Readers have been discussing the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal romance for years. You can find plenty of articles defining what sets the genres apart from one another, and you may stumble into a debate about whether a certain book fits into one category or the other.
Both genres feature magical elements in a contemporary setting. But if romance is the main plot, the book is paranormal romance. If the focus is on an action/mystery plot, it’s urban fantasy.
Seems simple enough, but there’s always been a gray area between the two genres filled with books of magical action/mystery and a significant romance.
That gray area is where urban fantasy romance lives.
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Urban fantasy romance vs paranormal romance
Paranormal romance has an even stronger emphasis on the love story than urban fantasy romance. Sometimes the difference is subtle. Other times, it’s obvious.
For example, Seduced by a Selkie has no mystery plotline and only one action scene. The book follows the two characters getting to know each other, having hot sex, and eventually overcoming personal issues so they can be together. It also has the word “seduced” in the title. It’s firmly in the paranormal romance genre.
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Paranormal romance series often (but not always) feature a different couple in each book, while urban fantasy romance usually follows the same couple through the series as their relationship develops. You’re more likely to get one or more sex scenes in a paranormal romance novel (though sweet paranormal romance does exist), while it may take the couple a book or two to get into bed in an urban fantasy romance series.
Paranormal romance is more likely to be written in alternating POVs from each person in the couple, while urban fantasy romance tends to be written in the POV of one protagonist. And you’re more likely to find a cliffhanger or “happily for now” ending in an urban fantasy romance book versus a “happily ever after” at the end of a paranormal romance.
You’ll notice I’m using the words “often” and “likely” a lot. These are trends in the genres, not unbreakable rules.
Urban fantasy romance vs urban fantasy
The difference between these two genres is whether you can take out the romance and still have a book.
Urban fantasy novels often have romantic subplots, but the subplot is usually minimal enough that you could remove it and not effect the beats of the main plotline. Maybe you couldn’t remove the character of the love interest because they help the protagonist take on the villain in some way, but you could cut the few kisses and longing glances without much changing.
For example, Becoming Crone is about a woman discovering her magical powers, taking back her life after a divorce, and battling the evil forces trying to stop her from achieving her destiny. She has some flirtations with the shifter tasked with guarding her, but the beginning of their romance is firmly in subplot territory and not the focus of the book.
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In urban fantasy romance, the romance has almost equal bearing as the mystery/action. If you cut all the romantic scenes from an urban fantasy romance, there would hardly be any book left. The protagonist’s evolving relationship with their love interest is so crucial to the plot that the book wouldn’t work without it.
Examples of urban fantasy romance
I’ve given an example of a paranormal romance and an urban fantasy. Now let’s look at some actual urban fantasy romance books.
The Wicked and the Dead
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Why it’s urban fantasy romance
This book wouldn’t go anywhere without the non-romance plot. The dead are rising at an alarming rate, and the heroine needs to find out why, which is complicated by how her magic is going haywire. The plot is full of urban fantasy goodness and features a badass heroine beheading the undead with a sword, and almost every story beat is intertwined with romance.
The heroine goes to her love interest for help on a job since her magic is on the fritz, and the situation is full of conflict since she’s been resisting getting together with him for reasons I won’t spoil. They’re drawn closer together over the course of the book, and the climax involves a huge romantic moment. By the end of the story, they’ve taken a big step forward but still have issues to overcome. And despite mutual longing and desire, they haven’t done more than kiss.
The mystery plot is resolved, so it’s the romance that’s going to entice readers to continue the series.
A Touch of Fever
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Why it’s urban fantasy romance
The hero and his love interest hate each other at the beginning of the book, but they’re thrown together on a quest that has them overcoming their differences and falling in love.
That sounds a lot like a paranormal romance, but I would argue that the non-romance plotline is too strong for A Touch of Fever to fall neatly into that category. In addition to the quest, there’s a mystery plotline involving people getting murdered by spontaneous combustion, and there are lots of other subplots. The humor is fantastic, the world-building excellent, and the fight scenes are fun. Not to mention the scorching hot sex scene. The book ends on a “happily for now” note with a lingering mystery to draw readers into the sequel.
Urban fantasy romance is a tricky genre to pin down. This article defines the genre in my opinion based on trends I’ve noticed while reading, but there’s certainly room for debate. What would you say makes a book urban fantasy romance? Leave your comments below.