Top 10 Contemporary / Urban fantasy books

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A definition of contemporary fantasy and 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.

Our recommended trilogies/series
Ryhope Wood by Robert Holdstock
Ryhope Wood

Deep within the wildwood lies a place of myth and mystery, from which few return, and none remain unchanged. Ryhope Wood may look like a three-mile-square fenced-in wood in rural Herefordshire on the outside, but inside, it is a primeval, intricate labyrinth of trees, impossibly huge, unforgettable... and stronger than time itself. Stephen Huxley has already lost his father to the mysteries of Ryhope Wood. On his return from the Second World War, he finds his brother, Christopher, is also in thrall to the mysterious wood, wherein lies a realm where mythic archetypes grow flesh and blood, where love and beauty haunt your dreams, and in promises of freedom lies the sanctuary of insanity...

Robert Holdstock was a famed fantasist during his lifetime and created a whole cycle of stories around Ryhope Wood, with this being the first book. The book is well written and draws you in so that, although you may not always understand what is happening to Steven as he is drawn further into his quest, by the end of the book, for all its savagery, you are hoping that there is, somewhere in this world, a wood like this in existence.

"Mythago Wood is a fantasy masterpiece." Fantasy Book Review

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Mortal Engines Quartet by Philip Reeve
Mortal Engines Quartet

Fever Crumb is a stunning, stand-alone prequel to Philip Reeve's brilliant science fantasy quartet. It is set many generations before the events of Mortal Engines, in whose dazzling world huge, predatory cities chase and devour each other. Now, London is a riot-torn, ruinous town, clinging to a devastated landscape and hiding an explosive secret. Is Fever, adopted daughter of Dr Crumb, the strange key that will unlock its dangerous mysteries?

"Though I’m still trying to figure out whether its Reeves amazingly detailed imagination or the headstrong Fever Crumb is responsible for it, this book has taken its place in the pinnacle. My favourite. For now. " Fantasy Book Review

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Thursday Next by Jasper Fforde
Thursday Next

Meet Thursday Next, literary detective without equal, fear or boyfriend. There is another 1985, where London’s criminal gangs have moved into the lucrative literary market, and Thursday Next is on the trail of the new crime wave’s MR Big. Acheron Hades has been kidnapping certain characters from works of fiction and holding them to ransom. Jane Eyre is gone. Missing. Thursday sets out to find a way into the book to repair the damage. But solving crimes against literature isn’t easy when you also have to find time to halt the Crimean War, persuade the man you love to marry you, and figure out who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Perhaps today just isn’t going to be Thursday’s day. Join her on a truly breathtaking adventure, and find out for yourself. Fiction will never be the same again...

A blend of alternate history and comic fantasy it is grand reading material, combining excellent writing and great inventiveness with more great jokes and groan-worthy puns than you could shake a stick at." Fantasy Book Review

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The Duncton Chronicles by William Horwood
The Duncton Chronicles

Duncton Wood is the moving love story of Bracken and Rebecca and the trials they must face and overcome to be as one. It is unfortunate that this work must be compared to Watership Down but that is the only book with which I can really compare it to in terms of story-line and excellence. This book is about moles and unlike anything you have ever read before. The animal kingdom is savage and survival of the fittest is a fact of life (or death). This is a book for adults and is at times as dark as it is uplifting. The book was first published in 1980 and has since become a best-selling novel. A story of courage, loyalty and the power of love... inspired by the shadows and light of England's most beautiful countryside.

"An absolute spell-binder, by Lord of the Rings out of Watership Down. I found it enchanting, compulsive reading... I am still haunted by its beauty." Magnus Magnusson

"Duncton Wood is a truly breathtaking and enchanting read that reminds us how savage yet full of love the animal kingdom truly is." Fantasy Book Review

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Harry Potter by JK Rowling
Harry Potter

Harry Potter is an ordinary boy who lives in a cupboard under the stairs at his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon's house, which he thinks is normal for someone like him who's parents have been killed in a 'car crash'. He is bullied by them and his fat, spoilt cousin Dudley, and lives a very unremarkable life with only the odd hiccup (like his hair growing back overnight!) to cause him much to think about. That is until an owl turns up with a letter addressed to Harry and all hell breaks loose! He is literally rescued by a world where nothing is as it seems and magic lessons are the order of the day. Read and find out how Harry discovers his true heritage at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, the reason behind his parents mysterious death, who is out to kill him, and how he uncovers the most amazing secret of all time, the fabled Philosopher's Stone! All this and muggles too. Now, what are they?

"JK Rowling's tales of the boy wizard have become a phenomenon. The series has so far sold a staggering 400,000,000 copies worldwide and has been translated into over sixty-five different languages. There will always be debate over how good an author Rowling is but few can deny that she deserves the utmost acclaim for bringing the joy of reading to a new generation." Fantasy Book Review

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The Dark Tower series by Stephen King
The Dark Tower series

Stephen King introduces readers to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner, on a spellbinding journey into good and evil, in a desolate world which frighteningly echoes our own.

In his first step towards the powerful and mysterious Dark Tower, Roland encounters an alluring woman named Alice, begins a friendship with Jake, a kid from New York, and faces an agonising choice between damnation and salvation as he pursues the Man in Black.

"King's magnificent uberstory is finally complete... King's achievement is startling; his characters fresh... his plot sharply drawn... It is magic." Daily Express

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John Cleaver series by Dan Wells
John Cleaver series

I Am Not A Serial Killer is the story of John Cleaver, a 15-year-old sociopath who works in a mortuary, dreams about death, and thinks he might be turning into a serial killer. He sets strict rules to keep himself “good” and “normal,” but when a real monster shows up in his town he has to let his dark side out in order to stop it–but without his rules to keep him in check, he might be more dangerous than the monster he’s trying to kill. John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it. Obsessed with serial killers, he never wants to be one. Yet terrible impulses constantly tempt him. Having grown up helping his mom at the family mortuary, dead bodies are no big deal to John. He likes them, actually. They don’t ask for the empathy he’s unable to offer. Perhaps that’s what gives him the clarity to recognize that something is frighteningly different about the freshest body on the slab. For the first time, John must confront a danger outside his own mind, a threat he cannot control, a menace to everything and everyone he would love, if only he could.

"I Am Not A Serial Killer is a book that just works on so many levels. I was unprepared by how deeply engrossed I would become with the book, with only hard taps on my shoulder able to bring me out of this immersion. John is one of the most complex characters I have had the opportunity to explore and I can't wait to read the last two books in the series and get back into his head again." Ryan Lawler, Fantasy Book Review

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Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Hunger Games

Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning? In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by 12 outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before - and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

"Collins is a fine writer worthy of her craft, and the book is compelling all the way through. I don't usually stay up late reading novels, but this time I did. It is a massive whirlwind of enjoyment and insight. It does not pull its punches, and for this reason The Hunger Games is also not free of controversy. Some religious groups have denounced the books as unacceptable for its presentation of violence and for the ever-present theme of looming death. Such readings are in fact misreadings, these groups having missed the obvious point of the series, which is that violence, while very real, is not a viable response. Katniss throughout the book avoids killing where she can, and only does so regretfully, in self-defense. The books are about how violence and vengeance destroys and lowers human life. Far from being a pro-violence or blood-letting message, the books end up being a strong anti-war tract by subverting the honor-warrior-noble-battle trope common in many stories today. Ultimately, the books are about self-sacrifice and the ability of love to overcome the might of totalitarianism, cruelty, and hatred. I do not believe I can recommend them highly enough." Fantasy Book Review

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor
Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy

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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Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody
Obernewtyn Chronicles

In a world struggling back from the brink of apocalypse, life is harsh. But for Elspeth Gordie, born with enhanced mental abilities, it is also dangerous. Survival is only by secrecy and so she determines never to use her forbidden powers. But it is as if they have their own imperative and she is brought to the attention of the totalitarian Council that rules the Land. Banished to the remote mountain institution of Obernewtyn, she must throw off her cloak of concealment and pit herself against those that would resurrect the terrible forces of the apocalypse. Only then will she learn most truly who and what she is... Elspeth is determined to uncover the plot and so, accompanied only by her cat, Maruman, embarks on a terrible adventure full of danger, the conclusion to which promises not just uncertainty about her safety but also that of many around her.

"When you put your mind to considering some of the greatest writers of the English language, it is a source of continuing pity that Isobelle Carmody’s name is not up there along with some of the greats like Tolkien, Lewis and Hemmingway. Though some of her work has been criticized, writing science fiction, fantasy, children’s and young adult literature, Carmody is probably most well known and praised for her work on the Obernewtyn Chronicles." Fantasy Book Review

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Our recommended stand-alone books
Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky
Metro 2033

I would recommend Metro 2033 to anybody who likes fantasy, sci fi and horror and wants a very well written, immersive story with unnameable and unexplainable horrors lurking round each corner. It is a fascinating and claustrophobic exploration of a terrible future and how human nature adapts.

The Stand by Stephen King
The Stand

First came the days of the plague. Then came the dreams. Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of Evil. His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms. For hundreds of thousands of fans who read The Stand in its original version and wanted more, this new edition is Stephen King's gift. And those who are listening to The Stand for the first time will discover a triumphant and eerily plausible work of the imagination that takes on the issues that will determine our survival.

"I first read The Stand in 1989 and I was completely blown away by it. The story, the characters, the tension - I had never read a book of its size so quickly. So, 23 years later I decided to read it again, finding that although I was able to remember certain parts, almost everything other than the memory of loving it had been forgotten. I found it interesting that King himself said, in the forward, that he doesn't think The Stand is amongst his best books, but the one he is asked most questions about. I would agree with the author here as books like It, Salem’s Lot and The Shining are better-written books but there is just something about The Stand, and if the reader connects with it they are in for a thrilling ride." Fantasy Book Review

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Graveyard Book

Winner of the Newbery Medal. When a baby escapes a murderer intent on killing the entire family, who would have thought it would find safety and security in the local graveyard? Brought up by the resident ghosts, ghouls and spectres, Bod has an eccentric childhood learning about life from the dead. But for Bod there is also the danger of the murderer still looking for him - after all, he is the last remaining member of the family. A stunningly original novel deftly constructed over eight chapters, featuring every second year of Bod's life, from babyhood to adolescence. Will Bod survive to be a man?

"If asked to put The Graveyard Book into a genre, I'd have to say: this is a Neil Gaiman book. It's in the Genre of Excellence" Fortean Times

"So, the advice is to read this book, unless you are Neil Gaiman, in which case you should really be writing more and more and..." Fantasy Book Review

The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
The Dark is Rising Sequence

Cooper's highly acclaimed series--Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark Is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; and Silver on the Tree--is now available in its entirety for the first time in an attractive, sturdy boxed set that's perfect for gift giving

"Cooper is a natural storyteller, and all five novels grip the reader tightly, helped in this with copious amounts of mythology and spectacular prose. The prose of the second book in the series, The Dark is Rising, is some of the best I've read in its genre. The sequence is an absolute classic, and should be required reading for children between the ages of seven and fifteen. Those who are older who haven't read them yet are really missing out on something wonderful. Highly recommended." AT Ross, Fantasy Book Review

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
Zoo City

I found this book really throws you into the deep end, leaving you guessing at the full extent of the how the world Lauren Beukes creates is different from our own. Zoo City, set in Johannesburg, invites us into the lives of the undesirables that the majority of the population like to pretend do not exist. But if they have to acknowledge them they will do so to blame them for all the world’s problems. At the same time, although you are thrown into the deep end it doesn’t mean that you’re frustrated as you’re given just enough information to keep you intrigued. Which gives you enough time to connect with the lead character Zinzi December, the so-called heroine of the novel. Zinzi is a survivor who has a talent for finding lost items for people and she ends up getting dragged into a hunt for a missing person, and that’s where her troubles begin…

"Of course – being a fantasy review site – this isn’t a gritty crime novel. Although you will not find wizards or goblins here, what you will find is an intriguing “what if?” urban fantasy story that gives a twist to the contemporary world we live in. If I forgot to mention before, this story involves animals and magic, that fits into the world of Zoo City. As well as inviting questions as to why people who are different from the norm are treated in different circumstances." Fantasy Book Review

NOS4R2 by Joe Hill
NOS4R2

Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. When she rides her bicycle over the rickety old covered bridge in the woods near her house, she always emerges in the places she needs to be. Vic doesn’t tell anyone about her unusual ability, because she knows no one will believe her. She has trouble understanding it herself. Charles Talent Manx has a gift of his own. He likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4R2. In the Wraith, he and his innocent guests can slip out of the everyday world and onto hidden roads that lead to an astonishing playground of amusements he calls Christmasland. Mile by mile, the journey across the highway of Charlie’s twisted imagination transforms his precious passengers, leaving them as terrifying and unstoppable as their benefactor. And then comes the day when Vic goes looking for trouble… and finds her way, inevitably, to Charlie. That was a lifetime ago. Now, the only kid ever to escape Charlie’s unmitigated evil is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx hasn’t stopped thinking about the exceptional Victoria McQueen. On the road again, he won’t slow down until he’s taken his revenge. He’s after something very special —something Vic can never replace. As a life-and-death battle of wills builds — her magic pitted against his — Vic McQueen prepares to destroy Charlie once and for all… or die trying…

"NOS4R2 reads like a thriller at times, it is a totally gripping and satisfying read, expertly constructed and brilliantly executed. This one is a triumph." Fantasy Book Review

Seaward by Susan Cooper
Seaward

Seaward is a book with no disappointment at all in its ending, and one of the finest executions of this genre you will find. Even the high points of Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series cannot compare to Seaward. If I didn't make it a policy to never give decimal ratings I'd have given Seaward a 9.5, since while the plot surrounding Lugan is a little under-developed this is only a miner inconvenience. I'd therefore recommend Seaward to anyone, whether you love language, magic, character relations, exploration of fundamental issues or strange worlds you will find something here, all melded into a single whole that is simply wonderful!

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Good Omens

According to the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter - the world's only totally reliable guide to the future - the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just after tea...

"A Superbly funny book. Pratchett and Gaiman are the most hilariously sinister team since Jekyll and Hyde. If this is Armageddon, count me in." James Herbert

"Good Omens is by far one of the funniest works of fiction I have ever read. Pratchett and Gaiman have managed to create a story that weaves together large doses of satire, cynicism, slapstick and wacky unconventional humour into a cohesive yet suprisingly accurate observation of human life all over the world." Fantasy Book Review

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Dorothy Gale and her little dog Toto are in for the ride of their lives when a tornado drops them off in the Land of Oz. Can Dorothy and her new friends survive the perils of Oz to reach the Wizard and find a way home?

"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is as much loved today as it has ever been and the advent of the ebook has led to the book being free to those who able to read them. First published in 1900 when it became an international bestseller it is a relevant today as it was then. Amongst the most-read and most-influential children's books of all time. And you can read it for free." Fantasy Book Review

The Dark Angel by Meredith Ann Pierce
The Dark Angel

The Dark Angel is written like a fairy tale with all the intrigue and excellent pacing of an adult novel. There is always something happening in it, whether it is Aeriel standing up to the vampire, or her feeding the wraiths and gaining their eventual confidence. Her friendship with the Vampire is the key to the entire plot as without him she would not be able to solve all the riddles, and help save her own life. The vampire is beautifully wicked and flamboyant, vain and sensual; he has an agenda of his own wanting Aeriel there with him, but doesn't tell her his true feelings until later on. As a fantasy novel, one of a trilogy, it is a gripping read, but the only unbelievable part of the entire plot is of Aeriel's open heart surgery scene she performs on one of the characters. Not only is it vague, but it would be entirely impossible for the girl in question to remove her heart and replace it with another one in a medieval setting such as this.

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