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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.
Julian's personal weakness is that he's a nice guy. And Dragons aren't nice. At all. It's pissed off his mother and caused him problems.
But he has decided to embrace being nice. Rachel Aaron has bucked the classic hero prototype that heroes are generally a nice guy because that's their default setting. Instead being a decent person (dragon, whatever) is a burden to overcome. It's a fun twist to make the nice guy thing a disadvantage that he can use to against his foes.
Several characters, especially the quirky dragon seer, Bob, are wonderful. Marci, the mage, is not just a paper cutout female to compliment the protagonist, but is a strong co-protagonist, perfectly willing to kill, while Julian, the dragon is more squeamish about taking life. And Ghost the Dead Cat is quite terrible in an interesting way.
There are lots of references to pop fantasy culture things to find. Some are obvious, some are not, which makes it fun to wonder if you found something intentional or if you are imagining it.
I enjoyed it. And I look forward to the next one immensely.
The action mostly takes place in the DFZ (Detroit Free Zone - I kept having to remind myself it wasn't the Dragon Free Zone), which is a version of post-magic-returning Detroit that's been "cleansed" by the re-awakened spirit Algonquin. In the wake of the cleansing a sort of laissez-faire city has sprung up over the ruins of old Detroit and there are scenes in the pretty, new, very corporate upper city and in the grittier lower city.
Our hero is the underdog (underdragon?) Julius, the runt of the Heartstriker's youngest group of dragon hatchlings. Instead of being properly draconic (ambitious, scheming, greedy, power-hungry), Julius just wants to be a nice guy and has spent his last 20ish years trying to stay out of the way of his bigger, meaner family. He's been hiding in his room playing video games (against humans! and not even winning!) and earning online degrees in random subjects that interest him.
Julius is pretty sure his whole family is out to get him when he is kicked out of the family house by his mother, sealed into human form, and told to make something of himself by his mother. As the story unfolds you get to meet several of Julius' brothers and sisters as well as a few dragons from a rival clan. We also meet Marci, a thaumaturgic mage who was almost done with her schooling when bad things went down in Las Vegas and she had to run.
This is a great urban fantasy read. It's light, it's fun, it's imaginative. There are dragons and mages and bad guys up to no good. There are shamans hanging out in the sewers, there are crazy monsters, self-driving cars, and endearing characters. It's a good read and well worth picking up. I look forward to enjoying the sequels.
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