Yes, Disabled Characters Belong in Fantasy — And Here's A Few You'll Love (Exclusive)

I became severely sick in 2015 and had no idea why

Published Time: 05.07.2024 - 17:31:13 Modified Time: 05.07.2024 - 17:31:13

I became severely sick in 2015 and had no idea why. While sitting in waiting rooms or bedridden with abdominal pain, I escaped into books. My favorites were young adult fantasies where I could get lost in page-turning plots and swoon-worthy romances instead of worrying about test results or troubling symptoms. Those books, along with my family, are what got me through being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. They gave me comfort and distraction during a difficult time.

The only treatment that helped get me into remission also suppressed my immune system. My daily life drastically changed as a result, which left me feeling isolated. I was grappling with what being disabled meant for me, my identity and my future. I turned again to books, but was frustrated when the few stories I could find with protagonists like me took place entirely in hospitals, or emphasized the physical aspects of my disease for shock and horror.

While those contemporary stories are important, the trauma and struggle they explored was my reality, and I wanted — no, needed — something to give me hope. As a reader, my heart has always belonged to science fiction and fantasy. Those are the stories I love escaping into, yet I couldn’t find any with protagonists like me.

I set out to write the heroine I needed: a fierce, determined girl who also happens to have Crohn’s disease, but isn’t defined by her disability. In my debut fantasy novel, Inheritance of Scars, Astrid feels isolated because of her weakened immune system and fears her missing grandmother is the only person capable of loving her.

That is, until Astrid accidentally awakens a Viking vampire who mistakes her for her ancestor, his ex-lover-turned-enemy. Soren can’t make her sick, but he could still cost Astrid her life as they venture into a cursed forest to find her grandmother, only to uncover an ancient blood oath and her family’s dark secrets.

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Astrid’s story has consumed me since 2019. At first, I hesitated to give her Crohn’s disease since I was still struggling to accept my own diagnosis. Being vulnerable and honest about my experience scared me, but I knew I needed to write the story I’d been searching for on shelves for years. From the very first chapter, Astrid acknowledges she has Crohn’s disease, and through the course of the story learns that while her illness changed her life, it doesn’t have to stop her from living. Writing Astrid helped me learn not only how to acc -

ept my disability, but embrace it.

Some readers assume magic can fix any “defect.” But it’s a false (and ableist) assumption that disabilities require “fixing” in the first place because not all disabled people need or want to be “cured.” It also doesn’t consider how varied disabilities actually are, ranging from physical to mental, visible to invisible.

Disabilities and magic can co-exist. My novel is a fantasy that’s grounded in our world, and is full of hidden monsters and magic — but it has limitations. Inspired by Norse myth, there are magical staves that can open locks without a key, turn people invisible or even raise the dead. But there’s still no “magical cure” for my protagonist, just like there isn’t a cure for me.

Disabled people deserve to see themselves as main characters in a wide range of fiction, not just contemporary stories that center our trauma or struggle. If dragons can exist in a fantasy world, why can’t disabled people?

I wanted to highlight some of my favorite SFF books with disability representation written by disabled authors. These stories are so important because it gives disabled writers a chance to engage with their disability, while also providing readers with new perspectives.

A gender-bent retelling of The Three Musketeers, in which a girl with a chronic illness trains as a Musketeer and uncovers secrets, sisterhood and self-love. Protagonist Tania’s experience is inspired by Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.

This South Asian-inspired fantasy is a gripping debut about the power of the elite, the price of glory and one girl’s chance to change it all. Protagonist Koral has undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

A fantasy inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other, despite their growing attraction. Protagonist Malik has anxiety and experiences panic attacks.

A young adult fantasy that follows the adventures of changeling Seelie and her human twin as they embark upon the heist of a lifetime for a mystery legacy. Protagonist Iselia “Seelie” is autistic.

A dark and atmospheric story of a girl caught between worlds and a dark power that could tear both worlds apart. Protagonist Delaney Meyers-Petrov is Deaf.

Inheritance of Scars is out October 1 and is available to preorder now, wherever books are sold.

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