Eight Fantasy Books with Sick and Disabled Characters

I’m always on the lookout for fiction featuring sick and disabled characters, especially when those characters are not defined by their conditions. I don’t see a lot of sick protagonists in fantasy, probably because many writers overlook the possibility that a disabled person can (and would) participate in a swash-buckling, magical adventure. Here is a list of eight books that do include characters with illnesses or disabilities. Huzzah! And if you are a writer, check out my checklist on Creating Characters with Disabilities and what tropes to avoid when you are including characters with conditions in your own stories.

1. Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

Harper Collins, 2015

This is the first book I read that had me saying, “That’s exactly how I feel!” in relation to having a chronic illness. Aza is wonderfully sarcastic and just wants to be treated like a normal person, but most people don’t know how to act around her when they find out about her illness. Her illness has magical origins, but it’s one of the most realistic portrayals of having a condition I’ve read. I talk about Magonia in one of the chapters of Super Sick: Making Peace with Chronic Illness.

Since she was a baby, Aza Ray Boyle has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

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2. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Tor, 2006

In Elantris, people are cursed and never heal from their injuries, so even a stubbed toe stays with you forever. It’s a fascinating insight into the “chronic” part of chronic pain and the search for hope amid suffering. Check out my guest blog post over at The Bookwyrm’s Den about how this book portrays chronic pain.

Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.

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3. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Orbit, 2006.

One of the characters in this book has chronic headaches, which contribute to his temper. Another has a chronic stomach illness. I haven’t read this one yet, but had it recommended to me by a friend.

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

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4. Time of the Twins by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman

Wizards of the Coast, 2004.

Raistlin is a super interesting character who has a chronic illness that causes him to cough up blood. Though he’s physically weak, he’s incredibly intelligent and magical. Raistlin is arrogant and not exactly likeable, but I appreciate that he has a soft spot for other beings who are looked down upon because of their “weaknesses.”

Sequestered in the blackness of the dreaded Tower of High Sorcery in Palanthas, surrounded by nameless creatures of evil, Raistlin Majere weaves a plan to conquer the darkness–to bring it under his control.

Crysania, a beautiful and devoted cleric of Paladine, tries to use her faith to lead Raistlin from the darkness. She is blind to his shadowed designs, and he draws her slowly into his neatly woven trap.

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5. A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Bloomsbury, 2019.

In this story, Harper has cerebral palsy, but it definitely doesn’t define her! She is stubborn and gutsy and awesome. I do wish her condition caused her a few more problems than it does—she could have been replaced by a healthy person and the story would have been very similar—but I appreciate the inclusion of a disabled character in a YA fantasy.

Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year, Prince Rhen, the heir of Emberfall, thought he could be saved easily if a girl fell for him. But that was before he turned into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. Before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

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6. Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

Katherine Tegen Books, 2017.

In Carve the Mark, some people have magical abilities known as currentgifts, but Cyra’s isn’t exactly a gift. It’s chronic pain that she can transfer to others by touch. She struggles with guilt and feeling like she deserves the pain, something that chronic sufferers may relate to.

Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power—something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.

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7. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Henry Holt and Company, 2015.

Kaz has a limp and chronic pain. It’s not the focus of the story (which I love), but causes him problems sometimes. He tries to ignore his conditions at times and this makes them worse—I can relate.

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone….

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8. The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Orbit, 2010

Oree is blind. It’s always interesting to see how fantasy treats conditions like blindness. Usually, there is magic that allows the character to “see” in some way, but I appreciate it when these characters are still handicapped and the magic doesn’t totally negate their disability.

In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a homeless man who glows like a living sun to her strange sight. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city.

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Have you read any books that could be added to this list?

3 thoughts on “Eight Fantasy Books with Sick and Disabled Characters”

  1. I love The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr. The main character was born with a clubfoot, and even after devoting his life to God, he isn’t miraculously healed. He’s able to develop some new skills that help him though.

    1. Fancy meeting you here, Alex!

      I hadn’t heard of The End of the Magi, but I LOVED Patrick W. Carr’s debut. I’ll have to try this one out!

  2. I don’t really think I realized this till years after I read the book, but The Wrath and the Dawn by Renèe Ahdieh has a character that struggles with migraines, even though it’s not explicitly stated. It’s my favorite book and now looking back to the time I first read it, I was in the depths of my chronic migraines. I was literally on a trip to see a new doctor when I picked it up, honestly it’s probably my favorite book because I relate to the pain Khalid goes through. He’s battling, but he thinks it’s hopeless, there’s no cure. It will make more sense if you read the books, I look at a lot of the events or developments and I see metaphors for my pain and hope.

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