get characters from different countries with different histories and personalities that reflect the times they grew up in – it’s really fascinating. I also absolutely love some of Dory friends, Zheng and Roy especially are so. much. fun!! This series fits in with Chance’s other, much longer, Cassie Palmer series and a lot of the characters overlap I believe. Saying that, I haven’t read any of the Cassie Palmer books and I still really loved these books. This series is currently still ongoing and you want to start with Midnight’s Daughter.
Cainsville by Kelley Armstrong
This series guys, this series. It’s a difficult one to describe but I will do my best. It’s a paranormal, urban, fantasy, crime story following Olivia Taylor-Jones as she discovers she is not who she grew up believing she was. She was adopted, and her biological parents? Yeah, they’re serial killers, locked up in jail since she was 2 years old. As the truth comes out and the paparazzi invade her home in order to interview the popular socialite (don’t read too much into this, she is in no way spoilt or bratty and goes her own way pretty sharpish), her life begins to fall apart despite her best efforts to try and stay sane. She ends up in a reluctant partnership with the last lawyer her birth mum hired for an appeal case – Gabriel Walsh. As Olivia looks into her parent’s past she begins to question everything.. dun dun dun.
Armstrong is such a good storyteller. The first book is quite light on the paranormal aspects and is predominantly a mystery/crime story with intriguing complex characters. It’s a first person narrative but there are occasional chapters in between told from a different character’s perspective which I found a really interesting way to view certain scenes. It also helps build up tension as we learn things that Olivia doesn’t know and wait to see how they will pan out. I think Armstrong is really good at building up tense/scary atmospheres which is a nice change to my normal reads and regularly made me feel unsettled and unsure of what was going to happen. Although, I guess it would be hard to write a description of a midnight exploration of an abandoned psychiatric hospital without unsettling the reader. The rest of the series has a much stronger fantasy/paranormal focus as we discover the light and dark fae and all the other creatures in between. There is a lot of Welsh/Irish mythology explored and I loved it. I’ve found it gripping and I’m super sad that there are no more books left to come, yet I think it was right to end where it did. I love the combination of Gabriel and Olivia tackling/investigating crime whilst also trying to deal with the fallout of her ‘real’ identity. Highly, highly recommend
Georgina Kincaid by Richelle Mead
If you’re looking for something a little sexier I recommend this series. I’ve nearly finished book two so I can’t comment on how good the whole series is but I have enjoyed it so far. We follow Georgina the reluctant succubus. So by her very nature we see more sex in this series than the others but it doesn’t really take centre stage. It has the usual murder mystery/crime elements and Georgina steps up to get to the bottom of whoever is hurting her friends. We have vampires, demons, angels, imps et al, even some great humans!
The writing is really good and I like slowly learning about Georgina’s past and watching how she interacts with her immortal friends while trying to balance a life working with humans. Turns out dating and having close friends who don’t know you’re a shapeshifter who takes the life force of men via sexy time to stay healthy is tricky. Watch this space. You want to start with Succubus Blues.