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Beautiful and experimental: Review of Dragonfall by L. R. Lam

By Natasha Coyle

With progressive representation and constant shifts of narrative perspectives, Dragonfall is a unique intervention in the fantasy canon.

“If there can be dragons in fantasy, why can’t there be queer people?” I remember a colleague on my Fantasy MLitt commenting in a discussion on diversity within the genre. It’s fitting, then, that Sunday Times bestseller L. R. Lam provides both in Dragonfall, which is sensational in both the language it uses and the stunning cover design.

Being the first book in The Dragon Scales trilogy, Dragonfall follows the last male dragon and a desperate thief whose fates are entwined. Their bond will save, or shatter, the world as they know it. Arcady, a non-binary character, has scraped a living by thieving on the streets of Vatra, dreaming of life among the nobility – and revenge. When the chance arises to steal a powerful artefact from the bones of the Plaguebringer, the most hated person in Lumet history, they jump at it. Everen, the last male dragon who was once foretold to save his kind, is dragged by Arcady into the human world. Everen soon realises that the key to his destiny lies in Arcady. All Everen needs to do is convince the thief to bond with him completely – body, mind, and soul – and then kill them. 

One of the many issues fantasy writers encounter is info-dumping at the very beginning of a novel or new series. Although this allows a secondary world to be constructed, the reader is denied the opportunity to navigate it for themselves. Even though the world-building in Dragonfall initially seemed complicated, I am glad Lam instead allowed the reader an entryway into her secondary world via the distinct narrative perspectives of Arcady and Everen. This was especially important after they thanked Robin Hobb, a well-renowned worldbuilder, in the opening pages of the book. 

Dragonfall is distinctly Scottish. Lam’s scenes were vivid, peppered with the odd colloquial “wee”, and there were certain moments l where I felt like I was wandering through Edinburgh. Lam also strikes a balance between simplicity and complexity. Their vocabulary is complex, but the overall style and structure of their writing is simple, making the book totally digestible. The language flowed with ease, and the novel was well-paced. 

Its experimental style deploys all three narrative perspectives, making Dragonfall like no other fantasy novel that I’ve read before. Overall, this is weaved into the narrative well, however there were moments where a shift in narrative perspective either felt repetitive, or disrupted the rhythm within the story. Furthermore, there were moments during the climax and final moments of the novel where the reader was introduced to a brand new perspective. It’s hard to tell whether this was a useful device to round off the novel – setting up for the second novel in the trilogy – or merely a convenient tag-on. Nonetheless, the Everen chapters that use both first and second person perspectives contribute to the sexual tension between themselves and Arcady, while the second person was also a smooth stylistic choice to refer to Arcady as a non-binary character, aiding my understanding as a cisgender woman of their life experience.

The constant shifts of narrative perspective are not my favourite part of the novel, but combined with its unique representation of a non-binary co-protagonist, it ensures Dragonfall is a stand-out within the fantasy genre, pushing the boundaries of what the canon can look like.

Finally, I love the materiality of this book. The cover is simple but bold and eye-catching. The typesetting and little emblems printed throughout the text further enable the words on the page to come to life. Dragonfall might be digestible, original and experimental, but it’s also a beautiful addition to my bookshelf.
Pre-order now or buy in stores from 2 May 2023.


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