There are a lot of Urban Fantasy Novels out there and most of them are worth reading. But, if you are looking for a guaranteed great urban fantasy book, then you can’t miss with these books. Some you will have heard of, others you may not have done.
Of course, any list like this is totally subjective, and many of you will disagree with my choices. If that’s you, let me know in the comments.
Before we start, here are some ground rules:
I have to like it
So no Twilight. I know the history of the genre can’t be written without it, but I can’t even finish it. So I can’t recommend it.
I’m not a fan of the romance side of urban fantasy. So you won’t find any of those novels on this list. Nothing against them, they just aren’t my thing.
Only one per series
This is to stop this list from getting repetitive and rather pointless. I’ve only included the first in each series as even if the third novel in a series is better, you would still need to read the first one before you got there.
My Must-Read Urban Fantasy Novels
“The Night Watch” by Sergei Lukyanenko
Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch brilliantly combines urban fantasy, spy thriller, and police procedural elements. Set in Moscow, “Others” with magical powers are divided into Light and Dark magicians, locked in a perpetual political stalemate. Anton Gorodetsky, a disillusioned Light magician, investigates vampires and encounters characters with intertwined destinies.
Exceptional world-building features the Twilight, a parallel dimension from which magic is drawn. The book blends Russian culture, dark humor, and intriguing character relationships. Despite an understated ending and occasional clunky language, Night Watch is a must-read for urban fantasy and political thriller fans.
“Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman
Neverwhere is a captivating and imaginative story that takes readers on a journey to a parallel world beneath the bustling city of London. The book tells the story of Richard Mayhew, a young man who is thrown into a dangerous adventure after helping an injured girl named Door, who has the ability to open doors to other worlds.
As Richard accompanies Door through the treacherous world of London Below, he discovers a hidden society living beneath the streets of London that he never knew existed. Gaiman creates a vivid and fascinating world, filled with underground stations and strange creatures, that is both dangerous and magical.
Gaiman’s writing is witty and suspenseful, with a dark humor that adds to the story’s charm. The characters are well-developed and memorable, particularly Door and the enigmatic Marquis de Carabas. The book’s exploration of class and power dynamics is also thought-provoking, with London Below serving as a metaphor for the marginalized and forgotten communities of society.
The book’s setting is particularly noteworthy, as Gaiman transforms the familiar city of London into an entirely new world filled with wonder and danger. Whether or not readers have visited London, Gaiman’s descriptions of the city Below will transport them to a different world entirely. Overall, Neverwhere is a must-read for fans of fantasy and speculative fiction, and anyone who loves a good adventure story filled with wit, suspense, and magic.
“Storm Front” by Jim Butcher
“Storm Front” introduces readers to Harry Dresden, a wizard-for-hire operating in contemporary Chicago. With memorable characters, and unique blend of noir and fantasy elements, “Storm Front” is a standout entry in the urban fantasy genre.
Storm Front itself is a fast-paced detective show that keeps the plot moving while showing the reader a fantastical world hidden from us everyday folk.
While some of Butcher’s descriptions of women have become somewhat dated (they tend to be very beautiful with sometimes physics-defying dimensions), the Dresden Files remain an international sensation.
There was also a little-known tv adaptation of the Dresden Files, that only ran for a short season, but is actually worth a watch.
“City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare
City of Bones, the first book in Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, is a thrilling adventure that introduces readers to a captivating new world of supernatural beings. The story follows Clary Fray, a regular teenager who discovers that she has hidden connections to the Shadowhunters, a group of warriors dedicated to protecting humans from demons. Clary’s journey to uncover the truth about her past and rescue her mother from the clutches of evil is filled with unexpected twists and turns that keep the reader engaged from beginning to end.
Clare’s writing is top-notch, and her ability to craft complex characters and intricate plots is evident throughout City of Bones. The world-building is exceptional, with well-developed supernatural creatures, a secret society of Shadowhunters, and a magical portal system that connects different parts of the world.
Overall, City of Bones is a must-read for fans of YA fiction and supernatural stories. With its action-packed plot, well-drawn characters, and creative world-building, this book is sure to captivate readers from start to finish.
“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, is a gloriously funny, heartwarming, and ambitious urban fantasy novel that takes readers on a magical mystery tour through various mythologies. The story follows Shadow, an ex-convict who, upon his release, learns of his wife’s tragic death. He soon meets the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a cryptic job. As Shadow journeys across Middle America, he encounters an array of gods, both old and new, delving into the heart of America’s cultural melting pot.
Gaiman expertly weaves a rich narrative that glides in and out of reality, creating a world both familiar and utterly strange. With a mix of horror, hope, and wonder, the novel presents an engaging and intricate plot that explores the consequences of immigration on the gods left behind. Shadow’s adventures echo the trials of various archetypal figures from folklore and legend, resulting in a captivating and enriching experience for readers.
American Gods is not just an urban fantasy masterpiece; it’s also a love story and a testament to Gaiman’s phenomenal writing and reader-friendly style. This epic tale offers a perfect blend of myth, mystery, and heart that solidifies its place as one of the best urban fantasy books ever written.
Buy American Gods today.
“The Night Raven” by Sarah Painter
“The Night Raven” by Sarah Painter is the first book in the highly successful Crow Investigations series, perfect for fans of urban fantasy and magical realism. The novel follows Lydia, a private investigator from a notorious magical family, who returns to London only to be pulled into a dangerous investigation. Painter delivers a fast-paced, engaging plot and well-developed characters with distinctive personalities, motivations, and histories.
The world-building captures the essence of London, while the unique magic system adds depth to the story. Painter’s enchanting prose immerses readers in the narrative, allowing them to form emotional connections with the characters. With a gripping storyline, compelling characters, and a captivating exploration of magic, “The Night Raven” is a must-read that will leave a lasting impression on its readers.
“Fallible Justice” by Laura Laasko
Fallible Justice by Laura Laakso is an outstanding urban fantasy novel that excels in various aspects, making it a must-read for fans of the genre. Set in Old London, where magical beings coexist with humans, the story follows private investigator Yannia Wilde as she attempts to clear a man of murder despite an infallible Herald of Justice declaring him guilty.
Laakso masterfully builds her fantasy world, subtly introducing the unique rules, customs, and characters of Old London without overwhelming the reader. Her writing style is direct yet magical, seamlessly blending the real and fantastical aspects of the setting. Yannia is an intriguing detective, dealing with her dark past and a painful medical condition while navigating through the challenges of her investigation.
The novel’s depiction of magic strikes a perfect balance between being otherworldly and having clear rules and regulations. Although the underlying mystery may not be overly complex, the added subterfuge and intrigue keep the reader engaged. Fallible Justice is a captivating and under-appreciated gem in the urban fantasy genre that promises a delightful reading experience.
“Rivers of London” by Ben Aaronovitch
“Rivers of London” by Ben Aaronovitch is a captivating urban fantasy book that skillfully blends magic, crime investigation, and the rich history of London. Following Peter Grant, a newly graduated police constable and wizard-in-training, the story takes off when he encounters a ghost at a murder scene, which leads him into the magical world of London.
The novel avoids falling into clichés and tropes, creating a refreshing take on magic coexisting with reality. The magic system is acknowledged and accepted by authorities, making the story feel more grounded and believable. Aaronovitch’s characters are realistic, relatable, and engaging, with their imperfections and human qualities.
While the book has a few shortcomings, such as an overemphasis on explaining magic through science and occasional deviations from the central storyline, it excels in humor, sharp dialogues, and a fast-paced narrative. The vivid portrayal of London and its history adds depth to the story, making it a must-read for fans of urban fantasy, crime investigation, and engaging characters.
“A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab
“A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab tells the story of Kell, one of the last Antari, magicians with the ability to travel between parallel Londons. In this world-building masterpiece, Schwab creates four Londons – Grey, Red, White, and Black – each with their own history, ruler, and society.
Kell serves as a liaison between the rulers of these Londons but is also an illegal collector of magical artefacts. When he acquires a dangerous artefact from Black London, he must team up with a Grey London thief named Lila to prevent the artefact from falling into the wrong hands.
Schwab’s ability to create vivid and unique worlds is truly exceptional. The rules of magic are subtly established and the characters are equally intriguing. Kell is a complex character, with layers of self-pity and duty, while Lila is a strong-willed, self-sufficient pickpocket with a thirst for adventure.
The book’s pacing is deliberate, with a slow build to the main plot, but this allows for ample time to get lost in the world and characters that Schwab has created. “A Darker Shade of Magic” is an engaging and satisfying read, leaving the door open for further exploration of this captivating universe.
“Soul Fraud” by Andrew Givler
“Soul Fraud” by Andrew Givler is a fantastic addition to the Urban Fantasy genre, promising to be the first in an exhilarating new series. Givler’s writing is both witty and thrilling, with a cast of characters that are both humorous and dangerous.
The protagonist, Matthew, is an everyday hero with everyday problems, making him a relatable and grounded character in a world full of gods, monsters, and demons. Givler has done an excellent job in creating a fantastical world that is believable yet thrilling. The action scenes are well-crafted, never getting repetitive and always engaging. One of the standout features of the book is the sharp, dry wit that runs throughout, providing many laugh-out-loud moments.
For fans of “Supernatural,” “Soul Fraud” comes closer than any ill-conceived spin-off and is a must-read for anyone looking for a new Urban Fantasy series. I can’t wait for the next instalment to come out!
In conclusion, urban fantasy is a diverse and exciting genre that continues to captivate readers with its imaginative world-building and engaging characters. From the political intrigue of “Night Watch” to the magical mystery tour of “American Gods,” there is something for everyone in this genre.
The works of authors such as Neil Gaiman, Sergei Lukyanenko, and Cassandra Clare have helped to establish urban fantasy as a mainstream literary genre, while newer works such as “Soul Fraud” continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in this exciting genre. Whether you are a die-hard fan of urban fantasy or a curious newcomer, there is no shortage of amazing books to explore in this fascinating genre.