Like many paranormal readers out there, I flit between the Romance and Science Fiction/Fantasy shelves at the bookstore. I get frustrated when I see the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning in the Romance section because while it has oodles of sexual tension, it’s main plot is about stopping faeries from breaking the walls between our worlds. Not exactly a love story from the beginning.
Here’s the thing, though: We see more and more urban fantasy novels being labeled as cross-genre with romance because of a romantic subplot. There are numerous remarkable urban fantasy books on the shelves with great relationship subplots. In addition to Moning’s Fever series, I’d add Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts, Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books and even the first of Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress novels.
What we don’t see enough of is things going the other way. As in romance novels with heavy urban fantasy elements. Sure, there are some dark ones out there with unique world-building, but Karina Cooper’s Dark Mission series stands out to me as a shining example of how paranormal romance crossover to urban fantasy is done.
1. There’s never any doubt it’s a romance. There’s no question the key point of each book is about the hero and heroine progressing individually and coming together as a couple. The core of each of Cooper’s books, beginning with Blood of the Wicked, is watching two people fall in love, overcome obstacles (in the first book hero is supposed to kill heroine’s brother) and engage in some plot-necessary sex.
2. At the same time, the city is a character. This is one the key elements of urban fantasy. The setting is so distinct and vibrant it affects the novel’s characters. The Dark Mission novels are set in an alternative version of Seattle. After a massive earthquake, the leaders decided to build on top of the ruined city. Layers upon layers were added with only the most affluent able to live topside, the middle class a few layers down without sunlight, but run-off from rain and the destitute and criminals filling the moldy, decrepit remains of Old Seattle.
The structure of this city changes how the characters view the government. The ways they must interact with each other. The pit of Old Seattle holds dark secrets for everyone—the main characters, the government, the rebel witches—and it’s only by understanding the city and the way it becomes all-encompassing that we really understand the character motivations.
3. The romantic elements play with the urban fantasy ones without us even realizing. The Dark Mission books are, well, dark. The world Cooper crafts is gritty, her characters flawed. The supernatural elements—namely witches and witch hunters—thrive in a city meant to reinforce socioeconomic statuses and maintain the status quo. Her heroes and heroines must buck the system to find love and anyone in New or Old Seattle would need to fight the system to truly thrive.
The beauty here is while the world influences the characters, when you’re between the covers all you’re going to be focused on are the raw emotions. These books teem with love, anger, vengeance, duty, honor and a strong desire for home.
Also, wicked hot sex scenes.
Karina Cooper’s newest Dark Mission novel, All Things Wicked, will be available on Tuesday, January 31.
While Chelsea Mueller runs Vampire Book Club, she won’t turn down a sexy werewolf, demon or faerie. (Her husband often reminds her that she’s taken.)