The best sci-fi/fantasy novels about plagues and pandemics

John Bierce Author Of The Wrack
By John Bierce

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by epidemiology since I was a little kid first reading about the Black Death, and that interest only grew as I learned more about it over the years. Diving into the study of environmental history was especially fascinating for me, as I learned how under-emphasized the role of epidemics and pandemics has been in history, as if humans were trying to pretend that history was actually under our own control. This eventually culminated in me writing The Wrack, my own plague novel which, for better or worse, ended up coming out at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Slightly awkward timing, there.)


I wrote...

The Wrack

By John Bierce,

Book cover of The Wrack

What is my book about?

Plague has come to the continent of Teringia. As the Wrack makes its slow, relentless march southwards, it will humble kings and healers, seers and merchants, priests and warriors. Behind, it leaves only screams and suffering, and before it, spreads only fear.

Lothain, the birthplace of the Wrack, desperately tries to hold itself together as the plague burns across it and its neighbors circle like vultures. The Moonsworn healers would fight the Wrack, but must navigate distrust and violence from the peoples of Teringia. Proud Galicanta readies itself for war, as the Sunsworn Empire watches and waits for the Wrack to bring its rival low. And the Wrack advances, utterly unconcerned with the plans of men.

The books I picked & why

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Doomsday Book

By Connie Willis,

Book cover of Doomsday Book

Why this book?

A time-traveling historian is stranded in the fourteenth century when an epidemic breaks out in her own time. A bittersweet, depressing, wonderful, character-driven book that shows the individual costs of plagues better than just about any other novel I’ve ever read- and I’ve read a lot of them. Deservedly won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.


Eifelheim

By Michael Flynn,

Book cover of Eifelheim

Why this book?

Aliens crash-land near a medieval European village during the Black Death, and establish friendly relations with the villagers- but Earth’s food lacks vital nutrients for them, and the plague creeps closer every day. Wonderful, heart-wrenching book about communities during times of crisis and disaster, and about the fundamental humanity that crisis brings out in us—even towards those who aren’t human.


Feed

By Mira Grant,

Book cover of Feed

Why this book?

Most zombie stories have horribly unscientific epidemiology, but Feed is definitely the exception. Mira Grant knocks this tale of journalists covering a post-zombie apocalypse presidential election out of the park- it’s a brilliant take on both epidemiological fiction and zombies. Considerably more action-packed than the rest of this list, and the sequels are excellent as well.


Balam, Spring

By Travis M. Riddle,

Book cover of Balam, Spring

Why this book?

A slice-of-life epidemiological fantasy novel set in the small town of Balam, as it deals with a mysterious illness accompanied by strange insectoid monsters intent on stealing the corpses of the victims. One of the weirder books on the list, with a setting heavily inspired by the Final Fantasy game series and lower stakes than most of the others – but still well worth a read.


The Traitor Baru Cormorant

By Seth Dickinson,

Book cover of The Traitor Baru Cormorant

Why this book?

The Traitor Baru Cormorant explores plague through the lens of empire, as a deliberate tool of conquest for the monstrous Masquerade. It’s only one of the tools they use, but it’s the single best exploration of the deliberate use of infectious disease as a weapon I’ve ever encountered in fiction. The protagonist, the titular Baru Cormorant, is also one of the most competent protagonists in fantasy, and her struggle to tear apart the Masquerade from within without letting herself be corrupted by power is absolutely compelling.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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