Jul 11 2012 12:00pm

A Light in the Darkness: Humor in Urban Fantasy from Davidson, Barant, Lewis and More!

Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice DavidsonUrban 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.

Undead to the World by D D BarantSome 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.

Staked by J. F. LewisAs 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.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Carmen Pinzon
1. bungluna
I can't think of humor in UF without thinking of Shelly Laurenston. The best way to describe all her books is bawdy good fun!
PM Kavanaugh
2. PM Kavanaugh
I'm not a big urban fantasy fan, but I do like a touch of humor (more the subtle kind) in suspense/thriller stories, whether in books or on screen. I think the juxtaposition of a smile/laugh and a breath held or chair arm gripped enhances the experience for the reader/viewer. KC Klein wrote laugh-out-loud moments/dialogue with her heroine in Dark Future and gave a lighter touch to a very dark (and excellent) story.
Christopher Morgan
4. cmorgan
All my favorite books have at least a bit of humor to them. Always been a guy that likes a good laugh. I do appreciate the subtler jokes delivered with a completly straight face. One of the reasons I'm obsessed with Terry Pratchett. Between Cprl. Nobbs and Moist I can't get enough.
PM Kavanaugh
5. huntece
I second Shelley Laurenston and add her dragon alter ego G.A. Aiken :) She is my favourite outright comedic writer. I love my comedy with a bit of bite.
For the more subtle and snarky humour I like Ilona Andrews, Jeaniene Frost and Sherrelyn Kenyon
PM Kavanaugh
6. ShihtzusHappens
I think that Angie Fox is my favorite author. I picked up my first book Accidental Demon Slayer. From the first page I was hooked. She grabbed my attention right off the bat and still has it. From the fart spells to the giggle spells to a talking dog and a whole slew of witches that ride Harley's. The humor is awesome as well as the plot and love that the story keeps going book after book Hope they never end.
I also love Jennifer Estep and her Elemental Assassin books she is another that keeps me very busy.
There are a few others that keep me busy as well. I read nothing but Urban Fanasty and Paranormal books.( well and my bible as well). May seem an odd mix but works for me.
Lady's keep the keys hot. We all have a lot of reading to do
PM Kavanaugh
7. Rachel Bitten by Books
Excellent article Carol!

I tend to like both types of humor. It really depends on my mood. You and actually read a lot of the same authors. I really enjoy Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series. He makes a lot of references to pop culture and has a dry sense of humor. You can miss some of the references if you aren't really paying attention.

On the other hand MaryJanice Davidson who uses overt humor as well as Angie Fox (two of my other favorite authors) really take me away from all the darkness in the world and give me a good laugh out loud. Different authors styles balance out my reading entertainment and give me what I need in the moments of my life that I define what I need. That's the beauty of books. YOU choose what you want in any given moment. At least here in the US (for now). Thanks Carol for the thoughtful post.
PM Kavanaugh
8. aryn
I listened to the audio version of The Urban Shaman and loved its subtle humor. The humor either is missing in the rest of the series or the new narrator doesn't do it so that I can hear it. I really find out-and-out-try-to -be funny stuff pretty much annoying. I enjoy Shelly Larenston, but do not find her 'funny' nor even particularly humorous (nor is her stuff dark or dystopic). One of the funniest non-fiction books I've listened to in the past year is Sex at Dawn. Again, I bought the Audible version, and the narrator is great and the writers supurb.
Post a comment