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Dragonfall by L.R. Lam

(Hodderscape, 2023)

Reviewed by John Dodd

Everen was the last male dragon, and the chosen one, the one who would right all the wrongs and give back the dragons their place in the world. Except this did not come to pass and he found himself trapped in the form of man, there to wander the world without purpose, hoping for what he had lost.

Across the gulf of universes, the dragons left behind, including his sister and his mother, try to find a way to get through to him, there to give him the purpose and direction that he needs, which will come from befriending a human, and then using that human as a sacrifice to allow the dragons their rightful place in the world.

Except first, Everen must come to care for the human, to form a bond with them, because only then will the magic work, because a bond broken carries the greatest power. But when the bond is formed, it works both ways, and the power that Everen needs might also be used by the person they bond with.

On the surface of it, this feels very much like a coming-of-age story, despite the person coming of age already being hundreds of years old. When Everen arrives from his world to the one that he finds himself in, he is very much a new soul, unused to all the things that he now faces, and without the godlike power that he commanded as a dragon. By comparison, Arcady is but a thief, but their purpose is aligned with that of Everen and their destinies are intertwined in ways that neither of them could have seen.

This is an interesting story, of the nature of creatures and comfort, of a relationship that (on the surface) seems destined to end in a way that will be really bad™ for one or both of those in it. But Lam manages to seek out the need for contact, even between species that are not the same, even between creatures that have no commonality, there to draw the bond for them together.

I very much liked that Arcady is never really identified for what they are, and yet despite that, they remain a full character with motivations and needs all their own. In a similar vein to Ancillary Justice, proving that the gender of a character is a needless construct, and that the story is what matters. I wasn’t surprised by the first part of the ending, as the book had been leading up to that from the early pages. However, in the wrapping up of the story, something was revealed that suggested that this book was the first in a series, but it was something that hadn’t really been alluded to in any part of the book. Given the staggering nature of that reveal, I really thought there should have been something about it prior to those last pages.

It’s a good page turner, the action is fast and snappy, and the scenes of intimacy are written with verve and passion, without going into detail. While I would have liked to have known more about the world in general, keeping the perspective between the two main characters and the side characters worked well for this particular story. Of particular note, even though the chapters are headed with the names of the character which inhabits them, the difference in thought patterns and mannerisms were enough that it would have been clear even without the chapter prompts, and that made a world of difference (no pun intended) in how the story played out. While there are several character viewpoints, this is very much the story of Everen and Arcady, which is how it should be.

Overall, interesting world, good premise and high stakes. I’m curious to see if there’s a follow up and certainly to see where the last-minute reveal goes, but it holds as a standalone story.

Review from BSFA Review 23 - Download your copy here.


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