Tim Holman of Orbit Books posted an entry on their blog about the surge in popularity of Urban Fantasy:
Most people are aware of the growth of urban fantasy over recent years, but I wonder how many are aware of the degree to which it now dominates the fantasy bestseller lists? This week’s chart shouldn’t be a surprise, either. Looking back over the fantasy bestseller charts of recent years, there’s a clear trend:
2004: 1 urban fantasy title in the Top 20.
2005: 4 urban fantasy titles.
2006: 5 urban fantasy titles.
2007: 7 urban fantasy titles.
That’s rather a lot, considering how relatively recent the Urban Fantasy trend is, particularly in romance.
So I got nosy and emailed Alex Lencicki, Who is Certifiably Awesome, over at Orbit, and asked, “Why do you think it’s so popular and has reached such a diverse audience from fantasy and romance readers as well?”
He fielded my requst to Devi Pillai, who wrote:
There are a lot of theories. One of the most popular is that romance has the most active readership in the market and those readers are turning towards fantasy since the elements are so close to paranormal romance. Romance readers started devouring fantasy when they found more female centric stories/heroines versus the usual boy-on-a-quest epic fantasy (which was the bread and butter of most fantasy lines). Another theory is that that Buffy and the interest in women who can take care of themselves while being vulnerable brought on an interest for girls-who-kick-ass novels.
Personally I think its a combination of those, but more important, while SF/F has been very masculine in its history, it has slowly been accepting more female authors. Twenty years ago it was harder to find a lot of females that did SF/F. In the past 10 years or so, we’ve definitely seen the growth of urban fantasy, but we’ve also seen the rise of authors that write fantasy for women. Examples would be Anne Bishop, Sharon Shinn, Jacqueline Carey. I do think the readership of those books are more of a female demographic. While traditionally fantasy and science fiction have gone for the male readership and the majority of authors has been male, a lot more writers in the genre are now women—and women write things that appeal to them—and to other women. So I think the urban fantasy market is more of a reaction in recent years to the fact that a) the readership and the authorship is changing b) the editors in the majority of houses are female and c) the largest readers demographically are female and for the genre as a whole to grow, it has to change.
Also, romance readers rarely stick to one genre. They are more open about reading everything—from historical to thrillers to women’s fiction. So they same way they’ve opened up other markets and genres, they’ve expanded from romance to read more fantasy, which I think was a harder genre for them to get into as for many years it was very boy-centric. But now, with more interest in the girls-who-kick-ass and with more female authors, it that has opened up to the female readership.
So in a nutshell, PIllai thinks diverse reading habits of romance readers + evolution of the genre itself to include women authors, heroines, and readers = Urban Fantasy surge. I know a lot of folks have been complaining about the ever-present flood of vampire heroes – but is anyone tired of the kickass heroine? Generally speaking, if she’s done right, I love love love her and don’t know if I’d ever get tired of heroines who could not only squeeze the hero’s ass but could also hand it to him in a fight.
What about you – is urban fantasy your cup of asskicking, or do you tire of it? And moreover, what do you think is causing the popularity build?