Urban fantasy readers get treated to a wide variety of supernatural beings in an array of predicaments, the stakes of which may range from the safety of a particular city or area to the destruction of the world. It seems as though there are as many ways to save the world as there are ways to destroy it, and urban fantasy characters each employ an approach that works best for them. In addition to differing methods used to get the job done, the authors’ use of tone in depicting their characters’ thoughts and actions also vary, particularly in regards to humor.
Typically, two types of humor may be applied within a narrative: overt or subtle. The overt use leaves no doubt as to the author’s intent—they are going for laughs, and do not hesitate to tread in the territory of ridiculous. Subtle usage tends to be more dry, perhaps just a line or two of either dialogue or a character’s thoughts that range from amusing to biting.
Some of the authors and series in the overtly humorous category include Amber Benson’s Calliope Reaper-Jones, MaryJanice Davidson’s Queen Betsy/Undead, Simon R. Green’s Nightside, and Angie Fox’s Accidental Demon Slayer. Each of these writers makes use of very funny and often comical situations and characters, even while depicting serious events in other aspects of the story.
Series employing a more subtle approach to humor include James R. Tuck’s Deacon Chalk, Nancy Holzner’s Deadtown, D D Barant’s Bloodhound Files, and Jes Battis’s OSI. Each of these books may have particular scenes that aim for the funnybone, but more often than not the comedy gets expressed through the author’s wit being demonstrated by a line of dialogue that readers may need to be paying close attention to even notice.
Occasionally an author may make use of both approaches to humor, such as J.F. Lewis in his Void City series, but in my experience, most tend to use one or the other.
As a reader, do you find the use of humor in urban fantasy a necessary ingredient to help lighten the tone or mood of the story, or do you feel it detracts from the plot and other aspects? Do you feel as though urban fantasy tales would become too dark without any humor at all, or do prefer your darkness undiluted with light or levity of any sort?
I enjoy humor when it is done well, when the author does not try so hard that the attempt backfires and the result falls flat. While I like my urban fantasy a bit on the dark side and tend to appreciate subtle humor, I do enjoy reading the overtly humorous approaches that do not take themselves too seriously even while often dealing with critical situations.
What kind of humor do you prefer in your urban fantasy, or do you enjoy both types? Who are some of your favorite authors who use humor in their writing?
A former librarian, Carol spends her time reading, writing, editing, listening to music, moderating convention panels, and best of all, playing with her amazing grandsons. Carol may be found online at Bitten by Books, where she reviews, edits, and writes a column on genre television shows.