Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron (Heartstrikers #1)
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Self-published on July 13, 2014
Audio Rights: Vikas Adam for Audible Studios on November 18, 2014
Source: Purchased via Audible
As the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: keep quiet, don’t cause trouble, and stay out of the way of bigger dragons. View Spoiler »But this meek behavior doesn’t fly in a family of ambitious magical predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience.
Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ–a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit–Julius has one month to prove that he can be a ruthless dragon or kiss his true shape goodbye forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are considered monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test.
He only hopes humans are more trustworthy than dragons… « Hide Spoiler
One thought plagued my mind while contemplating what to say in my review for NICE DRAGONS FINISH LAST: how do I convince literally everyone I know to read this book? It’s that good.
Bethesda the Heartstriker is the leader of the Heartstriker dragon clan, a calculating and formidable dragon who’s hell-bent on making her clan the most powerful in the world. How has Bethesda come into power? With the help of her dozens of powerful and uniquely talented children! Other dragons don’t call her Bethesda the Broodmare for nothing. When your power is built upon the backs of your children, it’s imperative that they be strong and ruthless – all weak links will be eliminated.
This attitude is problematic for young Julius, a twenty-something dragon whose age, size, and unwillingness to engage with other dragons make him…well, something of a weak link. The weakest link in the entire Heartstriker clan, actually. Julius is just too nice to be a good dragon. Draconic traits like scheming, fighting, wheeling and dealing aren’t his style, and momma Heartstriker has had enough. To teach her runt a lesson, Bethesda seals him in his human form, preventing him from transforming into a dragon or using the super-strength that unsealed dragons have. She sends Julius packing into the most inhospitable place for all of dragonkind: the highly magical DFZ, a dystopian version of Detroit. His mission? Locate and return a missing dragoness from a rival clan, securing their allegiance to the Heartstrikers…or die.
Julius is the ultimate underdog (underdragon?), so it’s basically impossible not to root for him. While he starts out as a bit of a pushover, his experiences fending off his unhelpful siblings and working with a brilliant human mage named Marci teach Julius the importance of sticking to your guns. The witty repartee between Julius and Marci – along with their combined social awkwardness – was such a treat. Many authors try to write with humour but few pull it off as well as Rachel Aaron. Aaron develops Marci into a lot more than just Julian’s friend and sidekick in his mission: she’s a complex character with her own history, personal baggage, and motivations for coming to a place as dangerous as the DFZ. With her magical skill and Julius’s brain – and yes, his niceness – the two may just make it out alive. Maybe nice dragons don’t have to finish last, after all.
Rachel Aaron packs an unbelievable amount of world building into NICE DRAGONS FINISH LAST without ever sacrificing the plot or verging into info-dump territory. She gives us a tantalizing glimpse into draconic history, introduces new and truly terrifying supernatural creatures, and explains the differences between different styles of magic. While I was initially skeptical about Aaron’s combination of UF, dystopia, sci-fi, and humour, I thought she pulled it off beautifully. Rachel Aaron has done the impossible: she’s created a wholly original, wholly enjoyable urban fantasy novel. She’s definitely earned herself a spot on my auto-buy authors list!
I think if I’d read this one as a text copy, I would have given it four stars. But Rachel Aaron’s writing and Vikas Adam’s audio narration is a winning combo truly deserving of a perfect rating. Adam does a wonderful job with pacing, humour, and distinct voices – such a good job that I thought for sure a female voice actor had done the work for characters like Marci, Chelsie, and Bethseda. Turns out Vikas Adam is just that good! If you can get your hands on an audio copy you definitely should.
NICE DRAGONS FINISH LAST is my favourite book of 2015 so far – and my favourite audiobook! Highly recommend to basically everyone, especially UF fans.