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Nice Dragons Finish Last (Heartstrikers Book 1) Kindle Edition
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|Length: 287 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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It's not only urban fantasy, is kind of post-apocalyptic dystopia too. Sometime in the future, a meteor crashed into the earth, awakening long sleeping magic. The Lady of the Great Lakes, Algonquin woke, flooding the Detroit area and claiming it as her own. Annexed from the US, it has become the Detroit Free Zone (DFZ), home to all manner of spirits, mages, shamans, anyone looking for a place to start over, no matter how dangerous. Her laws care little about humans treat each other (there are vending machines for guns, alcohol and party drugs), but woe to him who dares pollute her waters or endanger her fish. And no dragons. Dragons are forbidden, and she's placed a high bounty on them.
Which is too bad for Julius. His mother, the head of the Heartstriker clan, has bound him in human form and booted him to DFZ in hopes that he will finally make something of himself. The problem is Julius is too nice. There's not much dragon about him. He'd rather pay for services than demand them in exchange for letting you live. He'd rather ask than beat it out of you. And if he's not careful, that kind of attitude is going to get him killed.
It doesn't help that one of his (many) brothers, Bob, is trying to help. The problem with Bob is he is a Seer. All knowing, but not all remembering. He sends helpful texts like, "Duck." And then a few minutes later, "Duck." And then, "Goose." Julius quickly finds out that his family has more than one reason to oust him from the nest and throw him into family politics, and few of those reasons are beneficial to him.
Julius has to find a way to not betray his nature of trust and caring while still earning the respect of his family. If he doesn't, his mother will eat him. And she means it this time.
What I love most about this story is that It's a twist on the whole "tortured soul" hero theme. Instead of fighting his internal desire to be bad and succeeding by defeating those urges and choosing what is good and right, Julius is fighting *external* pressure, when all he actually wants is to allow his good nature to rule his decisions. Most of his life, that has lead him to abstain from any decision making whatsoever, so as not to be forced to choose between societal expectations and internal desire, but to survive his family's machinations, he has to figure out how to reconcile his nature within dragon society. He needs to figure out how to be strong without sacrificing who he is.
First and foremost, it’s about dragons. Boy or girl, who doesn’t love dragons?! Aaron, though, has found a great way for us to learn about the dragon world presented by the entire Heartstrikers series, in that Julius is sealed into a human form from before the first book begins. Both because of this and Julius’s uniqueness as a very un-dragonlike dragon, it is easy to sympathize with Julius as a human reading this story (I can’t speak for dragons reading the story, but I’d assume they’d be more likely to identify with Justin or Ian, Julius’s brothers). This combination is a brilliant way for Julius to be both an outsider to the dragon world and give the reader enough insight to not feel confused.
All that being said, Julius struggles with very human-connected issues that many teen boys face: finding their own identity and voice, dealing with an overbearing (and murderous) mother, and being singled out and ridiculed for being different. That Julius is actually a dragon is irrelevant for the humans reading to connect with him. Add in the very human and very awesome Marcie Novalli (a mage who becomes Julius’s best friend over the course of the story). Marcie brings an even further human element to the story but she also serves as our conduit to the amazing magical capabilities unearthed in this dystopian future.
Even though Julius and Marcie are older than your traditional Young Adult audience (they are in their 20s), I’d still consider this a great book for pre-teens on up. The familial obstacles faced by Julius and Marcie are not unlike those typically faced by teen antagonists in your more traditional YA fantasy stories: venturing out on their own with minimal support. So even though the age of the main characters would suggest this book be NA instead of YA, the content is clean enough that readers as young as 10 could easily enjoy this story.
There is some violence and gunplay in the story (Marcie’s father apparently ran afoul of some human gangsters who like to use guns) but nothing worse than your average cartoon/children’s show. Most of the fighting involved in the story is supernatural in nature, involving spirits and dragons as opposed to more realistic human on human violence. There are no major language concerns and zero sexual content (which is why I say the characters could easily have been 16 instead of in their 20s had the author chose to do so).
All in all, it’s good, clean dragons and magic fun!
Special note: I personally listened to this series on Audible, and Vikas Adam did a *fantastic* job narrating them. So if you are into audiobooks, I can highly recommend them. My 11yo read the physical books and enjoyed them just as well.
5/5 Giant Cartoon Mallets from Toonopolis, The Blog's Books for Boys review.