Comparing the Tone of Two Urban Fantasy Novels

Although it started months ago, my tour de urban fantasy has continued. I read two very different novels over the past week – both urban fantasy, both with strong female protagonists, both with love triangles, both with magic… But both had very different tones. By “tone”, I mean a combination of both the writer’s voice and the “feel” of the narrative.

The first book that I read was Grave Witch, by Kalayna Price.


The second book I read was Dead Spots, by Melissa F. Olson.

The first few lines of Grave Witch are:

The first time I encountered Death, I hurled my mother’s medical chart at him. As far as first impressions went, I blew it, but I was five at the time, so he eventually forgave me. Some days I wished he hadn’t – particularly when we cross paths on the job.

It’s catchy, intriguing, and light enough that you can tell that this novel will be a bit tongue-in-cheek. And it was. The tone helped balance out the darkness inherent in a world with open magic.

Dead Spots has an entirely different tone. It opens with a prologue that slowly builds to a crime; then, the first chapter introduces us to the main character, and it doesn’t take us long to learn that she sees herself as “broken”. It’s a dark story, and it only gets darker – but that’s the world that the author has created.

Now, let me say here that I don’t think that one book is “better” than the other. Both were well-developed and well-written. However, I noticed that I responded differently to each. After Grave Witch, I immediately looked up the second book in the series on Amazon. I went back and forth for a few days, but, in the end, I bought the expensive thing. I couldn’t stop wondering what would happen next. When I finished Dead Spots, I felt rather sad. Honestly, this is probably a combination of all the, well, sad things that happen in her world and her serious tone. Dead Spots doesn’t use a lighter, tongue-in-cheek tone to help balance the dark themes in the plot. And, as a reader, I realized that I need that.

So, what’s the point?

The point is that tone makes a difference. My reaction to each authors’ tone told me something important about what kind of book I not only like reading, but, moreover, the kind of book I want to write and the reaction I want to create in the reader. In the end, I want to write a story with a tone that makes the reader smile – even when dark things happen. This is an important thing to realize for someone about to begin the actual writing of her own urban fantasy novel. Now I just have to stop reading and start writing.


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