It's a question every paranormal and/or urban fantasy reader encounters in the course of their reading: What's the difference between the two?
For me, Urban Fantasy is all about the paranormal embedded in a modern setting. There might be romance, but the romance is not the primary focus and a happily ever after is never guaranteed.
Some series that come to mind are Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series and the Hollows series by Kim Harrison; these books usually include a love interest and even a boyfriend or another, but the focus of the series is the action, character development, and the plot.
Whereas the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about Paranormal Romance is the happily ever after, in a PNR series or novel, you can absolutely expect that there will be a HEA for a couple in each of the books in the series. The books that come to mind are the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward, as well as Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld, Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed and Larissa Ione’s Demonica series.
Another big difference between the genres, I believe, is the narrating voices. More often than not in Urban Fantasy we get the heroine narrating in first person, like in Charlaine Harris's Southern Mystery series:
“As the water pounded on my back, I reflected that I must be pretty simple. It didn't take much to make me happy. A long night with a dead guy had done the trick.”
— Charlaine Harris, Dead to the World (Sookie Stackhouse, #4)
Of course UF has stories written in third person as well, like Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghost series:
“She doubted he'd take too kindly to her fighting with them, no matter how much he liked having her in his bed.”
— Stacia Kane, Unholy Magic (Downside Ghosts, #2)
On the other hand, Paranormal Romances are usually written in more than one point of view and all in third person. We constantly get to get into the leading lady’s head along with the leading male and sometimes even the villain and other side characters as well.
“He has resisted Temptation for Centuries, A stone cold warrior whose frozen heart refuses to thaw—until her...” —Lara Adrian
And because there is more of a distance between the readers' and the characters' thoughts, it feels like we might not be getting the whole story. I mean, since it’s not first person, we can’t be certain what exactly the character is thinking, since we don’t get the complete thought process.
One of the biggest differences between both genres for me is the character developments. In Urban Fantasy, we usually have one main character who will appear as the protagonist of several novels. The character gets a chance to screw up and make it up to his friends and the readers innumerous times over.
Just think how many time you might have wanted to punch Rachel Morgan from the Hollows series, or Sarah from the Crimson Moon series by L.A. Banks. They had time and space to actually make colossal mistakes—but they actually also have a chance to fix them.
At the same time in Paranormal Romance, each couple of protagonists that make up a couple only have one book to make it all work—one single novel to make us care for these people individually as well as for their relationship, all the while dividing our attention between two or more points of view and creating a plot that will make that book do not feel superfluous and fit into a series. Yikes!
Authors such as Lara Adrian, Larissa Ione, and Gena Showalter actually pull that off time and time again for ongoing series.
Some series are in the tiny wriggle room between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance which makes it hard to define them. I have a hard time fitting a series like the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost. It’s Urban Fantasy, but it is very heavy on the romance side, so I tend to call it Romantic Urban Fantasy.
What other authors or series would you say are Romantic Urban Fantasy? Do you agree with my definitions?
Larissa Benoliel blogs at Larissa's Bookish Life and is a Brazilian-Israeli living in Rio de Janeiro. She loves to read Urban Fantasy, Fantasy, and Paranormal Romance. If she’s not online, she’s reading. Usually it's both.