I recently launched a book on the ‘Zon and checked off the applicable genre tags. And discovered that it also appears under a horror sub-genre. “But wait, this isn’t horror! Just because it has…” Um, OK, never mind. But it is still not horror. Or is it?
What separates urban fantasy (UF), paranormal fantasy, paranormal romance (PNR), dark fantasy, and horror? Besides “Does the guy on the cover have a bare chest? If so, PNR.” Although that might change next week, given how publishers keep re-doing genre conventions on covers.
Urban fantasy is the easiest to peg. It is a fantasy world, meaning magic, magical creatures, vampires, were-creatures, and the like, in a mostly realistic modern setting. The Dresden Files is an excellent example. But so are Charles de Lint’s older books Greenmantle, Moonheart and The Onion Girl. Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series could also be considered urban fantasy, although they were written before it became a genre, and are lumped in with YA fantasy. The characters accept magic, and strange goings on are taken in stride in urban fantasy. Not everyone has to believe it, and in some cases efforts are made by the fantastic creatures/people to keep most folks from knowing about the fantasy stuff, but it is part of the world the protagonists are familiar with.
Paranormal romance is romance plus (usually but not always) were-creatures and/or vampires. Twilight is a sweet-ish PNR. For a while you could tell by looking at the cover. If the chick was in form-fitting black leather and either no men or fully-clad men were on the cover, it was urban fantasy. If she was in form-fitting leather and the guys lacked shirts? Paranormal romance. That seems to be shifting a bit, but if you see a shirtless man superimposed on a wild animal, it is paranormal romance. Those follow the romance genre conventions, but with vampires, were-creatures and the like tossed in, and some magic.
Paranormal fantasy seems to be either paranormal romance toned down (sweeter, so no on-screen “adult situations”), or a less common tag for urban fantasy.
Dark Fantasy has strong elements of horror, but unlike horror, the protagonists come to understand and accept magic and magical creatures. Some Gothic fantasies (Gothic fiction elements plus fantasy setting) are dark enough to count. Take a Byronic hero (“mad, bad, and dangerous to know”) of dubious moral quality, an ancestral mansion that has seen better days (the House of Usher), or a grimy town with a secret, toss in magic, and you are close. Dark fantasy can drift close to cosmic horror, with elements of Lovecraftian “things man was never meant to know” lurking on the edges. But it is not horror. The protagonists have an element of control, and good and evil are pretty clear.
Horror can have fantastic elements in it, but it is the mood and strict morality that define horror, no matter how presented. George R. R. Martin’s “The Sand Kings” is science fiction horror, and a heckuva good story. In horror often there is no reason given for why the precipitating event happens. Also, the main character doesn’t accept that the fantasy element is part of the ordinary world. Lovecraftian horror, also called cosmic horror, implies that there are things too enormous for humans to understand, and if they try, the characters go mad. “Sanity rolls” are common in horror. Not in fantasy.
So, Eerily Familiar is urban fantasy, and dark fantasy. The characters use magic, they accept that it is there, there is an element of “Don’t open that door!”, and a Byronic-appearing hero. The talking animals (Familiars), tweed socks, trip to the thaumatovet, and other humor elements nudge it closer to UF, and the plot sequence is not that of a romance. “Familiar Roads” is straight-up urban fantasy.
You might have your own thoughts as to where your book ought to go. Keep in mind that marketing is what determines genre. What are you closest to? Use that for your categories, and then add tags and keywords to tailor things more closely.
An agent’s look at genre. Scroll down for links to more options.
One writer’s take on fantasy sub-genres.