Book Review: Nice Dragons Finish Last – Rachel Aaron

Nice Dragons Finish Last Book Review

My rating: 5 dragons

Nice Dragons Finish Last

Overview

Oh. My. Goodness. Gracious. Me.

THIS BOOK. I loved it. I bought the audio version based on a recommendation (well, a number of recommendations, really), and the fact it had been sat on my TBR list for a while. I LOVE all things dragon. I love fantasy. I love magic. I love world building. I love character-driven stories. On occasion, and when done well, I love humour.

Nice Dragons Finish Last delivered everything and more, and the audiobook narration by Vikas Adam made the experience all the more enjoyable.

I’m struggling on where to start with this. There’s so much to go over. It’s an urban fantasy without the urban fantasy tropes. But despite the lack of expected stuff (which can make a lot of urban fantasy boring), this book is the start of what’s sure to be a fantastic series. I’m so pleased all the books are out so I can devour them one after another. I’m already nearly halfway through book two, and am loving that more than this one.

The story kicks off with a mysterious prologue where we’re introduced to the concept of magic and mages, which is all very enjoyable and thought-provoking. Then we get straight into it with Julius, the youngest, smallest, and weakest of all his siblings in the Heartstriker dragon clan, waking up on the sofa in an immaculate apartment. Jessica, his sister, has let him stay with her for the night after he was kicked out of home by their mother, Bethesda.

A phone call from Bethesda, lays everything out for him. She’s bored of him hiding in his room (a survival tactic Julius used to avoid his older, more aggressive siblings), and has given him an ultimatum: he has less than a month to do something “draconic” (you know, take over something – command and conquer) or she’ll eat him.

As punishment for being a whelp, Julius has been sealed in his alternate, human form by his mother. While it has cut down on his appetite, it means he can’t transform into his true form – a feathered dragon. Bethesda is the daughter of the  the ancient Quetzalcoatl.

To make matters even worse, Julius has been sent to the Detroit-Free-Zone. The DFZ is about the only place in the world where dragons are illegal, and killed on site. What a set up indeed!

We’re introduced to a number of characters, all of whom I loved (and some I loathed as well), including the absolutely wonderful Marci. She’s not just some side-character or love interest (although there might be a few sparks building) – she’s fully fleshed out with power and troubles of her own. She and Julius make quite the pair when they end up together.

There are also a number of Julius’s siblings. Bethesda is unlike most other dragons in that she’s had a number of clutches over her life. Ten, to be exact. Each clutch is named for a different letter of the alphabet, with A clutch being the oldest, down to J clutch, where Julius comes in. We meet a few of his siblings alongside Jessica – Justin, Ian, Chelsie, and Bob. I can’t get over how awesome Bob is. They all are, in their own way. But Bob is extra special awesome.

There are other dragon clans including the amazing Svena, Katya, and Estella. There are Seers, too, throwing a spanner in the works.

The lore and world building is as strong as the characters and their development. You have spirits and shaman, thugs from Las Vegas and unique, rare magical items. It’s an unrelenting story in terms of pace, action, reveals, twists, and turns. I could not predict what would happen and thought about this story as soon as I stopped reading/listening.

If you want a fun, playful (yet deathly dark and serious in numerous places), highly entertaining (I laughed out loud in my car so many times) story, this is one to go for. The cover art, too, is DAZZLING, and if you enjoy audiobooks, I cannot rate it highly enough.

The most fun reading I’ve had in a very long time.

Things I loved

Characters. Julius is not a typical dragon, and he’s not a typical protagonist, either. He’s well aware of his own failings, but has a warmth and intelligence to him that makes him incredibly likeable. He has a few parts where he’s quite whiny, and I found myself siding with his more draconic relations, but he’s not irritating at all. More passive characters have a habvit of getting swept up in events with little agency, but while Julius certainly can’t control how he gets himself into these situations, he is damned sure of getting himself out of them.

Marci is an exceptionally well-written character. I love her bold nature, her fearlessness and passion. Her power and skill and determination. I love her to pieces. She’s so well fleshed out, and often competes with Julius to be my favourite! She’s fantastic.

Bethesda, Justin, Ian, Chelsie, Bob. They’re all Heartstrikers, and all very different. It’s not a case of a load of bully characters who are indistinguishable from one another. They each have very relatable desires and wants and their actions are thrilling to watch unfold.

Katya, Svena, Estella. Daughters of the Three Sisters, these dragonesses are some of the oldest and most powerful in the world. Svena, The White Witch, and Estella, The Northern Star, are particularly dangerous. But there’s so much more to them than simple rivals. The plot thickens with their involvement (especially considering they have a Seer among them), and you have ambition, plotting, and double-crossing, with no clear way of knowing what someone’s next step will be, or what it might mean for the whole story or a particular character.

Magic. It’s something that’s only recently come back to this world after a long drought. Human mages are just starting up again, with no-one to teach or guide them. You have Spirits (including Marci’s insanely creepy Death Spirit, called Ghost, who is a cat), other magical creatures, wards, curses, spellwork, Shaman, and a number of branches of magic that are only just touched upon. There’s a tonne of information, but you’re never hit over the head with exposition. I want to know more and more.

Dragons. I saved the best till last. There’s some fantastic dragon lore here. Just. Fantastic.

Things I didn’t like

There’s not a huge amount I didn’t like in terms of the story. Julius and Marci are allies and friends, and though I’ve no doubt it could develop into something more, they are in no way predictable. Their actions and dialogue feels very real and natural, and I love the authenticity.

However the prose had a couple of slightly irritating problems, chief among which was repetition. There are a number of phrases that are used throughout, but because they stood out, it was very jarring every time I encountered them. Off the top of my head:

“[NAME]’s eyes narrowed to slits.”

“He felt it to his toes.” (Sweet the first couple of times, annoying after.)

“But it wasn’t until [THING HAPPENED] that Julius [SAW/DISCOVERED/REALISED/UNDERSTOOD]…”

“[NAME]’s head snapped up.” (Honestly with so much vigorous head movement, half the characters should have decapitated themselves.)

Being dragons, there is a lot of growling and purring, but it was less annoying.

Other than that, there wasn’t much else I didn’t like!

Final thoughts

This is a fantastic start to what is shaping up to be a fantastic series. You have dragons, amazing characters, a great story in a fantastic setting. It’s highly entertaining, and I recommend you grab yourself a copy (or audio version!) as soon as you get the chance!

 

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