Disability in fantasy

Susannah Dean (Dark Tower books)

A post by Peter Newman, author of The Vagrant and The Malice

Although The Vagrant is known for having a silent protagonist I’m going to talk about someone else in the series today, a character known as Tough Call.

Tough Call is the rebel leader of Verdigris, who sets up her group headquarters underneath the city when it is overrun by demons. A child of the old administration, she opts to fight rather than bend the knee. Moreover when she comes into contact with one of the demons, she elects to cut off her own arm rather than succumb to the taint. The taint, in case you’re wondering, is something that surrounds the demons and can alter any human, animal or plant that it comes into prolonged contact with, mutating them into strange half-breed creatures. At the lowest end of the spectrum this could mean the loss or gain of nails and hair. At the highest, it could mean growth spurts, shifts in skeletal structure, loss of emotional control, organ failure, additional strength, additional limbs, or death.

Rather than gamble, Tough Call elects to remove the arm entirely before the taint can spread. In doing so, she becomes a symbol for the resistance.

In Tough Call’s case, her disability is a badge of pride, a tribute to her strength of will rather than something to be pitied or hidden. It’s never the focus in the scenes she’s in and it certainly isn’t the primary thing about her. When we first meet Tough Call she’s in a difficult position, fighting a virtually un-winnable war and making some dubious choices in order to survive and keep her people safe. She also happens to be a middle-aged woman with one arm. That’s it.

When I was writing The Vagrant and The Malice, I didn’t set out to include characters with disabilities, they just appeared as I was writing. There are three prominent characters that suffer from a physical disability which, given the number of people in the books and the kind of world it is, seems like quite a low number.

It got me trying to think about other characters in fantasy with disabilities, and the majority that come to mind are villains. Chances are if a character has a scar, a missing eye, or a hook for a hand they’re against the heroes rather than with them. And if the hero does have a scar, it’s often a ‘sexy’ scar to demonstrate toughness without disfiguring too much, or one that is located on their back or thigh, easily hidden beneath clothing. In film, we often have a shot of the (usually male) hero’s back which is covered in aesthetically placed scars, but most of the time these marks are out of sight and out of mind.

In fact I really struggled to think of any disabled protagonists in the fantasy I’d read recently (with the exception of Bran in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and Xinian in Jen Williams’ Copper Cat books) though this may be more an indictment of my memory or lack of reading than the genre as a whole.

Feel free to set me straight in the comments as I’d hope there are a lot more positive examples out there, though please don’t include characters with magic or technology that renders their disability irrelevant. The classic example being blind characters that have such advanced other senses that they aren’t disadvantaged all.

If you’re a writer reading this and, like me, you’d like to include more characters on the disabled spectrum, there’s a great post by Elsa S. Henry on Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds blog about writing blind characters, and this one by Elspeth Cooper on the Bookworm Blues blog about disability in fantasy is interesting too.

© Peter Newman, May 2016

The Malice is available from May 19, 2016. Review coming soon…

Snippet from the front cover of Peter Newman's The Malice

In the south, the Breach stirs.

Gamma’s sword, the Malice, wakes, calling to be taken to battle once more.

But the Vagrant has found a home now, made a life and so he turns his back, ignoring its call.

The sword cries out, frustrated, until another answers.

Her name is Vesper.

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The Charlaine Harris Blog Tour: A quick Q&A

MidnightCrossroad_BlogTour_animation[3] We are, here at Fantasy Book Review, honoured to welcome award-winning author Charlaine Harris to our website during her whistle-stop blog tour promoting her brand new book, Midnight Crossroad (you can read our review here). The creator of the massively popular Sookie Stackhouse series kindly answered a few questions on Midnight, the setting for her new novel.

Where did the idea of Midnight, Texas come from? You mention it came gradually; did you always want it to be a small, desolate place?

Yes, I did. First I thought of the pawnshop, and then the crossroad; crossroads are traditionally mystical in several ways. Then I decided it had to be a more barren landscape, like west Texas, because that was just the way I saw it.

As you have mentioned previously, you have no plans to write another Harper Connelly novel but can we expect her to show up as a guest character in Midnight in a future novel? (This would go for any main character from one of your other series)

Harper may show up, but she’s such a strong character that I thought it better (after writing a scene for her) that she not appear in the first book. And so far, she isn’t in the second. I just don’t need her, yet. I don’t think any of the main characters will be included in the Midnight cast, but of course I may get a great idea!

What part of the creative process (when writing a novel or envisioning a series) do you enjoy the most?

The world-building is fun. It’s like playing with dolls and Legos, too, building imaginary houses and putting imaginary people in them. Interview by Michelle Herbert We would just like to wish Charlaine all the best with her new book. Why don’t you join her once again on her tour at the websites shown in the animated image above.

Blurring The Lines: The Fantasy Thriller by Anne-Mhairi Simspon

The Fantasy Book Review. Not the Thriller Book Review, or the Romance Book Review. Genre is why we’re here. We love fantasy. We love the escapism, the larger-than-life characters, the extreme situations. To us, there is no real conflict unless it involves something undead which can only be killed by symbols combined with a sword which hasn’t been seen in a thousand years and a pure heart.

But the genres have more in common that we might think. You can’t have any one in isolation. Or rather, you can, but it would make for a fairly simple story. Fantasy began with friendship and a quest and weird and wonderful creatures and magic, but it has evolved. Fantasy no longer stands alone.

Tolkein is universally acknowledged to have written somewhat weighty prose. I will admit I only read The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings because I felt I should, for someone who loved fantasy so much. So it was more like homework, or research, than pure escapism.

Nowadays, the style varies but there is, I think, a tendency towards action rather than description. Short sentences that move the action or the development of a character or relationship forward are more common now, rather than twenty pages of description relating to trees and the precise way in which they grow so as to provide optimum coverage and foraging possibilities for the small animals that live in and around them, none of whom are actually relevant to the story. Sound familiar? If it doesn’t, you probably haven’t read Tolkein.

I never really got on with Tolkein’s style. I’m probably too young, but I’ve always preferred the snappier, action-filled books, like Terry Pratchett’s, or Anne McCaffrey’s. I realised one day that I wanted my books to read more like thrillers. Action-packed, always moving forwards, plenty of doing and not much scenery. So I decided to do some research. I bought a few Patterson books and got a feel for the style. Then I realised I pretty much wrote like that anyway.

Which was a bit of a blow. I mean, how depressing is it to do research and then discover, not only that you already knew this stuff, but that you hadn’t known you knew it? If that’s never happened to you, it’s mildly depressing. I mean, writers are supposed to be into the introspective stuff, right? Apparently I hadn’t been doing it properly.

So I like writing thriller-type fantasies, where the action moves fast and you only hear about the trees if they’re going to fall on someone’s head. Which, when they do, they do with the utmost amount of noise and fuss but not a single adjective or adverb. Verbs, baby, VERBS are where it’s at!

Unfortunately this has made me the pickiest reader on God’s green Earth. I used to be happy to sit back and read a book and all I’d notice were the typos. Now I notice the entire chapter that does nothing to advance the action, I notice the adjectives/adverbs/run on sentences and I notice when a character is being a big fat out-of-character wussy wuss and it all annoys me. That never happens to me when I read thrillers. But it happens quite a lot when I read fantasy books.

This makes me sad. But there’s nothing I can do about it, except write fantasy books in the style of a thriller, where every word counts and not in the style of a traditional fantasy book where entire chapters will be spent discussing the main character’s family history and what she sees when she looks in the mirror.

Who cares if she looks in the mirror? Is she about to see in the mirror a demon metamorphose behind her in a cloud of mist? Is the mirror suddenly going to break into seven pieces and split her soul into seven pieces and each piece of the mirror trap a piece of her soul in a different world? Is the damn thing going to crack because she’s so damn ugly and this happens every damn day and why can’t she remember her mother’s advice not to look in the mirror because manticores always break the damn mirror?

You see what I mean? Thrillers are big on action and plot. Maybe I should only read thrillers. Or I could find authors who write fantasy with tight prose. Peter V Brett’s The Painted Man (The Warded Man in the U.S.) is an example of this.

Oh, you thought there was a point to this post? Er… wait, yes, there is! The point is that the genres are no longer as cut and dried as they used to be. Next week I’ll talk about romance in fantasy. Which I generally don’t write, so that will be a learning curve for all of us.


All her life Anne-Mhairi has told herself stories, even when they involved her dolls and toy horses, or lego dogs and horses (which the instructions were wrong about, so she made up her  own). To find out more about her experiences in sharing these stories with the rest of the world, check out her website here. Anne-Mhairi also writes The Elemental Races, a collaborative serial where the readers dictate the hero’s actions at the end of each episode. Voting goes through Saturday midnight (US Pacific Coast time)