Please welcome Gabrielle Bisset
Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy?
Cousins from the same side of the family, in the world of romance novels, paranormal romance and urban fantasy are often confused. Readers who love paranormal romance are often frustrated when they buy a book clearly marketed as their favorite genre and then come to realize that, in fact, what they purchased is urban fantasy. So how can a reader tell the difference?
This is just my personal assessment, but here are the major areas the two sub-genres of romance part ways. First, the romance is always paramount in paranormal romance. True, it’s romance between species sometimes, but the romance is key, even if it takes place in an urban setting. This is not the case in urban fantasy. While there certainly may be romance in urban fantasy, it just isn’t the central idea. This is not to say there won’t be some very hot scenes in urban fantasy, just as in paranormal romance. The important point here is that it’s never the focus.
Next, there’s the action. This may be why urban fantasy books are marketed incorrectly. Paranormal romance often has a good bit of action to it, including fight scenes and chases. Often, the sexy hero is forced to defend his heroine against some unknown evil, such as his enemies. Romance readers love this. In urban fantasy, however, the action is one of the most important areas of the story. Often there’s a war between two groups, who may be of different races or species. So romance takes a back seat to the action in this sub-genre.
Another very big difference is that paranormal romance is usually a one book deal, whereas urban fantasy stories are often multi-book issues. This becomes problematic, however, when you see a series like the Black Dagger Brotherhood books. Technically, the yummy brothers J.R. Ward has created reside in paranormal romance land, but if you take a look at the series, the lines between paranormal romance and urban fantasy begin to get blurred. In fact, after Zsadist’s story, I would argue Ward took a very sharp turn into urban fantasy. I admit she steps back sometimes, especially in her most recent, Lover Unleashed, which was very much paranormal romance, but she walks a fine line.
And then there’s the world building. Paranormal romances may have some aspects of world building, but it isn’t that important. In urban fantasy, it’s key. Just as with its literary relative, fantasy, urban fantasy involves world building as an integral part of the storyline, along with the urban focus.
However, the most important difference between these two sub-genres is that paranormal romance must have a HEA. Without a happy ending, it can’t be romance. That’s what the romance gods have dictated, and this is a hard and fast rule. Urban fantasy, however, doesn’t require a HEA because the romance isn’t the focal point.
Hopefully, publishers and marketers can begin to determine what the consensus is about these two sub-genres. Until then, a little variety can’t hurt, but paranormal romance fans love their romance. I just wonder how urban fantasy readers feel when they pick up a book and realize they aren’t getting world building and battles between good and evil.