Recommended urban fantasy books

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A definition of contemporary/urban fantasy might be that the story must contain magical elements within the real world but these magical elements must remain unknown to the majority of the world's population.

The Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia
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Jake Sullivan is a war hero, a private eye—and an ex-con. He’s free because he has a magical talent, being able to alter the force of gravity in himself and objects in his vicinity, and the Bureau of Investigation calls on him when they need his help in apprehending criminals with their own magical talents. But the last operation he was sent along to help with went completely wrong, and Delilah Jones, the woman the G-men were after, who just happened to be an old friend of Jake’s in happier times, had a lot of magical muscle with her, too much muscle for the cops to handle, even with Jake’s help.

"This was a fast paced and highly entertaining novel. The time period adds a lot of charm and class to the book, and it is great to see just how much historical figures can further mould the world given a bunch of unique magical abilities. This book suffers from some poor cover art, but don't let that put you off because Hard Magic has some of the most fun and entertaining scenes I have read this year."

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His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
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"Without this child, we shall all die." Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight. Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequnces far beyond her own world...

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is one of the great imaginative works in the English language. It creates a universe so atmospheric and tangible that I am convinced it exists, somewhere. It is a gripping epic, set in a wonderfully intruiging world (or rather worlds). It sets out on a soaring arc of imagination that sustains and pays off in a most masterful way - and yet all the way through it touches on human truths and insight. Oh! And it contains one of the best villains in literature.

"Wonderfully engrossing and so packed full of of explosive plot lines that you'll find it difficult to put down." Fantasy Book Review

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Bitten by Kelley Armstrong
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Elena Michaels is a model woman for the 21st century: self-assured, keenly intelligent, fighting fit. And like every modern woman, she has her secrets. Nothing extraordinary about that. Except that Elena really is extraordinary. In fact, she may well be the most extraordinary woman alive. She is, after all, the only female werewolf in the world... Ten years ago, against her will, Elena's lover turned her into a werewolf. Some days it feels like a gift. Most days it feels like a curse. A year ago, she decided to live as a human. Now she has to go back to New York State, her old home. Her pack is under seige by a new group of violent, psychotic werewolves that shows no respect for the old ways, and no respect for territory. Forced into helping her old friends, Elena soon slips back into the reassuring camaradarie of the pack, though she struggles against her dangerous, unpredictable desires. Hunting down her enemies, Elena prowls through territories usually barred to women. From dangerous back alleys to the dark, luscious forests of New York State, she must hunt and destroy the renegade pack before they destroy her.

"Filled with romance and supernatural intrigue, this book will remind readers of Anne Rice's sophisticated refurbishings of the vampire story' Publishers Weekly 'After the first nibble it's hard to stop ... Gory, sexy fun" SFX

"My love affair with urban fantasy started a long time ago, when I was an early teenager. I thought to myself that my literary sense had to grow up a bit and start reading things that didn’t have Harry Potter or the world of Narnia inside them. We all grow through this phase I guess, and we all eventually find those special first books that propel us from ‘young adult’ to just ‘adult’ novels that thrill, excite and satisfy us when we read them." Fantasy Book Review

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor
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Errand requiring immediate attention. Come. The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. 'He never says please', she sighed, but she gathered up her things. When Brimstone called, she always came. In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she's a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in 'Elsewhere', she has never understood Brimstone's dark work - buying teeth from hunters and murderers - nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn't whole. Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

"I have only praise for this series and for Days as well. It is written masterfully and filled with poetic lyricism that tricks you into believing you are reading a classic. The book is melancholy and the pain of the characters is etched into the pages that after you put the book down you find yourself hovering in dark corners, muttering to yourself about the cruelty of the world. But don’t let that put you off from reading what will become a classic in literature in the decades to come, for sure. I am eagerly awaiting book three. Mrs Taylor! Bring it on!" Fantasy Book Review

'Remarkable and beautifully written. The opening volume of a truly original trilogy.' The Guardian

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The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams
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Sure, he takes the occasional trip to Heaven, but his job as an advocate - arguing the fate of the recently deceased - keeps him pretty busy on Earth, and he's more than happy to spend the rest of his time propping up the bar with his fellow immortals. Until the day a soul goes missing, presumed stolen by 'the other side'. A new chapter in the war between heaven and hell is about to open. And Bobby is right in the middle of it, with only a desirable but deadly demon to aid him.

"Tad Williams has made his urban fantasy come alive with characters who are well-rounded with reason and direction, resplendent with a rich history and back story."

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Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
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Life sucks and then you die. Or, if you’re James Stark, you spend eleven years in Hell as a hitman before finally escaping, only to land back in the hell-on-earth that is Los Angeles. Now Stark’s back, and ready for revenge. And absolution, and maybe even love. But when his first stop saddles him with an abusive talking head, Stark discovers that the road to absolution and revenge is much longer than you’d expect, and both Heaven and Hell have their own ideas for his future. Resurrection sucks. Saving the world is worse.

"Sandman is dark, funny and well written. Kadrey isn’t afraid to slap the bad guys about in inventive and descriptive ways."

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The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
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When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in... For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

"I hold The Bartimaeus Trilogy and stand-alone novel Heroes of the Valley to be amongst the finest fantasy books I have read. So when a new book from their author Jonathan Stroud arrives my expectations are very high. And I was not disappointed as Lockwood & Co - which is aimed at a slightly older audience than previous novels - proved to be another wonderfully entertaining read." Fantasy Book Review

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Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
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Miriam Black knows when you will die. Still in her early twenties, she's foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name. Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. But Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim. No matter what she does she can't save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she'll have to try.

"Blackbirds is rough, it’s coarse, its full of some quite confronting scenes and is definitely not the book for people who are looking for a light hearted romp through a magical fairy land. In fact, if you have any sort of morals in your body, this book will find a way to offend at least one of them. And I really like that. Blackbirds dares you to get down and dirty, dares you to like this miscreant from the wrong side of the tracks, and by the end you will either love her or you will hate her. Blackbirds is a unique experience, you should really give it a try."

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Cal Leandros series by Rob Thurman
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There are monsters among us. There always have been and there always will be. I've know that since I can remember, just like I've always known that I was one... Well, half of one anyway. Cal Leandros is 19. He eats junk food, he doesn't clean up after himself and fights with his half brother Niko. It's a fairly normal life, but for the fact that Cal and Niko are constantly on the run. Cal's father has been after him for the last four years. And given that he's a monster whose dark lineage is the stuff of nightmares they really don't want him and his entire otherworldly race catching up with them. But Cal is about to learn why they want him, why they've always wanted him - he is the key to unleashing their hell on earth. Meanwhile the bright lights of the Big Apple shine on, oblivious to the fact that the fate of the human world will be decided in the fight of Cal and Niko's lives...

"This story worked for me because Cal and his brother Niko go through hell. They are spared nothing and have almost everything against them while still fighting on. There is a perfect balance between the chapters plus rapid action, fast paced sword-gun fights, humour, emotion and romance. This is a story that grasps you and compels you to read on late into the night." Fantasy Book Review

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Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
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A god has died, and it's up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart. Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis's steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot. Tara's job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who's having an understandable crisis of faith. When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb's courts - and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb's slim hope of survival. Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs.

"Three Parts Dead offers a unique experience to traditional fantasy and urban fantasy enthusiasts alike. Gladstone has mixed elements from a variety of different genres to create expansive and complex world, and then allows the reader to explore a single part of this world in detail through a tightly bounded story. I haven't even touched on the gargoyles, the supernatural police force, the extra-dimensional libraries, or the court-room battle arenas. I want to read more Craft books. I need to know more about this world."

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Recommended reads by sub-genre

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Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw book cover image
Spotlight: Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw

Winner 2015 CIPA EVVY awards for Fiction/Fantasy
#1 Bestseller in Epic, Historical and Coming of Age Fantasy
When a high-ranking officer gallops into the quiet Mistyvales, he brings a warning that shakes the countryfolk to their roots...