Guest Post: Peter McLean on British Urban Fantasy

The year is almost over, but I’ve got time to squeeze in one last guest post as a treat for you! Today I’m turning the blog over to Peter McLean, the author of the Burned Man series. Drake and Dominion are out now from Angry Robot, and you can read more about them at the end of this post. Enjoy!

 

Peter McLean was born near London in 1972, the son of a bank manager and an English teacher. He went to school in the shadow of Norwich Cathedral where he spent most of his time making up stories. By the time he left school this was probably the thing he was best at, alongside the Taoist kung fu he had begun studying since the age of 13.

He grew up in the Norwich alternative scene, alternating dingy nightclubs with studying martial arts and practical magic.

He has since grown up a bit, if not a lot, and now works in corporate datacentre outsourcing for a major American multinational company. He is married to Diane and is still making up stories.

You can find Peter online at his website, on Twitter @petemc666 and on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

British Urban Fantasy

 

We all have an idea of what urban fantasy is – the magical detective in a big modern city helping the cops solve inexplicable paranormal crimes, or the high school cheerleader who hunts vampires. That’s the American take on it, anyway.

The UK and the USA have been famously described as two nations separated by a common language, and I think that’s very true. I don’t just mean in the words we use, although there are differences there too. I’m talking about the language of common symbols and of shared experience. And the British experience is nothing like the American one.

Britain is a very old place, dotted with castles and cathedrals and stone circles and barrows and hill-forts going back thousands of years. Our stories go back thousands of years too. We have  folklore horrors like Black Shuck and Sawney Bean, and insane local customs such as chasing a giant cheese down a cliff. We’ve been invaded, over and over again, by the Angles and the Romans and the Saxons and the Vikings and the French. We lost the most powerful empire in the history of the modern period. We’ve been bombed, and we’ve had severe rationing. There may still be an American Dream, but there really isn’t a British one anymore.

Small wonder then that our stories, our fantasies of the otherworldly in the real world, tend to be darker and more cynical. Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is a very British urban fantasy, but there’s not a cop in sight. There are homeless people and murderers and an insane angel in the world of London Below, a sort of dystopian Alice in Wonderland that is laugh-out-loud funny in places but really isn’t all that cheerful under the skin.

Ben Aaronovitch’s bestselling Peter Grant series may be about a cop, but he’s a particularly British kind of cop. There’s a line in The Hanging Tree where he refers to a document entitled “Procedures Relating to Serious Falcon Incidents, a.k.a. How to Deal with Weird Bollocks.” It’s that sort of voice, that kind of self-deprecating, piss-taking world view, that sets the British mindset apart from the American one. We’ve already had our arses kicked so many times that we just don’t really take anything seriously anymore.

Mike Carey’s Felix Castor, Hellblazer’s John Constantine and my own Don Drake all share this outlook on life to a greater or lesser extent. There’s a cynical weariness to them all, a touch of the downtrodden noir detective but seen through that lens of very British humour. They’re a lot less likely to be badass fighters, too. John Constantine gets beaten up fairly frequently, and being his friend is never good for anyone’s health. He might win but it’s never easy, and it will always cost something. British urban fantasy heroes are more likely to fight with their wits than their fists, to find a loophole in the rules and cheat their way to victory than to hurl a fireball or ride a rampaging Tyrannosaurus through the city streets. That sort of thing is far too flashy for us.

That just wouldn’t be British.

 

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Hitman Don Drake owes a gambling debt to a demon. Forced to carry out one more assassination to clear his debt, Don unwittingly kills an innocent child and brings the Furies of Greek myth down upon himself.

Rescued by an almost-fallen angel called Trixie, Don and his magical accomplice the Burned Man, an imprisoned archdemon, are forced to deal with Lucifer himself whilst battling a powerful evil magician.

Now Don must foil Lucifer’s plan to complete Trixie’s fall and save her soul whilst preventing the Burned Man from breaking free from captivity and wreaking havoc on the entire world.

 

 

In the tunnels deep under London, the Earth Elementals are dying.

Hunted by something they know only as the Rotman, the Elementals have no one trustworthy they can turn to. Enter Don Drake, drunken diabolist and semi-reformed hitman, and an almost-fallen angel called Trixie.

When Don learns that Rotman is actually the archdemon Bianakith, he knows this is going to be a tough job. The fiend is the foretold spirit of disease and decay whose aura corrupts everything it comes near, and even the most ancient foundations of London will crumble eventually. Now Don, Trixie and his ever-annoying patron the Burned Man have to hatch a plan to keep Bianakith from wiping out the Elementals and bringing down the city. But the Burned Man has other plans and those may have dire consequences for everyone.

The past never stays buried, and old sins must be atoned for. Judgement is coming, and its name is Dominion.

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Peter McLean on British Urban Fantasy

  1. He’s forgetting the important USA trope of early urban fantasy — magical battle of the bands!

    (Also, a lot of USA urban fantasy heroes seem to spend a lot of time getting beaten up.)

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