Review: Drōmfrangil by Cynthia McDonald
Genre: Fantasy Published: Cinnabar Moth Publishing LLC, August 2021 My Rating: 1.5/5 stars
As part of my continuous search for fiction with good disability representation I came across this indie-published fantasy novel on Netgalley. Although I felt the representation of a main character with a disability (prosthetic arm and chronic pain) was well done, I unfortunately didn't find many other aspects to the story that I enjoyed... Let’s talk about it.
Drōmfrangil tells the story of sixteen year old Marcus, who finds out that he has inherited a special talent from his father: the ability to slip into an alternate world called Drōmfrangil in his sleep. His first trip does not pass uneventful; he finds himself in an unfamiliar forest, only to have his prosthetic arm eaten by a horrifying monster and to narrowly escape back to his bed with the help of a talking bush… Before he can get any explanation from his father, who has lived with this ability for years now, things take a turn for the worse. Helped by his human friends from our world, and some new allies he meets along the way, Marcus is thrown into a wildly imaginative rescue mission through Drōmfrangil to save his family.
What I liked:
The titular world truly steals the show in this novel; it’s highly imaginative and feels very expansive. In some ways I was reminded of Narnia a bit, with the way the author has thought out different races and area’s of this world, and in many ways it felt like this had the potential of being a full series in this world.
My personal biggest selling point, as mentioned, was the inclusion of a disabled protagonist, and I’m happy to say that I think this aspect was handled very well. The handicap isn’t the main focus of the story, but does play into it later in an interesting way. The discussion about bodily difference didn’t feel heavy handed and I really appreciate the subversion of a popular trope when it comes to this subject (for spoiler-explanation, see my Goodreads review).
What I disliked:
My problems with this story started right from chapter one, and if I’m honest: I don’t think I would have made it past that chapter if this hadn’t been a review copy. We are introduced to Marcus on his ride to the schoolbus, where he meets one of the other main characters Sadie for the first time. This scene provides some of the most awkward character introduction I have ever read in a novel. The characters introduce themselves, Sadie immediately tells Marcus she’s Asian (why?), and Marcus immediately mentions that he feels like he’s already great friends with this girl after barely speaking 2 words with her. She than asks him why he has the prosthesis, which prompts him to infodump his entire life story, including a traumatic accident on this girl he barely even knows, without even flinching. This interaction also happens to be about the only character development we get from these two. She is Sadie (the Asian girl Marcus likes), he is Marcus (the protagonist who has a dad and a prosthetic arm after and accident), and then there’s Leopold who’s personality traits are: eating a lot and making puns.
This expositional bus-scene is problematic for 2 reasons: it’s evidence of the worst kind of storytelling (exposition and explanation via literal dialogue), and it’s a bit disrespectful to the protagonists disability. I’ve had people who I don’t know ask me about my disability, and its never such an easy conversation as portrayed here. It’s also not a good message to young readers that this is the way they should have to approach such a conversation. There was a better moment and a better place for this conversation than in scene one, on a schoolbus with a girl you don’t know.
Unfortunately this style of storytelling continues: almost all information about the world is conveyed through dialogue: Marcus asking questions and one of the inhabitants of Drōmfrangil answering. It makes for an uninteresting reading experience but it also takes away from the depth of worldbuilding. Drōmfrangil is only explored through “telling” and therefore, as the saying goes, “wide as an ocean, but deep as a puddle”. It’s unfortunate, because the author has the talent for imagination, but the execution is frankly very amateurish and could have used a few edits.
Another question I kept asking myself whilst reading Drōmfrangil was: who is the target audience here? The story reads like a young middle-grade and would probably work best as such. However, the protagonists are supposed to be 16, and some of the scenes are a bit too disturbing and gory for that demographic. As a novel for 16-year-olds it might work for some, but had I read it at that age, I would have found it too juvenile, especially when it comes to the characters and the cartoonish antagonist.
Physical, Audio or e-book?
Drōmfrangil is available in physical form, e-book and audio, which I really appreciate. Not every publisher has the ability to provide an audio-format, but I’m always happy to see one so the book can also reach readers with visual impairments, dyslexia or other physical differences. The narrator is pleasant to listen to and does a good job of voicing different characters. You can tell that the studio-quality isn’t quite like that of a mainstream publisher by a slightly metallic quality to the audio, which gets more noticeable if you play it at 2x speed. Other than that it’s a high quality audio-production.
Overall this novel had good potential but didn’t work for me. Many thanks to the publisher Cinnabar Moth Publishing LLC for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Find this book on Goodreads.