Nice Dragons Finish Last: Great setting and characters, impressive plotting

Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsNice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsNice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron

Julius Heartstriker is the youngest son of Bethesda Heartstriker, the ambitious, aggressive, and ruthless matriarch of the powerful Heartstriker dragon clan. Bethesda is disappointed in her youngest son. He’s small, weak, nonthreatening and, worst of all, he actually likes humans. He’s just too nice.

To express her displeasure, and to put a fire in Julius’s belly, Bethesda banishes him to the Detroit Free Zone, a place ruled by an ancient spirit named Algonquin. Pretty much anything goes in the DFZ, but one thing that Algonquin won’t tolerate in her realm is dragons. For that reason, Julius is forced to remain in his human form, which is exactly how his mother intends to punish him. She’s giving him one month to prove his worth to his clan. The task he’s been given is to find the missing daughter of a rival dragon clan. If he doesn’t succeed, Bethesda will probably eat Julius. That’s what it’s like to be a nice dragon in the Heartstriker family.

Another newcomer to the DFZ is Marcy, a young woman who’s fleeing her old life and is now eking out a living by working odd jobs as a minor mage. When she begs Julius to hire her to help him find the girl he’s looking for, Julius decides to give her a chance. Neither knows the other’s history, and both are keeping secrets, but they quickly realize that together they make a great team.

Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMy daughter and I listened to the audiobook version of Nice Dragons Finish Last (2014) together and we both thought it was so much fun! The DFZ is a cool setting, Julius’ family members (we meet several of them) are fascinating folks, there’s plenty of action and humor, and we loved the interaction between Julius and Marcy. We are eager to find out how a nice dragon like Julius is going to survive in his dysfunctional family. We are rooting for him!

What impressed me most about Nice Dragons Finish Last, and actually the entire HEARTSTRIKERS series (I read all of them before I got around to writing this review), is that Rachel Aaron juggles multiple storylines that become entangled in a clever and engaging way. Julius’ struggle with his family and Marcy’s troubles with a man who’s hunting her are the obvious intertwined subplots in Nice Dragons Finish Last, but there are other things going on that readers may not notice in this first installment. Now that I’ve finished the series, I can see how carefully plotted it was. Very impressive.

The audiobooks by Audible Studios are fabulously narrated by Vikas Adam. He’s so good with this kind of story. My daughter, relatively new to audiobooks, was amazed at the diversity of his voices. She thought it was a full cast of narrators.

Rachel Aaron self-published the five novels in the HEARTSTRIKERS series. The next one is One Good Dragon Deserves Another.

Published in 2014. 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. 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…

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. This sounds like so much fun!

  2. I really enjoyed this series, the spinoff, DFZ is really good as well.

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