Following an author’s career can tell you quite a bit about them as a person. Some writers who have achieved success seem content to keep pumping out what works each time, for less and less effort. Others are determined to stretch themselves with each new book and get better at their craft. L R Lam is definitely in the latter category.

Dragonfall is the first book in a fantasy trilogy that was snapped up by Hodder & Stoughton at auction in a six-figure deal, so the publishing industry clearly has faith in the series. Even though this wasn’t exactly my sort of book, I am inclined to agree that their confidence is well-placed.

To explain that, while the book is a fantasy story about dragons and wizards, in form it is mainly a heist caper and an enemies-to-lovers queer romance. Neither of those are exactly my favourite things, but when they are done well, and there is an interesting world unfolding at the same time, I’m happy.

The underlying plot of the book is that humans and dragons used to live in harmony, but a few hundred years ago humans managed to banish the dragons to another universe that is unpleasant and hostile to life. The longer-lived dragons have been plotting revenge ever since, whereas the humans have largely forgotten their history. Dragons are now worshipped as gods, and are therefore not actually real.

Our lead character is Everen, who is important to dragonkind because males are very rare. Prophecies suggest that only a male dragon can succeed in leading his people back to their home. Naturally Everen is weighed down by responsibility, and his overbearing mother, the dragon Queen, doesn’t help. But, at the start of the book, he succeeds in penetrating the veil between worlds where he adopts human form.

There he meets Arcady, a young wizard whose grandfather, a famous and talented court magician, was unjustly accused of causing a great plague. At least that’s how Arcady’s family tells the story. As a descendant of the infamous Plaguebringer, there is no way that Arcady can practice magic openly, so they have turned thief in order to earn enough money to enroll in the university under an assumed name. They hope to eventually learn enough to clear their grandfather’s name.

Inevitably, Everen and Arcady must bond in the manner of dragon and rider from ages past, but Arcady trusts no one, even someone as handsome as Everen. Worse still, Everen’s archivist sister, Cassia, tells him that the only way to fully open the veil is to bond with Arcady and then kill him. He’s only a human, after all.

So far so good. Where things get interesting is the additional background. While most humans don’t believe that dragons exist except as gods, there is a thriving black market trade in dragon relics. The most eager buyers are merchants from the far-off land of Jask. There is a clandestine group of human monks who seek to prevent this trade and secure all dragon relics for the church. Our third major character, Sorin, is an orphan assassin whose job is to track down and punish those involved in the trade.

All of this comes together when Arcady learns that a dragon claw is to be put up for auction. Stealing it, and then selling it to one of the rich bidders, would be the heist of a lifetime.

You may have noticed that I used ‘they’ for Arcady’s pronoun when introducing them, but ‘he’ when talking about them from Cassia’s point of view. That was deliberate. The book is told from Everen’s point of view, and he always uses ‘you’ when referring to Arcady. That’s Lam being very clever about structure. But it is pretty clear from descriptions of Arcady that they are quite effeminate. Also they indulge in occasional rants about how the people of Jask are terrible gender essentialists.

Dragons, because of the rarity of male births, are also rather gender-essentialist.

My expectation is that, over the course of the next two books, this is going to come to matter. And the love that Everen and Arcady have for each other is going to be key to resolving the plot.

Right now, this being a romance, they are back to hating each other again. But it won’t last, and we know that because the book has a prologue which promises a happy ever after. I’m not sure why Lam decided to do that, and maybe this narrative will be upended before the end. We shall see. But in the meantime I am looking forward to the next volume.

book cover
Title: Dragonfall
By: L R Lam
Publisher: Hodderscape
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Bookshop.org UK
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