Book Review : Dragonfall

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : DragonfallDragonfall by L. R. Lam
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on May 2nd 2023
Genres: Fantasy, LGBTQ
Pages: 448
Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Bookshop.org
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Source: NetGalley

The first in an epic fantasy trilogy from Sunday Times bestselling author L.R. Lam.
The last male dragon. A desperate thief. A bond that will save the world . . . or shatter it.
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.
Since they were orphaned, Arcady has scraped a living 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, for its magic holds the key to their dreams.
But the spell has unintended consequences, and drags Everen - the last male dragon, who was once foretold to save his kind - into the human world. Trapped, and disguised as a human, Everen soon realises that the key to his destiny, and to regaining his true power, lies in Arcady.
All he needs to do is convince one little thief to bond with him completely - body, mind, and soul - and then kill them . . .
Yet the closer the two become, the greater the risk both their worlds will shatter.

 

I’m sure this comes as no surprise from the name of my blog, but I’m a huge fan of dragons. So it may shock you that I DNFed Dragonfall, a novel about dragons, at 35%. I really wanted to like this novel and I hate giving up on books, but I had to push my way through to make as little progress reading the book as I did. I knew immediately from the writing style that this book wasn’t for me, but I kept going because Dragonfall comes with a truly great idea—the last male dragon trying to fulfill his prophecy and to save his world and all of dragon-kind in the process, but somehow he ends up falling into the human world, where they worship dragons. There’s just one key problem—dragons hate humans.

 

Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, I really don’t feel that I am the target audience of this novel. I was expecting a mature, complex high fantasy novel, but what I got was an unsophisticated and contradictory young adult novel, complete with all of the hallmarks of the very genre that I’ve almost entirely (and purposefully), stopped reading. The main trope I found myself dealing with was the classic variation of enemies to lovers which centers on making the “enemies” fall in love, all while one of them is actively plotting the other’s downfall. The romance in question involves Everen, fallen dragon in-disguise, who accidentally bonds under mysterious circumstances with gender fluid thief and wannabe-avenger Arcady. Everen plans to use their new bond to manipulate Arcady into falling for him so he can break the bond, destroy them, take back his power, and save his kind from humans.

 

“Make your little human love you. Do what you must. And then kill it. Her gaze was unblinking. Bring us home, Everen, give us our world.”

 

This would be more exciting to me if I were actually able to connect to either of the characters in question. But Arcady is a living, breathing example of “I’m not like the others,” stealing from wealthy citizens they dared to mark in church and refusing to show the proper respect to those who are owed it as part of societal convention. Arcady steals, shapeshifts, and uses other magical powers in order to get ahead in their quest for revenge. Unfortunately, they are not nearly as edgy as they think they are and are quite often completely out of their depth, overreacting, or scared. Everen, on the other hand, reads nothing remotely like one might reasonably imagine a dragon. Instead, he is an entitled and bratty young man who came from a privileged family and thinks everyone owes him.

 

The third narrator in Dragonfall is an assassin, which should be exciting, but as Sorin’s taken a vow of silence that she’s afraid to break, I don’t have much of a read on her character. Admittedly, I find it a bit laughable that her vow of silence doesn’t apply to her using what is essentially sign language to communicate just as fully as if she had opened her mouth. However, it is clear Sorin is supposed to be a badass, as she has the whole former-orphan- raised-by-a-master-assassin-who-is-grooming-her thing going for her. Everything I’ve learned about her is through exposition, which there is already entirely too much of in Dragonfall.

 

Everything is told to the readers and nothing is shown. The most fascinating part of Dragonfall is that there’s so much information dumping, but somehow very little actual world-building. I am unclear on what dragons look like, why their more human presenting dragon form is called “preterit,” why dragons even have this form in the first place when they hate humans, how the humans utilize dragon magic in their weird seals and where exactly they originated, how the religion works in the human world even though it revolves around worshiping dragons, and much more. I have way more questions than answers about both the human and dragon worlds in Dragonfall and only became further confused as I progressed through the novel, as everything—whether character development, plot, or world-building—constantly contradicted itself, as illustrated by the aforementioned vow of silence. Even the most basic parts of the world-building confused me. For instance, dragons are worshiped, but wyverns aren’t treated with any particular reverence? Make it make sense.

 

Through this rampant information dumping, the audience is informed that this world uses sign language, known as hand signs, to convey respect when suitable and also to denote preferred pronouns and gender identity during introductions. Just from a disabled person’s perspective, I think it is amazing to see sign language being portrayed as a universal, common language that all humans are able to speak in this world. This is something I would love to see in our own world for the sake of communication, accessibility, and equality alone. My issue with the hand signing is that the author immediately uses it as a tool to launch into a very forceful and pointed commentary about gender identity.

 

It’s truly as if the author does not trust readers to even fathom gender identity, let alone to be able to respect it. The progressiveness is condescending and overwhelmingly in your face and reads like a blatantly contrived lesson on the entire concept of gender identity itself rather than a naturally incorporated part of the story and the world building. As soon as this explanation is blessedly finished, the author immediately has Everen, who does not understand human culture as a dragon, baldly iterate how much sense this practice actually makes to him. It was as if this simple concept needed to be even further reinforced as good because the dumb readers at home couldn’t ever possibly comprehend having the common courtesy to refer to someone in the way of his/her/their choosing.

 

I’m not saying that misgendering never happens or that it isn’t serious or harmful—it does and it is—but the amount of page space that was dedicated to explaining this concept was truly and insultingly inordinate in Dragonfall and I wished the novel had been even a quarter as verbose when it came to other parts of the world-building. This whole moment took me right out of the story and retroactively, the more the author tried to convince me how “normal” this signing was, the less natural it appeared. It says far more about our own world (and perhaps the author’s own experiences in it), at large than that of both worlds of Dragonfall combined that the author felt that this much justification was needed for anything outside of the strictly heteronormative experience. Other novels, like Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree, never have to go to such lengths to make its LGBTQ+ romances feel like an intrinsic and automatically accepted part of her worlds. Shannon’s relationships don’t need to be explained or lectured on, they just are.

 

Unfortunately, that whole diatribe wasn’t the only thing I found jarring about Dragonfall. The novel is told from three different perspectives, but also in three wholly different descriptive styles. While Arcady narrates in first person and Sorion narrates in third person, Everen narrates in second person. I don’t automatically hate reading different styles of describing points-of-views in the same novel, and actually really loved it in The Drowning Empire trilogy, but I simply could not adapt to it whatsoever in Dragonfall. I tried. But I absolutely loathed Everen’s use of the second person, even after having time to get used to it. When Everen first started referring to Arcady as “you,” something he did in order to refer to the reader before meeting her, I had a moment of complete and total disconnect, thinking, “wait, what? Me?” Unlike in Harrow the Ninth, where the use of second person had an overall importance to the narrative as a whole, there is absolutely no comprehensible narrative reason for Everen to be using second person. It feels incredibly forced and unnatural and I got whiplash every time I had to return to reading from his perspective.

 

I also found myself stopping to reread several phrases that I didn’t understand or felt like they were just trying a bit too hard. I couldn’t picture anyone actually thinking these phrases, let alone saying them. Here’s a few examples:

 

“I was the last male dragon, born to know the past, the future, the gossamer of fate that spread in all directions like a dew-caught spiderweb.”

 

“Your tone was as acidic as the taste of the coffee, but you drank with obvious relish, watching the people as they passed by on the street.”

 

“I had been the golden son. The hope of all dragons. But the opposite of hope is despair. For with every year that passed, this world became hotter, and dragons grew hungrier. I was meant to see how to save us. Every time they look at me, they saw their own demise reflected. It all confined, like skin that would not shed.”

 

And on top of all the confusing perspectives and endless, contradictory information dumping, there was little to no explanation for fantasy terms in the novel as well. In addition to the hand-signs people use to communicate there’s also the Old Tongue used in magic. Here’s a look at what the Old Tongue, when being used to cast a spell, looks like:

 

Kjetim-lei ak ar-dźakain,

lei-turei, iév-turo

Ar-réal vanok vaugain

śajak val jain reno.

Dźo eje loj el-dźakain

fanas arfan lo

 

Now, I don’t have an expertise in linguistics whatsoever, but I am a bit perplexed at how this Old Tongue does not seem to share any common roots with the terms being used in the current language of Locmyrian. In present day, Arcady uses terms like “maire,” “paire,” and “taie,” which seem very dissimilar to the Old Tongue. I am surprised that this Locmyrian didn’t seem to evolve from the Old Tongue or anything, like most modern languages do. I also found it irritating that there are no translations for the Old Tongue, explanations why that language is still used in the present for spells, or what the terms Arcady uses in the present mean. None of this is ever explained. While readers can at least figure out what “marie,” “paire,” and “taie,” mean from context clues, it’s mildly irritating when these things are not explained in comparison to the rest of the information dumping  and it doesn’t seem to have a lot of real thought about it. The only expansion we get on the Old Tongue is shallow, at best:

 

“I wasn’t sure if I was pronouncing them correctly, nor had any idea what they meant. All I could do was close my eyes and try. Usually, spells were just the odd word in the Old Tongue–only masters up at the university would know full phrases.”

 

I’m sorry, but for me, it doesn’t quite work to just have an apparently experienced mage say, “I don’t know what I’m saying or how this works, but I’m doing it,” with no further remarks on how they have done this successfully in the past or where she learned to do it in the first place. One can infer that it was through their “taie” grandfather at some point and later through the books they’ve stolen, but I feel like a very important hallmark of the fantasy genre is not being met here—there isn’t a required skill, lineage, etc., to use magic or much of a significant cost or sacrifice, either, unless you count Arcady having to scarf down food after using magic. Sure, there does seem to be a tragic fate than death for mages that over extend their abilities or aren’t able to pay the energy back for using magic, but Dragonfall doesn’t make this entirely compelling View Spoiler »

 

Dragonfall desperately tries to be edgy and to set itself apart from the rest of the young adult genre, but it, pardon the pun, fell flat for me. Even though I really loved the idea of Dragonfall, the execution was too lacking for me to want to continue reading it and I think it goes without saying that I will not be reading future entries in the series. I think readers who don’t mind the young adult genre as a whole and who like the familiar tropes that the genre encapsulates will enjoy Dragonfall, especially those who are also looking for novels with LGBTQ+ representation and aren’t intimidated at the prospect of reading from many different descriptive styles of point-of-views.

 

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Book Review : Dragonfall - Blogging with Dragons

Posted March 16, 2023 in ARCS, Book Reviews, Fantasy

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