Top 7 urban fantasy books
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.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Galaxy 'Alex' Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale's freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she's thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world's most elite universities on a full ride. What's the catch, and why her?
Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale's secret societies, well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than she ever imagined...
"I can’t remember the last time I wanted to step into a book so much, be part of a world so desperately. Even with all the danger, with the pain and darkness and death, it’s a place that feels like possibility…"
Hard Magic by Larry Correia
Hard Magic has by far one of the best cast's for a fantasy story in recent memory. Jake Sullivan is the slow speaking WWI veteran whose immense mental capacity is at odds with his external appearance. He is a character that is far more complex than I initially gave him credit for, and as he starts to interact with the other actives, Jake really comes into his own as one of the most likeable, charming, and violent heroes currently going around.
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.
The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams
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."
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
A bit of mythology, a bit of fantasy, a bit of urban drama and a whole lot of London makes this book a definite must read.
Under the streets of London there's a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks. Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.
"A very fine and imaginative writer." The Times
"Gaiman has a rich imagination... and an ability to tackle large themes." Philip Pullman
Cal Leandros series by Rob Thurman
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
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Reasonable rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment. Harry Dresden is the best and technically the 'only' at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal capabilities, they come to him for answers. For the 'everyday' world is actually full of strange and magical things - and most of them don't play well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a - well, whatever. The first six Dresden files novels will be published over three months - a great introduction to Harry Dresden, a modern-day wizard who manages to get into some seriously tricky situations.
"Take your standard noir detective with a sarcastic frame of mind and a weakness for helping damsels in distress, add in wizardry, vampires, werewolves, talking skulls, pizza loving fairies and all things paranormal and this is what you get. A quirky, fast paced and thrilling ride through a Chicago you never thought possible. Trying only to pay the rent, when the police are stumped on a case Harry helps out, while also trying to find a missing husband. Things soon get complicated when it becomes obvious there's black magic afoot - and the council of wizards suspect Harry. Already under the Doom of Damocles, a form of wizardly probation for past transgressions, Harry has to risk execution to discover who the Shadowman is - and why he's killing people." Fantasy Book Review
Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs
A full time auto mechanic and part time coyote the reader chases Mercy throughout the book at lightening speed. Never is there a dull moment as you learn about pack structure, why the fae came out publicly proclaiming their existence, or Mercy herself. Patricia Briggs is brilliant as she delves into a section of fantasy – the werewolf and its culture – that hasn’t been as widely explored. Kudos to Patricia Briggs for bringing werewolves into a new light, for offering up a believable and relatable female author, and for an over all quite interesting story that had me guessing till the very end. Bravo.
'I didn't realize he was a werewolf at first. My nose isn't at its best when surrounded by axle grease and burnt oil ...' Mercedes Thompson runs a garage in the Tri-Cities. She's a mechanic, and a damn good one, who spends her spare time karate training and tinkering with a VW bus that happens to belong to a vampire. Her next-door neighbour is an alpha werewolf - literally, the leader of the pack. And Mercy herself is a shapeshifter, sister to coyotes. As such, she's tolerated by the 'wolves but definitely down the pecking order. As long as she keeps her eyes down and remembers her place, the pack will leave her in peace. Hardly a normal situation, but then, Mercy Thompson is not exactly normal herself...and her connection to the world of things that go bump in the night is about to get her into a whole lot of trouble.
"I love these books!" Charlaine Harris
"The best new fantasy series I've read in years" Kelley Armstrong
Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch
My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (as the Filth to everybody else). My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit - we do paperwork so real coppers don't have to - and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluable, and that brought me to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Now I'm a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated: nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden . . . and there's something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair. The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it's falling to me to bring order out of chaos - or die trying.
Sanctuary by Vic James
Sanctuary. It's the perfect town. . . to hide a secret.
To Detective Maggie Knight, the death of Sanctuary's star quarterback seems to be a tragic accident.
Then the rumours start.
Everyone knows his ex-girlfriend is the daughter of a witch - and she was there when he died.
Bereaved mother Abigail will stop at nothing until she has justice for her dead son. Her best friend Sarah will do everything in her power to protect her accused daughter. And the women share a secret that could shatter their lives.
As accusations fly, it falls to Maggie to find out the truth before her investigation spirals out of control.
And the town becomes no sanctuary at all.
"James’ new novel is a pacey and enjoyable read that while not quite reaching the heights of her previous work, offers many enjoyable whodunnit thrills."
Recommended reads by sub-genre
Select a sub-genre below to see which books we highly recommend.
High / Epic fantasy
Secondary world with epic characters, themes, and plot
Historical fantasy / fiction
Historical fiction with fantasy elements
Bleak subject matter and a dystopian setting
Fantasy set in parallel worlds
Science / Speculative
Draws elements from both science fiction and fantasy
Fantasy for ages up to 12
Fantasy for ages 12+
Fantasy for ages 18+
Dystopian / Post-Apocalyptic
Fiction set in dark, nightmarish worlds
Monarchy / Empire
Fantasy books with empires at their core
Fiction with elements of fear, horror, death, gloom and romance
Fiction with vampiric characters
Fiction with werewolf characters
Fiction with steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology
Fiction with the legendary, scaled, fire-breathing creatures
Wizards / Magicians
Fantasy with wizards, witches, magicians, sorceresses...
Lore, Legend and Mythology
Inspired by ancient folklore and mythology
Fantasy books focusing on mailtary life
Roman historical fiction
Explore the ancient Roman Empire
Books exploring the galaxy of the ever-popular franchise
Animal fantasy books
Fantasy with sentient animals
The Thief / Assassin
Fantasy books starring the thief or the assassin
Fiction exploring beyond the laws of nature
Japanese comic books and graphic novels
Liked to be scared? These books will do that...
For the reader who loves to laugh
Inspired by Tolkien
Love Lord of the Rings? Now try these...
The best science fiction and fantasy anthlogies