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Monday, July 14, 2014

Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website  
Order “Nice Dragons Finish LastHERE
Read the first three chapters HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "The Spirit Thief
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Rebellion” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Eater” & “Spirit’s Oath” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit War” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Spirit's End"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Fortune's Pawn"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Honor's Knight"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Heaven's Queen"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Eli Monpress series completion interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Bach

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rachel Aaron lives in Athens, Georgia with her family. She has graduated from University of Georgia with a B.A. in English Literature. She has been an avid reader since her childhood and now has an ever-growing collection to show for it. She loves gaming, Manga comics & reality TV police shows. She also posts regularly on her blog about publishing, books and several other intriguing things.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: As the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: stay quiet, don’t cause trouble, and keep out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn’t cut it in a family of ambitious 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 to his mother that he can be a ruthless dragon or lose his true shape forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are seen as monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test.

He only hopes that humans are more trustworthy than dragons.

CLASSIFICATION: The Heartstriker series is an action-packed urban fantasy series with a strong dose of comedy, post-apocalyptic SF themes and dragons.

FORMAT/INFO: Nice Dragons Finish Last is 315 pages long divided over eighteen numbered chapters with a prologue and an epilogue. Narration is in the third person via Julius Heartstriker, Chelsie Heartstriker, Marci Novalli, Svena White Witch, Estella the Northern Star, and Bixby. This is the first volume of the Heartstriker series.

July 15, 2014 will mark the e-book publication of Nice Dragons Finish Last and it will be self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by Anna Steinbauer.

ANALYSIS: Once Rachel Aaron mentioned this book to me in one of our email correspondence, I begged pleaded with her to let me read it in its draft form. To my joy, she agreed and I was able to read it a year ago. To say I was pleased with the book would be an understatement. But first I was curious as to why she was going the self-publishing route and she wonderfully explains this decision in this blogpost over at Civilian Reader. Go take a read or otherwise wait for my interview with her to know more about it.

Now on to the book, from the blurb, one can surmise that this is an urban fantasy, but here's what's slightly different about it. Rachel Aaron brilliantly weaves some post apocalyptic and SF threads into the story while also making sure that it has magic and dragons in it. The plot begins with our protagonist Julius Heartstriker, who is a very undragon-like dragon. Due to his lackadaisical nature & apparent un-interest at dragon activities/ambition, he gets banished by his mother Bethesda into the DFZ or Detroit Free Zone. He's supposed to prove that he's fit to be called a spawn of the Heartstriker clan and has less than a month to prove it or else it's curtains for him. Oh and also he stuck in his human form for his Detroit jaunt and can’t avail of his dragon form or powers as well.

That’s the first hook; secondly we have Marci Novalli, a Thaumaturgic mage who is running away from her past in Las Vegas for reasons revealed later in the story. The main point is what happens when their paths cross and how much drama occurs in the DFZ? There are also a bunch of other characters who will strike the reader’s attention like Bob who is Julius’ elder brother and the Heartstriker clan seer. Not to mention he seems wacky and is a constant source of comedy at Julius’ expense whenever he appears on the page. The other siblings introduced are Ian, Chelsie and Justin and they are terrific and scary in their own way. Another funny thing about the Heartstrikers is that Bethesda names her clutches alphabetically so not only is Julius literally the runt but also in the story everyone does their best to remind him of that.

The world settings are a curious mix of urban fantasy, science fiction and apocalyptic dystopia. Take for example; the world is such because a comet caused magic to return in 2035 and since then spirits have taken over several parts of the world. One such persona is Algonquin, the Lady of the Great Lakes, who unleashed a tidal wave and destroyed Detroit. In its place she has built the Detroit Free Zone (DFZ) that is a unique mix of magic and unbridled capitalism wherein dragons are forbidden to enter and humans find themselves to be quite low on the Lady’s interests. But DFZ has flourished beyond imagination and led the world in the unique combination of magic & business coming together like none other. This situation of a city state within a country is very similar to Hong Kong and China circa pre-1997.

There are many more details that I'm glossing over and I’m hoping the readers discover in their own reading, but suffice to say for all lovers of urban fantasy, this book will be a welcome addition to their shelves. Rachel Aaron brings her charismatic humor and superb characterization to this story while also developing a very unique world (urban fantasy wise).  She gives us a story that will have you rooting for Julius and his "friend" within a few pages of their introduction. Beginning with Julius and Marci who are both quite adorable in their interactions with each other. They reminded me a lot of Barry & Felicity from Arrow. Both Julius and Marci are focal points of the story and they carry the plot forward with Julius’ mission to become more dragon-like and Marci’s mystery of running away from Las Vegas. 

The things I also loved were the side characters especially Bob and his prophecies and Chelsie with her stoic ways. There's also the world building, which only hints at certain things and as the series progresses, more revelations are sure to arise. I can’t wait to read more about the Dragon clans and the intricacies that surround the Heartstrikers. There’s also the world that has been affected by magic. I would love to see the author explore other world parts like Las Vegas, China, Europe, etc. Another plus point is the wonderful cover which I believe would look fantastic in physical form.

Also the plot twists and pace are neatly done and will have you flipping pages to see how it all ends for Julius, Marci and the other characters introduced. What I absolutely enjoyed was how much fun was infused within the story, similar to the first couple of Eli Monpress titles wherein the story presented us with funny characters and a curious world. And as the story progressed, the world became stranger and wider. I believe there might be something similar brewing here as well. The only drawbacks for me about this story are that the wider world implications of the reappearance of magic haven’t been quite discussed or shown but with the comic angle of the story, they might not quite be clarified entirely.

CONCLUSION: Nice Dragons Finish Last is a hilarious story about a dragon who is locked into his human form and will have to learn to trust his dragon instincts to survive in a world wherein his kind is hated and hunted. Be sure to keep an eye out for this book, as Rachel Aaron is back in prime form with this comedic urban fantasy series.

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