Kristi Charish: Is it Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy? (+ Giveaway)


Kristi Charish, AuthorNote from VBC/Chelsea: The VBC team is super intrigued by Kristi Charish’s upcoming novel Owl and the Japanese Circus (releasing Jan. 13, 2015), so we were very excited when she agreed to write a post for us. Today she’s going to delve into the differences between paranormal romance and urban fantasy, and we’ve got a copy of her book for one lucky reader.

Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy?

We’ve all been there.

Standing in front of a display in the bookstore (or a Net Galley or Amazon window – pick your poison, the dilemma is the same) staring at a tempting new cover calling out like a piece of highly addictive delectable candy from amongst its equally tasty looking peers. From this display, a mix of well placed marketing adjectives all hinting at otherworld elements, this one title calls out to you with a clever twist of a phrase – Kim Harrison’s Clint Eastwood themed titles were always my kryptonite. I mean, ‘The Outlaw Demon Wails’, anyone?

New book in hand, you’re ready to hit the checkout counter and get this potential new favorite drug read home.

Only one problem… You’re not entirely sure whether the hot little title clasped between your fingers is a paranormal romance or urban fantasy…in fact, after a second perusal of the display table, you get the sinking suspicion the bookstore employees aren’t exactly sure either.

Perusing the reviews and book blog sites for hints as to where this book lies on this murky scale, you get the impression other readers aren’t so sure either.

So here I am at Vampire Book Club, bringing you: Is it Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy?

Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish1. Okay, so who the heck made up all these terms anyways?

Short answer? A conglomerate of marketing departments. There is no real reason why ‘paranormal’ usually means romance and ‘urban fantasy’ leans more towards action/mystery contemporary fantasy. My best ‘edumacated’ guess? ‘Paranormal romance’ rolls off the tongue better than ‘urban fantasy romance’ and looks better on a display/description/article. Since most readers and sellers seem to have fallen into this pattern cleverly devised by marketing, it works to distinguish the two which. And really, in this case that’s actually the labels job.

But keep in mind terms aren’t a hard and fast rule. I’ve seen all sorts of other labels used, like paranormal fiction and contemporary fantasy (which is a slightly more academic and literary sounding way of saying urban fantasy). Like most guidelines if you look hard enough you’re going to find exceptions, but the label is a good place to start.

Okay, so the book in question is classified as UF (or PR) but you’re still not convinced. You’ve been burned at this bookstore before.

2. …There’s a cover, isn’t there?

Okay, there are covers that are OBVIOUSLY indicating the book is a romance (Romance style cover, half-dressed woman (or man!) draped over the opposite (or same!) gender, with a touch of fangs/claws/glowing eyes. Obvious case of PR. If you were going for sexy time with vampires/werewolves/demons etc, you’re done!

But then there are ones that aren’t so clear cut… I mean, there’s a woman on the front in a midriff baring top, short-shorts/mini skirt and spiked heels… But maybe she’s just dressed to go out? Or to lure in vampires/werewolves etc so she can stake them…

Or maybe the cover doesn’t even feature a person, just abstract pictures/designs?

If there isn’t a human on the cover there’s a good chance you’re looking at a UF. Typically, in marketing novels the more literary novels tend to have an abstract cover. Again, not fool proof, there are exceptions to every rule, BUT a literary marketed book is not aimed at the romance crowd (typically), so there’s a better chance you’re looking at a UF. For a great example of this check out the Canadian release covers for Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld.

If there is a person/supernatural on the cover, there is the gender of the character and general level of ‘undressed’ness to take into consideration. A fully clothed man on the cover (i.e. Harry Dresden), you are probably looking at an urban fantasy, but fully clothed female could still go either way (or over into the nebulous grey areas).

3. Well, what does the book think?

No these books don’t talk…unless it’s the Book of Evil, in which case it most definitely does talk – and you should run, run now!

What does the book’s back cover blurb say? A defining feature of the romance genre (and any and all of its subclasses) is a story where the conflict centers on a relationship. Sometimes there are great little mystery or adventure side plots thrown in but they always play second fiddle to the romance. Again, never fool proof, but if two thirds of the back jacket discusses a love interest, you’ve probably picked up a paranormal romance, not an urban fantasy. And vice versa for you guys and girls looking for romance heavy novels. The back jacket of an urban fantasy might offer a line or two about a love interest (vampire/werewolf/demon/fill in whatever urban fantasy blank comes to mind), but will concentrate on a mystery to be solved/monster to be staked/ ghost to be caught. The romance in a UF plays second/third fiddle to everything else going on in the protagonist’s life.

4. Okay, but just because we’ve decided it’s probably an urban fantasy doesn’t mean no sexy time.

I think this point causes the most discord for readers when they set their expectations for an urban fantasy. Yes, an UF can still have romance. It doesn’t need one, but it can have it. And no, it can’t be the primary plot of the story- otherwise by definition it’s a romance.

But the field of grey area in between paranormal romance and ‘no romance allowed’ urban fantasy is where urban fantasy readers seem to get their expectations in a bind. Nothing on the outside of the book can tell you where it falls on your particular, personal, and individual UF sexy time scale. It’s a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears- everyone has a slightly different expectation for how much romance they want (or don’t want) in their urban fantasy. Unfortunately there really isn’t much of a short cut here but there is one place you can go.


It’ll take some cross referencing to figure out which reviewers are in line with your UF sexy time threshold, but once you find them you’ll have a good idea where any new book lands on your sexy time expectations. Curious to see where your favorite Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romances lie on this nebulous grey scale? Check out this fantastic table over at Genrify where they did a pretty fantastic job placing the best known UF & PR series out there.

Take Home: Whether you take your monsters with a bit of romance, a heaping side of romance, or no romance at all there’s a ton of books out there for all of us contemporary fantasy lovers to enjoy. It just takes a bit of know how (and quick research on Google) to figure out whether that book on that table…calling to you…promising to be your new best addiction friend, is really the one for you.


One lucky VBC reader will win their choice of either a signed physical copy of Owl and the Japanese Circus or a digital copy. Fill out the Rafflecopter form below to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

23 Responses to “Kristi Charish: Is it Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy? (+ Giveaway)”

  1. dr susan says:

    I have Owl on my new release list to buy on the 13th. I’m excited!! And that’s a great explanation of the diffrrences between UF and PR; I totally agree.

  2. Sarah L says:

    Somehow whilst browsing through Facebook the other day I came across this book and have it on my radar for when it’s released, it looks good. Great article by the way. I use similar guidelines for judging by the back and front covers how much romance there is. I like UF with a ‘dash’ of romance 🙂

  3. Shannon says:

    Excited for a new book. I always need a new series addiction.

  4. Mariana says:

    I’ve read about this series and now I want to read it.
    by the way, I love this article. Finally someone explain the diference PR/UF difference!

  5. Mercedes Prizmonte says:

    Would like to read

  6. Margaret says:

    Two years ago, I would have said if the book has more than one sex scene, it’s a romance. One year ago, I would have said if there’s an HEA at the end of the book, it’s a romance. But then Ilona Andrews released Burn For Me and called it a romance. Definitions shot to hell. Now I say read what you like.

    (And I think you guys are going to like Owl!)

  7. Ezisen says:

    Usually I separate the two by covers. If there is a half naked person on it, it is PNR, if there is a girl with guns/swords/knives/weapons on it, it’s UF.

  8. erinf1 says:

    I’ve preordered this book for my Kindle cuz it sounds awesome! Oh man…. the categories and covers can be so confusing! I definitely rely on goodreads and blog reviews to figure it all out 🙂 thanks for the fun post!

  9. Lingeorge says:

    So, where does this book land? Looking at it, I would think Urban Fantasy (my addiction) so I will have to give it a try.

    • Kristi Charish says:

      Hi Lingeorge!
      Owl is definitely on the UF end of the scale- there’s a bit of a romance subplot but not enough to put it anywhere near PR:-)
      Make sure to enter the giveaway!

  10. Barbara Elness says:

    This is the first I’ve heard of this book, but it’s going on my wish list right now. I enjoyed the post, it was interesting, but I don’t generally worry about labels, I just read books that interest me. 😀

  11. Liz S says:

    Nice discussion of PNR and UF. I’m definitely adding this book to my TBR pile. Thanks for the giveaway.

  12. Jessie H. says:

    Haha! I find it interesting that bookstores don’t know how to shelve PNR or UF. I definitely bought a few mix-ups in the past. I still loved them, but it was a shock to realize my UF was a PNR! Your book sounds so amazing! I can’t wait to read it!

    • Kristi Charish says:

      Thanks Jessie!
      Yeah, the covers don’t always tell you if its a PR- I’ve picked up a few books I swore from the cover had to be UF only to figure out part way through chapter 2 it was a romance(still good, just a surprise!)

  13. Carl says:

    What a cool-sounding book. I’d absolutely like to win a copy, thanks for the chance.

  14. Aliyah says:

    As one who once worked in a marketing department, I have to say that I understand why books are slotted into categories. However, not everyone (or every book) can slot in perfectly but it does make advertising easier because the audience understands the short hand.

    I am really looking forward to this book — it sounds super fun. Thanks for the giveaway.

    • And a lot of really cool books toe genre lines, meaning they don’t slot well into one category. The romance content seems to be the big devider in UF though- people are very particular on what they’re lookng for- very much like goldilocks- it’s got to be just right!

  15. Katie says:

    Would love to get this book…always looking for new ones.

  16. Michelle Sanders says:

    I love both UF and PNR! And there is nothing I love more than a new series to fawn over!

  17. Killion says:

    Thank you for the informative article. Love the defining lines! It’s always great to see the difference between the two. Even though I classify my series as a Vampire Urban Fantasy, I do have a very strong plot line centered around the relationship of my hero and heroine. So I must have thrown a chink in the machine.

    Would love to read your new release! Congratulations!! 🙂

  18. JenM says:

    I enjoy both UF and PNR although I do tend to lean to the UF side, mainly because I don’t mind slow-burn romances that take several books to get going, and also because I love following a few main characters throughout a series, rather than a different couple each time, as is more the norm in PNR. I hadn’t heard of this book before, but it’s on my radar now as it sounds like something I’d like.

  19. Enigma75 says:

    There seems to be 1,001 ways to categorize PNR and UF these days. 🙂 I lean towards the UF side of things, but don’t mind if there’s a little romance thrown into the storyline.

    Owl and the Japanese Circus sounds interesting. It’s going on my wishlist. Thank you for the chance to win it.

  20. Sarah says:

    This book looks like something I’d like to try out. I’m always hoping to find a new series/author that I enjoy — it takes the pressure (entirely in my impatient mind) off my favorite authors’ production of the next great book!
    Thanks for the giveaway!

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