Urban fantasy is a relatively newer genre of fiction (harkening back to the 1970s with some noir stuff from the 1930s) that place fantasy concepts into the contemporary world, typically in a city and typically in secret. There are plenty of outliers, including modern worlds where magic is the norm, or alternate histories where magic took hold, and there are more niche subgenres like paranormal romance or detective thrillers where one might hone in on specific parts of what makes up an urban fantasy.
But I want to talk about suburban fantasy. I have a lot of fun calling Vacancy a suburban fantasy, and even though I don’t think I’ve said it, The Association is probably even more suburban than Vacancy. But what is a suburban fantasy?
Well, I can’t find an exact definition of it, it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page at least, but I feel like it’s one of those sub-sub genres that would fall under scifi/fantasy > urban fantasy > suburban fantasy, but could exist alongside it or as a companion as well. I know not all urban fantasies are gritty, but I feel like suburban fantasy is just, by nature, softer. You’re talking about little houses where your next door neighbor might be a gnome as opposed to wandering into a nightclub run by vampires. (Both of which are fucking good, they’re just different.) You can get into a lot of trouble in a city and still hide, you can lose people and meet a whole lot of strangers, but all of that’s a lot harder in the suburbs, in your own neighborhood, or even in a small town.
And the kind of magic a city-dwelling warlock might use to slow down the bus if he’s running late is going to be a bit different than a witch’s flick of her wrist to turn the sign on her flower shop to “closed” because she wants to take a midday nap. While characters in both genres could ultimately save the world in some fashion, I think the feel of the magic and the more mundane things you see often relate back to their settings. I really enjoy the juxtaposition of people handling everyday tasks and trivialities while also balancing the universe-breaking nature of magic in general, hopping between realms, and the occasional problematic demon. Some of those things feel like they belong down a steamy, stinky alley between two run-down apartment buildings, but they stick out and are probably handled a different way in your neighbor’s backyard.
It’s interesting that suburban horror/gothic seems pretty well fleshed out as far as genre goes, but that might be because the suburbs lend themselves so well to horror. But I’m here to tell you they’re the perfect fit for fantasy too! After all, where do all your heroes and heroines end up to live out their happily ever afters, huh?
I don’t have a good definition for the genre yet, though, so I decided to create a subreddit to figure it out. That’s right, I’m a reddit mod now, and I’m running the brand new r/SuburbanFantasy, and I don’t even know what the board is supposed to be. Great. There’s nothing there now, but if you’re at all interested, please join and post! I’m open to crafting this community with other lovers of fantasy of all sorts to discuss and recommend books, movies, art, and anything else that feels suburban and magical. Maybe it will die in a few months or maybe it will become a sweet little place where we can get awesome new reads.