3 Examples of SFF Disability Representation You Need to Know

For this week’s Three To Read, we’re honoring Developmental Disability Awareness Month by highlighting some books with disabled characters.

Fantasy Recommendations Science Fiction Three To Read
Book covers for "The Final Strife" by Saara El-Arifi, "Stictly No Heroics" by B.L. Radley, and "The Spear Cuts Through Water" by Simon Jimenez against a spring background.

As well as being Women’s History Month, March is also Developmental Disability Awareness Month, an opportunity to bring national awareness to people with developmental disabilities. This statement from the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) captures the significance of this month perfectly:

[The campaign] seeks to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life, as well as awareness of the barriers that people with disabilities still sometimes face in connecting to the communities in which they live.

The publishing industry has made great strides in including voices from all communities and identities, but it still has a way to go. Characters or authors with developmental disabilities are still scarce in the market today, to the point that many stores, publishers, and websites don’t make the distinction between physical and developmental disabilities. 

We at Bookstr want to acknowledge the books with disabled characters that have come out recently, which is how we chose this week’s theme. Science fiction and fantasy have historically been more welcoming to voices and identities that don’t get a lot of attention in contemporary fiction, and that fact remains true today. Here are three incredible SFF books with good disability representation that we think you need to read.

Side note: While these books center on characters with physical disabilities, we encourage you to discover books with developmental disabilities so publishers know we want their stories too.

HOT PICK

The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi

Book cover for "The Final Strife" by Saara El-Arifi.
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP

SUMMARY

In a world where the color of your blood determines your status, three women set out to destroy the empire that keeps taking from them. The empire has hurt these women in different ways: Sylah wants vengeance for her murdered family; Anoor wants to prove her ruthless and powerful mother wrong; Hassa moves like a ghost through the upper class, gathering their secrets to aid the revolution. As the empire begins a set of trials to decide its next set of rulers, Sylah, Anoor, and Hassa join forces to bring the empire to its overdue reckoning.

WHY

One of the main characters, Hassa, is a Ghosting, the lowest class in The Final Strife’s world-building. At birth, Ghostings are mutilated, their hands and tongues removed, so Hassa communicates in the book through sign language. Hassa isn’t treated differently for her disabilities, and El-Arifi makes it clear that Hassa’s struggles are connected to her class, not her being a disabled person moving through the world. And there also isn’t a magical solution — oftentimes SFF can use magic or farfetched science to erase a disability and make it seem like a problem to be fixed instead of a way of living. El-Arifi’s world instead uses its fantastical settings to include the kind of accommodations and inclusions we want to see in our world.

COFFEE SHOP

Strictly No Heroics by B. L. Radley

Book cover for "Strictly No Heroics" by B.L. Radley.
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP

SUMMARY

Have you ever wondered what living in a world of superheroes is like when you don’t have powers? In Sunnylake City, Riley Jones doesn’t have to wonder because she’s a Normie, a person without the Super gene in a town full of heroes and villains alike. Even in such a chaotic city, Riley’s problems are the normal kind: trying to make enough money for therapy and figuring out how to come out to her parents. But when Riley fights back against a handsy superhero, the only place that will hire her is HENCH, a company that hires out henchmen to villains. Riley is determined to stay under the radar even as a henchwoman, but that task becomes harder when she sees a horrible murder on the job.

WHY

Even Normies can have origin stories. In Riley’s, a car crash leaves her and her sister Lyssa disabled: Riley has PTSD while Lyssa uses a prosthetic leg. Again, in a story where the worldbuilding could easily use its science system to heal these injuries, Radley doesn’t. These disabilities are a part of the characters, not conflicts that need resolution. And the characters are never reduced to their disabilities. One of Riley’s issues is getting money for therapy, but there are multiple facets to her character and storyline that keep her from being defined by her disability. In a universe where there is good and bad, heroes and villains, Radley never suggests that Riley needs to be “saved” from her PTSD or that it corrupts her.

DARK HORSE

The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez

Book cover for "The Spear Cuts Through Water" by Simon Jimenez.
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP

SUMMARY

In this epic fantasy, people and gods alike suffer under the rule of the Moon Throne. For centuries, the royal family has terrorized the citizens they rule over with powers they inherited from the god who they keep prisoner under the palace. With the help of two warriors, the god escapes her prison and begins a five-day journey for freedom, knowing that her wicked children will stop at no cost to drag her back under the palace. As she searches for her freedom, she also searches for a way to end the Moon Throne’s reign. Even with the help of two people as eager to end the royal family as she is, the god faces a treacherous journey ahead. 

WHY

The Spear Cuts Through Water is a story within a story. We meet the imprisoned god and two warriors as a grandmother tells stories of the Old Country to her grandchild. One of those warriors is a disgraced guard, who lost his left arm as a punishment for cowards and criminals. He faces a lot of tension and hostility with others, not necessarily because of his amputation, but because of what his amputation means. While he has to physically adapt differently than other characters, he never treats his missing limb with shame or regret. It can be tricky to navigate a character with a disability that happens at the hands of someone else, but Jimenez’s narrative never stumbles over the warrior or his relationship with his amputation.


Thanks for tuning in to this week’s article; check out last week’s Three To Read books inspired by non-Western folktales and fables here.

Find these books and more on our Three to Read bookshelf on Bookshop.

FEATURED IMAGE VIA BOOKSTR / JAIDEN CRUZ