Are We Breaking Up? Urban Fantasy & Smex

We all have expectations when we pick up a book.

We get a horror book and expect frightening things. We pick up a romance and expect the thrill of love. But what happens when genres are blended, and your urban fantasy has become all about smex? To put it another way, your kickass vampire/werewolf/ghost hunter has forgotten she’s part of a fantasy story plot and is entangled in a relationship (or two or three)? Does she seem to be worrying less about the fate of her city or world as the supernatural baddies overrun it and more concerned with whether or not she should be with [insert hottie] or stop sleeping with [insert other hottie]?

This blog post by Tori at Smexy Books pretty much summed it up–and you know what? I agree!

Just a snippet:

As a long time reader of Urban Fantasy, I have always been of the opinion that the main defining appeal of this genre is the low key or utter lack of romance. It’s not called UFR for a reason. I’m not saying no romance period in Urban Fantasy, but it shouldn’t compete against or overwhelm the main storyline.

The issue is not that there are romantic relationships or “smex” in urban fantasy stories, but rather the author sometimes needs to make it clearer what her readers can expect when they pick up her book. For example, I know what I’m getting when I read Dicey Grenor‘s Narcoleptic Vampire series (urban fantasy with a very strong blend of erotica). That didn’t keep me from enjoying the books–see my book review here–however, Ms. Grenor lets you know from the get-go that her books have violence, cursing, raunchiness (okay, a LOT of it), etc. and she’s so brilliant and funny, that she (at least in my eyes) pulls it off very well.

Now, Dicey’s asked me if my books had smex because that’s what she likes. 🙂 They don’t, probably because I’m a big dork when it comes to writing smex. Now, if I get a good handle on a tastefully done love scene–that could be something within my writing range.

For me, though, there’s something else to it. It’s a bit of a writing philosophy I’ve adopted. I remember listening to a well-known author explain that (according to his writing style and preference) that the idea or potential for smex can often be more alluring and interesting to the reader than a graphic or detailed encounter.

In addition, I have to reiterate my agreement with the Smexy Books post that it does become a problem for me as a reader of Urban Fantasy when my heroine forgets she has a job to do because she’s busy in romantic entanglements–or worse, the story is actually full-on erotica with a bit of the supernatural thrown in so that it can be placed in the fantasy category (but has no business being in that category).

Enough of my thoughts…what say you?

How much romance or smex do you like (or tolerate) in your fantasy stories? How dominant should the romance sub-plot be? Have you become frustrated with the Urban Fantasy genre?



  1. Its even harder as a male Uf reader. I’ve come across the Dresden Files and Sandman Slim and that’s about all. I don’t care if the main character isa girl but as soon as I catch a hint of romance I’m usually done reading. there are exceptions though.

    1. Author

      Alexander, I’m curious about what guys have to say about it. Like you said, the gender of the main character doesn’t matter (as long as he or she is interesting, sympathetic, etc.) however when it gets too heavily romantic, you just can’t connect. Is it simply because it’s exploring a relationship from a female perspective, which guys can’t relate to? Or perhaps the romance becomes so prominent that it takes over the original plot of the story? Please share!

      BTW, I really enjoy the Dresden Files.

      1. I have read a couple UF romances at my wife’s suggestion and what I don’t like is when it overwhelms the story. People fall in love, that’s normal and acceptable, but when every line is capped off with an attractive adjective it gets a bit tiring for me. I’m not speaking for all men of course. And maybe I’m still a little kid, but super detailed sex scenes make me feel a little awkward.

        1. Author

          Thanks for elaborating, Alexander. I think most of us enjoy a nice dose of romance (as you said, it’s part of life), but when you crack open a fantasy…well, you expect fantasy. I understand 🙂

  2. I can tolerate quite a bit of smex and romance if it is integral to the story. However, I read fantasy for the fantasy aspects, and too much romantic angst (Twilight was over the line) or too much smex (one detailed scene is enough to get the point across) usually makes me stop reading.

    The question you raise is an important one for us independent authors to consider. While I applaud the freedom of being able to write whatever we want, genres lines exist for a reason: they let readers know what to expect. In marketing, they call it “positioning.” If potential readers are confused as to what kind of book you’ve written, many will err on the side of caution and skip to the next book listing of the many thousands available.

    I think most books, even those that “cross genres,” belong to one primary genre. It’s a matter of structure and the emotional response you want to evoke in your readers. If your desired response at the end of the book is, “I’m so happy the lovers ended up together,” you are writing a romance no matter what else the book may contain. 🙂

    We need to help our readers know what to expect by positioning our books properly. Our title, cover, and description should instantly alert potential readers to the book’s primary genre without confusion. As long as we deliver on the promise of the primary genre, we are free to incorporate subplots and themes from other genres, within reason.

    1. Author

      Daniel, well said!

      I think you brought up an important point about what authors present (title, cover, etc.), and what their readers/potential readers expect. And yes, if at the end you’re ecstatic about relationship Statuses, then it just might be more of a romance than anything.

  3. Finally! I’m so glad you addressed this issue. When I think of a fantasy novel, romantic relationships don’t come to mind. I always thought I was in the minority regarding this issue. It bothers me when a fantasy novel is bogged down with romantic relationships.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind it so much but, when it starts to take over the story, I quickly lose interest. I’ve stopped reading quite a few books lately because of it.

    1. Author

      April, you’re not alone! 🙂

      If an author wishes to go heavy with the romance, I definitely respect that. However, just speaking as a reader, I want to know upfront what I’m getting into. I like romantic elements in fantasy stories, but the “meat” of my fantasy story should be a plot full of the supernatural or fantastic–and a captivating hero/heroine.

Leave a Reply to alesha Cancel reply