Audiobook Review: Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of Heartstrikers
Publisher: Audible (Nov 18, 2014)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Narrator: Vikas Adam | Length: 13 hrs and 2 mins
I found this book surprisingly enjoyable…or perhaps that ought not to be so surprising. After all, I loved The Spirit Thief and the rollicking sci-fi Paradox trilogy that the author wrote under her pen name Rachel Bach. Still, combining dragons, magic, dystopia, humor and urban fantasy? Seemed just a tad ambitious. But boy, does Aaron pull it off with flying colors. I think Nice Dragons Finish Last may be my favorite book from her yet. I also had the pleasure of listening to the audio version of this book and it was fantastic.
Meet Julius, the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan. He isn’t a pushover so much as he’s just downright terrible at being a dragon. He’s nice, considerate, has no designs on taking over the world, all of which makes him an absolute failure in his mother’s eyes. After twenty-four years of watching Julius hide out in his room in the mountain, Bethesda the Heartstriker has finally had it. Sealing him in his human form, the dragon matriarch banishes her son to the Detroit Free Zone.
Built on the ruins of old Detroit, the DFZ is set apart from the rest of the country, having been annexed by the spirit Algonquin, Lady of the Great Lakes. It is home to modern mages, lesser spirits and all manner of magical creatures. Unfortunately, it’s also got a strict no dragons policy. Trapped in hostile territory with only the clothes on his back, Julius is going to have to prove himself to his mother if he wants any chance of getting his true form back. His only source of help comes in the form of Marci, an exiled human mage who is dealing with her own hefty set of problems.
First of all, I called this one an urban fantasy, but it’s actually a lot more complicated than that. Rachel Aaron puts a fun, fresh twist on the genre, infusing her setting with science fiction, post-apocalyptic and dystopic elements as well as a touch of mythology. It’s a fascinating mix. Magic exists in the world now, thanks to a meteor striking the earth in 2035. Algonquin awakens from the resulting shockwave, causing great tidal waves to rise, which was how Detroit was flooded and destroyed. The DFZ rises from its ruins, thriving unchecked on an economy system based on free enterprise and bounty hunting.
I also love rooting for the underdog, and Julius is an underdog all right, being the runt of Bethesda’s latest clutch. While his siblings are out doing great things, Julius prefers to avoid the rest of his family by shutting himself in his room playing computer games and earning an impressive collection of online degrees. It’s hard not to feel for him; if Julian were human, he’d actually be quite a catch! Good looking, sweet, kind, educated, and being just this side of geeky enough for me. Bah, too bad he had to be born to a clan of merciless, cutthroat dragons who can’t appreciate his finer points.
No worries though, because I’m on Team Julius all the way. Also in his corner you’ll find Marci the runaway thaumaturgic mage, as well as – surprise, surprise – Julius’s brother Justin. Marci’s a great character; she’s got an awkward personality but also a shrewd mind, which creates an interesting dynamic with our protagonist. I loved Justin too. He’s Julius’s complete opposite, but it’s hard not to be touched by his brotherly love and concern. I even got a kick out of Julian’s less benevolent family members like Chelsie the Heartstriker assassin and Bob the mercurial Seer. Did I also mention Bethesda names her children by assigning each clutch by letter in order of the alphabet, so that all the dragonlings in her first clutch would have names starting with A, those in the second clutch would have names starting with B, and so on? The Heartstriker clan is full of quirks, and I loved them all.
Rachel Aaron has an incredible imagination, and I think this book, more than any of her others, let her go wild with it. The audio version really did an amazing job bringing this book and all of her ideas to life, the narrator Vikas Adam making this one a really fun listen. I haven’t listened to any of his other performances, but this was a great first experience. Adam can do a wonderful range of voices, even though I have to say a couple of them didn’t quite “fit”, like Bob whom he made sound like a stoned surfer dude, and at times his female voices can be hilariously awkward. You can tell he had a good time reading the book too though, because his narration is animated and he does wonderful effects like hissing for when Bethesda is annoyed, or groaning when Justin is exasperated with Julius. Little touches like that can make the listening experience more memorable.
All in all, I’m really impressed with how well this book came together. Maybe it’s because urban fantasy is more to my tastes, but I think I liked this one even more than Aaron’s Paradox trilogy, and I did love those Devi Morris books. Julius is just such a lovable character though, and the story is so fun and easy to get into, it’s hard to stop once you start. Highly recommended if you’re looking for an entertaining feel-good book.
A review copy of this audiobook was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Audible Studios!
Click below to hear a sample of NICE DRAGONS FINISH LAST audiobook, narrated by Vikas Adam, courtesy of Audible.