Review: Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron

Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel AaronNice 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

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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.

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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.

On a scale from Bethesda (1) to Julius (10), how important is it to be nice? If you’ve read NICE DRAGONS FINISH LAST, who was your favourite Heartstriker? I love Julius of course, but I have a soft spot for Bob ‘the pigeon whisperer’ Heartriker!

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  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    Another great review of this one! I should probably check out the audiobook one of these days.

  • Hooray, I’m so glad you liked this. I always get a little nervous when I make a recommendation, hoping against hope that the person won’t absolutely hate it, but whee, 5 stars! I wonder if the self-pub route was a conscious choice, hard to believe traditional publishers aren’t falling over themselves to pick up this excellent book 🙂

    ~Mogsy

    • No cause for worry here, you and Tabitha totally hit the nail on the head with this one! Feel free to always send UF and audio recs my way. 😀 I think the self-pub route was by choice based on some stuff I’ve read on Rachel Aaron’s blog about experimenting with a new pub style (and a new mishmash of genres). She also goes into detail about how much self-pubbing costs on her personal website; very interesting stuff!

  • Greg Hill

    Nice review. This sounds interesting, I also think the mashup of styles could be hard to pull off, but it sounds like she did. It’s certainly original. and hey- Detroit. 🙂 As a Michigan resident I can kinda laugh about the dystopian Detroit idea.

    • Thanks, Greg! Rachel Aaron definitely has the chops to pull off the genre bending and you’re right, it’s great to see some new life breathed into urban fantasy! Hahaha yeah, the Detroit factor was great too. 🙂

  • Lynn Williams

    If you say it’s that good then I will simply believe it!
    On the wishlist.
    Lynn 😀

    • Yay, I’m so glad to hear that you’ve been liking my recommendations, especially since you know I think your word is law when it comes to books. 😉 I’ll keep my eyes peeled for your thoughts on NDFL!

  • I’m dying to read this! Last time I checked, it was ONLY available in audio. I think I’d usually prefer to read the print version, but if you say this is amazing, I might just give it a shot!

    • I bought the ebook version on Amazon a few days ago.

    • Yeah, like Marius said there’s actually an ebook version available through Amazon! Not sure how you feel about ebooks but I DEFINITELY think it’d be worth it if you prefer reading text.

  • Underdragon … 🙂 Nice.

    It’s that good, huh? WHY IS LIFE SO SHORT and why can’t I read all the books I want and why the hell did I think writing a PhD was a good idea!? I just want to read and eat cake (it’s one of those days). /end rant.

    Anyway, this one sounds amazing. Poor Julius! There’s a pigeon whisperer dragon? Lol. Thanks for pointing out that bit about the audiobook being great – I usually only listen to fluffy stuff /rereads on audiobooks because I tend to zone out from time to time but I might give this one a try.

    • Hehe, thanks!

      Girl…I do not know what you were thinking with that PhD. Looks shiny and gives major cred and will be worth it in the end etc. but you’re a braver woman than I for taking that on. I will get right on that DMing cake thing! 😉

      HA YES! The pigeon whisperer was so great – and totally whacked out. The narration is seriously SO GREAT on NDFL. I think it might actually be the best audiobook I’ve ever listened to! If you’re doing a lot of baking (although maybe not in the summer heat!), cooking, or walking, this would be great on audio.

      • You know… If I could just END this PhD, put the whole thing away and never see it again, I would do it NOW. But I can’t because of my funding and now I have to see it through *sigh*. I can’t tell you how un-motivated I am to write academic stuff after 4.5 hours of sleep (which is the average of what I’m getting these days, we’re going through an early-wake-up phase that really doesn’t agree with me).

        I’ll give it a try, I think! You should work in a book selling business, you’d make them millions. Seriously.

  • Arghhhh, waaaaant! Why ebook only, saaaaad

  • I am so excited – you’ve rated the entire series (almost) 5 stars and I just bought this book on audible. BUMPING THIS BABY UP TO LISTENING NEXT!
    “The witty repartee between Julius and Marci – along with their combined social awkwardness – was such a treat.” (slight goosebumps of excitement over social awkward characters)
    This may have been my best impulse audiobook buy from Audible anniversary sale last week.
    Also, I’m definitely Julius-level nice from what I hear, but as soon as I start driving my niceness level tends to drop to Bethesda levels… (but really, people need to learn the difference between merge and yield!).
    EVEN MORE EXCITED THAT THE AUDIOBOOK MADE THE EXPERIENCE EVEN BETTER FOR YOU! I cannot wait to join you in reminiscing about this series (and silly me has decided to save your reviews until after I’ve listened to this because I’m probably going to no-life it all and I don’t want to have any idea of where the sequels end up!). Great review!!