Dragons. Gender-fluid main characters. Queer relationships. It is safe to say that Dragonfall by L.R. Lam might be the most inclusive high fantasy book of 2023. If that isn’t enough to sell you on this book, then the vibrant characters and fantastical world-building will.
Dragonfall by L. R. Lam is an adult high fantasy novel that presents a world where dragons and humans once co-inhibited. Long ago, dragons would bestow knowledge and wisdom to their human companions, however, one day, humans turned their back on them and betrayed the dragons. The dragons vow revenge on their betrayers, but were trapped in their world, stopped by a magical barrier. Many years pass, humans have forgotten about dragons, viewing them as mythical creatures.
Arcady is an orphan thief, trying to make a living in Vatra. Everen is the only male dragon alive, destined to destroy the human world. Everen has one mission, to convince Arcady to trust him enough to steal their life to set all dragons free to wretch havoc on the human world and complete their revenge. The two find themselves in a dangerous entanglement with a pull to one another that they can’t resist.
Thank you to Netgalley for an e-arc of this book so that I can share my unbiased review of the book.
Author: L. R. Lam
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Genre: Adult Fantasy
The first in an epic fantasy trilogy from Sunday Times bestselling author L.R. Lam. Long ago, humans betrayed dragons, stealing their magic and banishing them to a dying world. Centuries later, their descendants worship dragons as gods. But the 'gods' remember, and they do not forgive. Thief Arcady scrapes a living on the streets of Vatra. Desperate, Arcady steals a powerful artifact from the bones of the Plaguebringer, the most hated person in Lumet history. Only Arcady knows the artifact's magic holds the key to a new life among the nobles at court and a chance for revenge. The spell connects to Everen, the last male dragon foretold to save his kind, dragging him through the Veil. Disguised as a human, Everen soon learns that to regain his true power and form and fulfil his destiny, he only needs to convince one little thief to trust him enough to bond completely–body, mind, and soul–and then kill them. Yet the closer the two become, the greater the risk both their worlds will shatter.
Dragonfall is told through three perspectives: Everen, the last male dragon destined to take revenge on the humans for betraying dragonkind, Arcady, an orphan thief with a dangerous relic, and Suran, a quiet assassin with a heart of gold. Each person has a different agenda, but they are tied together when a long-lost artifact is found.
The story unfolded naturally, describing the history between the dragons and humans which drives the story’s plot line while learning room for curiosity for future books. L.R. Lam did a fantastic job at creating believable stakes for each character which explained the motivation for their action. My only concern was that the pacing slowed down in the middle, due to character and world-building, but the ending was enticing.
The strongest point of this book was that each main character felt unique to their own. In each point-of-view switch, the voices of each character are distinct. I was expecting the point-of-view of just the two main love interests, but we got a glimpse into four characters. Suran, is a trained assassin that is loyal to the church. From her point-of-view, we see the perspective of the church and its motive for acquiring dragon antiques. We also get a peek into a mysterious fourth character, which I won’t be discussing since it would be a spoiler.
Multiple POV books are challenging because it requires that the writer has an understanding of every character, their drives, thoughts, and mindset. If the writer is not intimately aware of all the facets of their character, the book can risk sounding monotonous throughout the story. Lam shows great dedication in understanding and describing their characters, making each of them compelling and loveable.
For those experienced with the fantasy genre and the world-building process, this high fantasy world-building shouldn’t be too hard to grasp with its familiar elements. Newer fantasy fans might have trouble with the first 100 pages of the book that builds up the world.
Lam does a smart move of introducing Everen, the last male dragon, into the new world of Vatra. As Everen travels to this new world and uncovers its traditions and customs, the readers are experiencing it for the first time. As Everen learns, the readers learn, so the world-building is not as daunting with a main character that is also unfamiliar with the world.
As an adult fantasy, this fantasy world introduces the beautiful and majestic side of the world as well as its dirty and grimy under-city. In this world, dragon-human relationships were a thing of the past, and dragons are regarded as mythical creatures. Humans are not aware of the existence of dragons or that they are responsible for their banishment in an alternate world.
Lam’s world-building is honest and realistic. The world is parallel to real life, with unique touches of magic, history, and culture. The world is not so whimsical that it is unbelievable, but it is also not bland enough that it cannot be an escape from our real world.
L. R. Lam’s writing could be described as descriptive yet realistic. There are fantasy books that are whimsical and magical. That is not the case here. Lam’s writing creates a world that is rich but real. There is magic and dragons, but not without the consequences of both. There is an understanding in the writing that the element of fantasy cannot exist without a thorough acceptance of its positive and negative impacts. I appreciate how well-developed Lam’s writing is and how much thought was put into conceptualizing the book and the world.
If you are reading this book and expecting it to have an epic romance that drives the story of this book, you would be half-wrong. Yes, there is a queer star-crossed forbidden romance that pervades every element of the story, but it doesn’t overshadow the book. Arcady is an orphan thief, trying to make a living in Vatra. Everen is the last male dragon, who broke through the veil between the human and dragon world. The two are tied to one another and their love can only end with betrayal or the death of the human world. With so much at stake, the two still cannot deny their attraction to one another.
As the reader watches these two fall in love, you can feel the tension and the angst that comes with forbidden romance. The characters understand the stakes at hand and in turn, so do the readers. That’s what makes the romance so compelling and addictive. With their romance, there is such an unconditional understanding and acceptance that provides a strong foundation for their relationship.
If you enjoy angsty, slow-burn romance, check out the one in this book.
L. R. Lam’s book Dragonfall was a great start to my reading year. It positions itself as one of the most inclusive fantasy books of the year with not only a gender-fluid main character, but also a queer main romance. Although Dragonfall is the first book in a trilogy, it stages a fantastical world that is ready to be explored. You can expect me to continue reading on with the series.
If you enjoy high fantasy with found family, forbidden romance, and complex world and characters, check out Dragonfall by L.R. Lam, the first in The Dragon Scale trilogy, releasing May 2, 2023.