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Paranormal romance versus urban fantasy

Oct 26,2012
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In the world of genres and sub-genres, there’s increasing debate among readers (and writers) about how to classify/describe certain types of books.

Take paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Is there a difference between the two?

My novel, 'Shadows' is generally referred to as paranormal romance (even though the relationship between Gaby and Rafa is far from what you'd call a traditional romance). But blogger Noelle over at Young Adult Anonymous, wrote a great review in which she believed 'Shadows' was better described as urban fantasy.

Noelle quoted author Jeannie Holmes’ theory on how to differentiate between paranormal romance and urban fantasy:

“The two share 90% of their genre DNA. However, the main differences are this: urban fantasy focuses on an issue outside of a romantic relationship between two characters. Paranormal romance focuses on a romantic relationship between two characters and how outside forces affect that relationship. The best litmus test to determine if a story is urban fantasy or paranormal romance is to ask the following question: 'If the romance between Character A and Character B were removed, would the plot still stand as a viable storyline?' If the answer is 'yes,' chances are good it's urban fantasy. If the answer is 'no,' it's most likely paranormal romance.” (From Wikipedia)

So, I thought it might be interesting to to apply this theory to some of the YA paranormal titles I've read in the last couple of years:

  • 'Twilight' - Stephenie Meyer: Definitely paranormal romance
  • 'Fallen' - Lauren Kate: Paranormal romance - no question.
  • 'Hush Hush' - Becca Fitzpatrick: Likewise.
  • 'Vampire Academy' - Richelle Mead: This is actually a curly one because while the Rose/Dimitri romance propels the story, there are bigger story arcs at work and – taking the romance element out – the series could still work (albeit not quite as compellingly).
  • 'Bloodlines' - Richelle Mead: So far, you’d have to say this is leaning more towards urban fantasy, though no doubt the romance elements will build as the series progresses.
  • 'Shiver' -  Maggie Stiefvater: Technically (based on definitions above) this is paranormal romance, although the term doesn’t necessarily do the beautiful writing of the series justice.
  • 'Evernight' - Claudia Gray: Strong world buildling, but I’d still have to go with paranormal romance.
  • 'The Replacement' - Brenna Yovanoff: Uban fantasy; there's a romantic element, but there are bigger issues at play.
  • 'Strange Angels' - Lili St Crow: Urban fantasy; while there's a love triangle, it's mostly secondary to the action (at least in the early books I've read so far).
  • 'The Reformed Vampire Support Group' - Catherine Jinks: Urban fantasy (with an Aussie flavour!).
  • 'Need' - Carrie Jones - Paranormal romance (albeit with plenty of action and Nordic mythology).
  • 'Tithe' - Holly Black: Too close to call.

I suspect Jeannie Homes was looking to differentiate between stories that were essentially romances (with paranormal elements added on) and those where the paranormal elements were critical to the story.

At the end of the day, though, tags are irrelevant. It comes down to whether or not the story works for you. And for the record, I don't mind what tag readers give Shadows; I just hope they enjoy it. :)

Thoughts on this theory or my musings above?

File 11670

Oct 30,2012
I loved the Business of Death series. Trent Jamieson is so much fun to read - and a really lovely bloke. I agree it's definitely urban fantasy. And plenty of adventure. :) And I also enjoyed The Time Traveler's wife. The narrative style was so mind-bending and addictive. That novel almost defies categorisation because its fantasy elements are kind of 'mystical realism' in a sense, and also technically sci fi (being time travel and all). Thanks for the comment. :)
Oct 30,2012
anonymous's picture
Great blog, and I love Jeannie Holmes description/ definition of the difference between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. I think that I am a bit of an adventure girl and Urban Fantasy, by this definition, will generally pip the post for me over Paranormal Romance. A couple of books that sprung to mind whilst thinking about these genres were the 'Business of Death' series (quite clearly Urban Fantasy, but there is a lovely romantic angle that flows through the series), and 'The Time Traveller's Wife' - hugely romantic and all about the couple's relationship, but so much world building and extraordinary detail in the science behind Henry's time travelling 'afflication'.
Oct 29,2012
Ambivalence: Yes, 'Reformed Vampire Support Group' rocked! Have you read the kind-of sequel, 'The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group'? Also very good. And I love the way you describe your preference for romance in a story. Pretty much sums up my thoughts as well. Booky (great name!): I've read the first of the Mortal Instruments series and the rest are on my (increasing large) to-read list. I thought it had some great world building and agree that - at least in the first one - it probably sat on the urban fantasy side of the fence. How does the rest of the series pan out? (without spoilers of course:) ) Does it stay that way, or does the romance become more prominent? Definitely a different take on the romance angle with the whole brother angle... I'm certainly curious to see how that plays out.
Oct 27,2012
What do you think about The Mortal Instruments (If you have read it)? It's probably one of the only paranormal romance/urban fantasy i read. There's the big thing about Clary being in love with her brother but there's a very strong villainous threat.
Oct 26,2012
I haven't heard of anyone who differentiated between the two, but now I can safely say I'm an urban fantasy person. I like romance on the sidelines, cheering like crazy but not taking over the game. And ZOMG, the REFORMED VAMPIRE SUPPORT GROUP! Gosh, I read that ages ago, and I remember loving it. Wow. Brings back memories :')

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