Review: Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron

nice dragons finish last by rachel aaronFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Heartstrikers #1
Length: 315 pages
Publisher: self-published
Date Released: July 15, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s WebsiteGoodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

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…

My Review:

The girl gets the dragon. Normally I would have said that the other way around, but in this case, the human is definitely more alpha than the dragon.

Also, by the end of the story, it’s not strictly true that anyone actually gets anyone, but there’s certainly the promise of a romance in later books in the series.

This one is all about the case. And what a case it is!

There are lots of stories where the magic goes away, or remains hidden. In this series, the magic has come back with a vengeance. The world is different. Not only have magic creatures come out of hiding, but magic began manifesting in humans again. There be mages here.

The most apocalyptic release of magic back into the world occurred in Detroit. The spirit of the Great Lakes, the Lady Algonquian, rose up out of the lake and pretty much drowned the entire city of Detroit, attempting to wash it clean of pollution (and people). It is now the Detroit Free Zone under her very active protection, and her laws don’t give much of a damn about what humans do to each other. She cares about protecting the land and the spirits of the place.

It turns out that there is a lot of money in researching magic, and in the intervening 60 or so years, a lot of new companies have moved into what used to be the Detroit exurbs.

Her other rule is “no dragons”. Because yes, the dragons came out of hiding, and have become an apex predator pretty much everywhere. Except the DFZ.

So when the mother of the Heartstriker clan of dragons wants to punish her least-dragonish child, she dumps Julius in the DFZ with his powers locked away, and gives him a month to do something properly draconic–or die.

Julius gets roped into one of his brother Ian’s manipulative plans, and finds himself attempting to tag a dragon in hiding while fending off goons sent to murder his new partner–a mage on the run.

Marci Novalli left Vegas in a hurry when her dad’s mob-partner had him killed, and she’s been running every since. She hopes that working with Julian will earn her enough to get away from the goon squad–while Julius hopes that the human mage will help him blend into the all-human DFZ.

Neither of them gets quite what the bargained for, but what they do each get is a partner who will protect their back from the increasingly large forces out to get them. And someone to stand with them in the middle of machinations and manipulations that are intended to get them both killed.

Escape Rating B+: This is a lot of fun, especially in the second half. In the first half of the book, Julius does a little bit too much “pity poor me” and trying to find a way out of the mess he’s been stuck in. Everyone in his family seems to have had a part in setting him up, and he’s totally out of his depth.

It’s only when he starts standing up for himself that he’s able to get a grip on events, and on his own future. Of course, standing up for himself is part of what the manipulation was intending to accomplish in the first place.

It may be that we need to learn more of how draconic society does (or doesn’t) work, but Julius’ mother comes off as a bit of a caricature, so I more than didn’t like her, she didn’t seem quite internally consistent.

The plots and counterplots were so convoluted, I couldn’t get them straight until the end, and neither could Julius, which was the point. Everyone is manipulating everyone else, to various good and bad effects. Even the mobster after Marci turns out to be just a thread in a much larger canvas than he anticipated.

Marci seems to be a much stronger (and more bloodthirsty) character than Julius. While he’s been avoiding all of his powerful family by hiding, she’s been making a living on the fringes of the mob, and taking lots of classes in the “school of hard knocks”. Standing up for her and more importantly with her is what makes Julius grow up.

Nice Dragons Finish Last was a great start to a cool urban fantasy series. The ending sent chills down my spine, so I can’t wait to see what happens next.

*Reviewer’s note: As you read this, I am in Detroit at NASFiC (North American Science Fiction Convention) Hopefully, we won’t see the spirit of the lake in quite so dramatic a fashion.

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