More dragons, please! All kinds of dragons—sapient ones, feral ones, ones that pillage and hoard and burninate, and ones that just want to stay home and read a cozy book. When I saw L.R. Lam was coming out with a dragon-centric novel, I jumped at the eARC from NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton. Dragonfall has a lot going for it, from an original and well-constructed world to a compelling premise. In the end I wasn’t left completely satisfied, but this is still a good book.
Everen is a dragon (spoiler?). He is, in fact, the last male dragon. His kind once worked alongside humanity, dragons and humans often bonding and then becoming comrades in a battle against evil. But centuries prior, humans rose up and drove dragons out of this world into Vere Celene, which is where Everen was born. There is a prophecy that the last male dragon will lead his kind back and retake what’s theirs—no pressure, though. Meanwhile, back in the human world, Arcady is a poor, young orphan with a plan to pose as a rich noble and find a way to exonerate the relative who, even in death, is blamed for a plague that ravages the nation. Everen and Arcady’s paths not only cross but become inextricably entwined. Forced to work together, they grow very close—until Everen has to choose between Arcady’s life or his loyalty to his people.
See what I mean? Compelling premise here. The reluctant allies-to-lovers trope, the “I love this person but I’m going to have to kill them” sword dangling over the relationship. The utter mismatch of species. It’s a good time! Lam works hard on the slow burn of the romance, developing it quite gradually, layering on the physical attraction, the chemistry, the personality clashes. Anyone who enjoys romantic subplots more than me will hopefully quite enjoy this dimension of Dragonfall.
The diametrically opposed desires of Arcady and Everen are also important. There is so much conflict here between the two of them, and I love it. I caught myself cackling at points as I read because of the dramatic irony (the chapters alternate between Arcady and Everen’s points of view—Arcady’s in first person, Everen’s in second person addressed, epistolary style, to Arcady). The storytelling is quite effective, and Lam kept me wondering throughout how things would be resolved, whether Everen could keep his promise to his kin and, if so, how that would affect Arcady’s plans.
Also, I couldn’t work this into my summary, but there’s a heist, or at least, a caper. It’s not the smoothest of jobs and not the main focus of the book, but it’s prominent enough that I sat up when I first caught a whiff of it—you all know how much I love a good heist.
Finally, loved the subversion of cisnormativity, the way that Locians use hand signals to communicate their pronouns, and Arcady’s role as a nonbinary or genderfluid protagonist.
For all that I enjoyed Dragonfall, though, there were elements to it that I found lacking. The ending is a classic cliffhanger to set up the sequel. I don’t mind that by itself, nor do I even mind so much the huge reveal at the very last moment. Lam is trying for tantalizing rather than tricksy, so it kind of works. On the other hand, it didn’t get me excited for the second book. I’m not on the edge of my seat, not particularly invested in Arcady or Everen or Sorin’s next chapters.
The thing is, I feel like I should be? There’s so much in here to recommend it, but that’s just the problem—Dragonfall might be pulling from a mixture of too many brilliant tropes, and while Lam uses many of them to good effect, the final result is still a messy kaleidoscope. When I zoom in on it, I can appreciate the individual parts and find lots to praise. But when I zoom out and try to look at the novel as a whole, I’m left with less enthusiasm. If anything, this is a good example of how literature is not only a subjective experience but also can change within an individual reader’s perceptions. I am left, I suppose, decidedly ambivalent.