This blog is not intended as a researched study. More my own observations and prejudices about the various aspects of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
I fell in love with the subgenre when I read Sacred Ground by Mercedes Lackey, and later the Diana Tregarde mysteries by the same author. I liked the idea of modern people battling paranormal evil in contemporary settings. I still have bouts of absolute certainty that a monster resides under my bed. These books gave me hope that I might one day banish it, on my own, with my own powers.
Then I read the early volumes of Anita Blake’s adventures by Laurel K. Hamilton. These books are dark, sometimes downright gory, more so than the Diana Tregarde books. Normally I shy away from graphic violence and gore, but the well drawn characters kept pulling me back. Then along came one book in the series that destroyed my personal image of these characters. I haven’t gone back.
But by this time I’d discovered Kim Harrison, Patricia Briggs, Anton Strout and others in the genre. Traditional fantasies paled in comparison for me. I gobbled them up even as I wrote my own stories. The characters in every book took up residence in my bookshelves and stayed there. Tess and her companions feel like my best friends.
More recently I’m seeing a drift toward lighter atmospheres in the genre, closer to paranormal romance but with more grit.
Why are these contemporary stories hitting the best seller lists and continuing to occupy our imaginations long after we close the books? I don’t know for sure. In part vampires and werewolves have been romanticized and become the sex toys of the last decade, or more. I personally don’t understand the vampires. They are blood suckers, worse than the mosquitoes that carry malaria or other hideous diseases. But the werewolf? I get the ideal that wolves are majestic and misunderstood kings of the forest. Werewolves are the ultimate bad boys that women need to tame and bring low by the power of love. Beauty and the Beast endures.
Literature, even genre literature relies heavily on metaphors. The demons our hero and heroine slay represent the stuff of our nightmares: plague, violence, dirty politics or conspiracies, poverty—of wealth as well as the spirit—an abusive spouse, whatever you fear most. Contemporary or urban fantasies don’t require a lot of soul searching to find the metaphor. The defeat of those demons by a character gives us hope that we can overcome our own personal bug bears, real or imagined.
Another draw is that the heroines are sexy, sassy, and smart. Same goes for the males leads. The kinds of people we want to be. A little hero(ine) worship doesn’t hurt.