Can you honestly remember the last time you saw an openly disabled character whose main plot is not their disability
Anyone who read this book would have to agree that the characters involved (morally questionable or not) are lack of a better phrase, “badass”. They’re constantly fighting the world around and them and usually with some pretty impressive weapons despite being only teenagers. However many of the characters in this Young Adult novel have disabilities, Kaz most notably. But none of their disabilities no matter how big stop these characters in their mission to take over the city and break into the ice palace.
This representation is increasingly important, can you honestly remember the last time you saw an openly disabled character whose main plot is not their disability? They are far and few between and when they do exist they’re character development is sadly overlooked to focus on their ailment. For example this summer one of the big blockbuster hits was a film called “Me Before You,” which concerns the romance of a severely disabled man and his carer. This film whilst intensely emotional (I admit to blubbering in the cinema along with every other weeping female) and raising some very serious issues on disability and the right to die, focuses solely on the main characters disability and *spoiler alert * his death. This is showing the wrong message that his life was not worth living due to his disability. However this is not the message the Bardugo shares in her novels, she represents a wide variety of disabilities ranging from Kaz’s walking with a cane and his PTSD to Jesper’s severe gambling addiction. The book also includes parental abuse in regards to Wayland and even the background of slavery with Inej. I am including mental abuse under the same umbrella as it is just as debilitating as physical disability an issue which Bardugo obviously recognises as she treats them both as equally painful for her characters. Bardugo does indeed create empowering “badass” characters who are far more than their disability, they use their pain to aid them in their quest and even when it holds them back they are able to move forward and not be sucked down into any tropes or stereotypes. But we should also take into account how plausible these characters are, could a boy with a severe limp really climb a 30 foot shaft with ease? Would the many psychological issues be swept aside in the pursuit of conquest?
The book follows a crew of mismatched personalities fighting together for money and power in their run down town of Ketterdam; each chapter is in a different characters voice so you really get a collective view of the whole mind of the crew. In my opinion the chapters that work best are the feminine ones that of Inej and Nina as their backstories are twisted with so much pain which reflects so well into their present story lines. Bardugo is constantly reminding us that these young girls have been through so much being separated from their families, being forced to work in undesirable jobs but this does not stop Inej from throwing her knives nor Nina from using her power. Most of the characters have some kind of disability but none of them let it become debilitating.
I would also highly recommend reading the sequel Crooked Kingdom as it is just as enthralling as the first, and the under tones of disability come through even stronger in the second novel.