Toronto in Urban Fantasy

September 26, 2019 | Isabel

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Picture a city. What do you see? There is gray asphalt, soaring skyscrapers, the muggy darkness of subway tunnels, graffiti. Do you see the magic? Walk past the man muttering spells under his breath to protect the neighbourhood. Jump over a pile of leaves in the gutter. It conceals a nest of faeries, waiting to steal you away if you miss a step. Such is the stuff of urban fantasy.

Downtown Toronto engulfed in greenery
Downtown Toronto engulfed in greenery. A faerie takeover? (Image courtesy of ArtTower.)

Please join us on Saturday, September 28, 2019 from 2-4 pm for a panel discussion on using the City of Toronto as a setting in science fiction and fantasy. Author James Bow will moderate panel members Mari Ramsawakh, Shawn Micallef, Ben Berman Ghan, JM Frey, K.T. Bryski and Phoebe Barton. Bow will also launch his new urban fantasy novel, The Night Girl, about goblins and trolls trying to make a life in Toronto. This event will take place on the lower level of Lillian H. Smith Branch. It is sponsored by Bakka-Phoenix Books and hosted by the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy.

Our panelists
Our panelists (left to right): Mari Ramsawakh, Shawn Micallef, Ben Berman Ghan, JM Frey, K.T. Bryski and Phoebe Barton.


Urban Fantasy

Urban fantasy has been defined in various ways over the years. At its simplest, it is about the intersection of magic or the supernatural with the mundane world. The Urban Fantasy Anthology, co-edited by Peter S. Beagle and Joe R. Lansdale, splits urban fantasy into three categories: mythic fiction, paranormal romance and noir fantasy.

Urban Fantasy Anthology

The Urban Fantasy Anthology, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Joe R. Lansdale

Mythic fiction is the earliest type of urban fantasy. Terri Windling and Charles de Lint coined the term when they were trying to define the genre of de Lint's books. These stories weave elements of myth, folklore, legend and/or fairy tales into the real world. They usually take place in contemporary urban settings.


Moonheart by Charles de Lint

Charles de Lint’s Moonheart is thus the earliest work of mythic fiction. Written in 1984, the book follows two women who discover a magical world hidden in downtown Ottawa. They draw the attention of other magical beings in Canada’s capital and soon must fight to save both worlds.

War for the Oaks

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Another early book of mythic fiction is Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks from 1987. A struggling rock singer is drawn into the battle between two faerie courts that has been raging in modern Minneapolis.

Paranormal romances straddle the line between contemporary romance and fantasy. Like all urban fantasy, they involve supernatural elements in an often urban setting. But, they tend to focus most on romantic relationships between characters.

Dead Until Dark

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series follows a telepath who falls in love with a vampire. Set in Louisiana, these books became the HBO show True Blood.

Kitty and the Midnight Hour

Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Norville is a closeted werewolf and late-night radio DJ in Denver. Her advice show for the "supernaturally disadvantaged" is a hit. Unfortunately, it's attracted the attention of a werewolf-hunter. An attractive werewolf-hunter. Uh-oh. More of the Kitty Norville series.

Like paranormal romance, noir fantasy also straddles genres. It brings the gritty realism of crime fiction and mystery to fantasy. Noir fantasy usually features a “hard-boiled” detective solving supernatural crimes. Sometimes they police the city’s weirder inhabitants. Often they are called on to protect the balance between the mundane and the magical.

Storm Front

Storm Front by Jim Butcher 

Jim Butcher’s wizard police consultant Harry Dresden helps the Chicago P.D. when the crimes become too nightmarish for them to handle. More of the Dresden Files.

Rosemary and Rue

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

On the more mythic side of noir fantasy lies Seanan McGuire’s half-fae investigator October Daye. Toby must balance her faerie and human heritage as she keeps the peace among the supernatural societies of San Francisco. More of the October Daye series.

There are other types of urban fantasy as well. It is a broad genre that encompasses many things. At its heart, urban fantasy celebrates the space between the real and the fantastic. It suggests that the border between the two is more porous than we think.


Urban Fantasy in Toronto

There’s a lot of urban fantasy set in New York, London, Chicago and so on. But Toronto is pretty fantastic too.

Someone Comes to Town  Someone Leaves Town

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow

Fixing up a house in Kensington Market, Alan meets a young woman who reveals to him that she has wings. Alan understands. He himself has a secret or two. His father is a mountain, his mother is a washing machine and three of his brothers are a set of Russian nesting dolls.

Blood Price

Blood Price by Tanya Huff 

Vicki Nelson is a private investigator in Toronto. As a series of vicious attacks shake the city, Vicki teams up with her former police partner Mike Celluci. Along with the vampire Henry Fitzroy, they must destroy a great evil to save Toronto. More of the Victory Nelson series. This series was made into the TV show Blood Ties.

The Chaos

The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson

Sixteen-year-old Scotch struggles to fit in at home and at school. But her problems are just beginning. Now her older brother has been swallowed by a strange bubble of light. Reality morphs as the Chaos turns Toronto upside down. Scotch needs solve this supernatural situation before the entire city is consumed.


Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

Elena Michaels, the world’s only female werewolf, was tired of the life of violence she lived with her Pack. She returned to Toronto to try and live as a human. But now her Pack leader is asking for her help, and she owes him a favour… More of the Women of the Otherworld series. Canada's Space channel adapted this series into a television show


Want more Urban Fantasy? Then be sure to join us this Saturday from 2-4 pm for our panel at Lillian H. Smith Branch


Green Man - Frank Kelly Freas

With thanks to Annette Mocek.