Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron

Nice Dragons Finish Last (Heartstrikers #1) by Rachel Aaron
Published 2014 by self?.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased for Kindle.

Genre: urban fantasy.

My rating:

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. But this meek behavior doesn’t fly in a family of ambitious magical predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience.

Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ–a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit–Julius has one month to prove that he can be a ruthless dragon or kiss his true shape goodbye forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are considered monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test.

He only hopes humans are more trustworthy than dragons…


Have my dragon page-dividers ever been more appropriate?

Nice Dragons Finish Last is one of those books that came highly recommended by fellow bloggers whose taste I respect a lot. They weren’t wrong. This is a great urban fantasy and though I don’t read that many books from this genre, I thought it was an excellent example of what it should entail.

Julius is a bad dragon. He’s something like the runt of the litter, the tenth litter that his mother, the terrifying Bethesda the Heartstriker has lain in the last millennium. She is the matriarch of an enormous clan of cunning, calculating, cold dragons and feels like her youngest son isn’t good enough. So she seals him into his human form (preventing him from turning into a dragon) and sends him to Detroit Free Zone (DFZ) to prove himself or she’ll eat him. There’s motherly affection for you.

Julius has been trying to lay low and avoid his more fearsome siblings for his entire life (which, at 24, isn’t that long for a dragon), which he mostly did by playing online video games with humans. This gave him a contact with the human world that other dragons lack and also some wicked survival skills (you have to be fast to escape dragons, I can tell you that). So when he lands in DFZ, where dragons are illegal, he befriends an unlikely sidekick – Marci the mage, a young woman on the run from her father’s murderers.

I really liked their adventures and the combined pressure that the gang of Las Vegas mobsters and some really ancient, half-crazy dragons put on this young couple. They are both fighting for survival, fighting odds that are decidedly not in their favor, and they still keep their heads up and struggle on. Julius has this surprisingly accurate moral compass and even though Marci is set on the path of vengeance, her wit is brilliant and very useful indeed.

I have two negative points to make as well, one of which is a complete spoiler, so please don’t read it if you’re even considering reading this book. I’m putting it in white, as usual, but still:

  • Detroit Free Zone – I thought the world building was perhaps too well done. The descriptions of this post-magic-wave city (which has been leveled by a tidal wave and is now completely different from its present-day self) are numerous and detailed and I thought they slowed down the narrative needlessly. I appreciate a well-thought-out world as much as anyone but I feel like it shouldn’t be the focus of the story.
  • *spoiler in white* I WANTED MOAR DRAGONS!! For 99.5% of the story, all the dragons are in their human forms! Okay, so we’re in a city where dragons are illegal and hunted and Julius is even sealed in his human form but I wanted to look at pretty dragons! Only Julius’s brother Justin shows his true form – which is magnificent – but only for a short time. And by the end of the book, Julius is still sealed so we never get to see him fly! I want more dragons. :( *end spoiler*

And that’s everything – I have nothing seriously bad to say about this book.

Oh, another point in its favor – it’s really funny. I don’t often go for books that say they’re funny – those that proclaim this loudly most often aren’t – but this one made me laugh, which I appreciate immensely.


Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

Do you like your UF funny or dark?

What’s your favourite book featuring dragons? 

I’d love to hear from you! :)

  • Greg Hill

    I’ve been curious about this one, especially since Detroit isn’t far from me and the idea of a UF set there is intriguing! And dragons of course… :) I generally like my UF a little dark but not too much so, although I don’t read a ton of it- this one looks like the humor might work. The book I’m re- reading, BTW, (A Dance with Dragons) has the same problem as your spoiler… :)

    • I always like reading about places I’ve been to – though I can’t say this about Detroit. My husband’s a Red Wings fan, though, so I should probably try to get him to read this book, too.
      Yeah, what IS IT with writers who put dragons in their titles and then never deliver on their promise?! :)

  • I’ve had this on my TBR as a maybe for a while because I’ve been getting more into dragon shifter books lately, but I do prefer dark books. The vast majority of what I read is not dark though, so it’s not like that’s all I read, and I didn’t realize this one was funny (which is a plus). Still undecided. But I think I need to leave this page before I look at the spoiler because my curiosity is killing me lol.

    • Yeah, I remember you saying you like your fantasy on the darker side. :) I’ll probably be getting the second book soon so I don’t forget about too many details – I don’t think the third has been published yet. I’ve heard good things about the sequel, so it seems like it’s a solid story so far!

  • Well now I feel bad I haven’t read this yet. I’ve seen it on a few blogs too (or Danya’s and another I can’t think of right now) and I’ve been contemplating reading it but I just haven’t committed. Now I’ve seen good things being said over here too, well I obviously have to read. I haven’t read the spoilery negative point, but the too much world building one isn’t enough to put me off. I agree that too much world building is off putting because it does jar you out of a story at times, but I also get annoyed when I don’t get enough worldbuilding so I’ll take it when it comes. I will hopefully borrow this from the Kindle lending library and we shall see what I think.

    • Yeah I understand (I totally just mis-typed that udderstand … moo? … sorry, it’s early) about the lack of worldbuilding – I hate poorly constructed fantasy worlds. I did feel Aaron was a bit heavy-handed with it here but I still liked the story and the setting is pretty awesome, so I’d still recommend the book.
      Ooh, having a Kindle lending library sounds great. It would open up so many possibilities! We don’t have that yet here.

  • I’ve heard wonderful things about this one and I do enjoy a good paranormal read from time to time so I’ll definitely be checking this one out^^ I loved reading your thoughts on it: the adventure and the humour sound right up my alley :D Awesome review^^ ♥

    • Thanks, Micheline! :) I thought the combination of these two was pretty great – I like quest fantasy as much as anyone but I think a little humour never hurts.

  • I keep seeing great reviews on this and keep putting it off because I have an ebook. I’m terribly preferential to print copies. I’m not sure if I like my UF more funny or dark, I haven’t really read too much of it to be honest! BUT, I really loved Aaron’s Sci-Fi series under her other pen name, Bach, so I have to give this a try soon.

    Also, I love your dragon dividers. :)

    • Ha, I actually wish I had a print copy of this one, too, so I could push it onto my husband. He reads almost exclusively in print. But maybe you can grab a copy from the library? I read it as an e-book…

      I didn’t know Aaron wrote under another name! I’ll have to check that out. Did she have more than one series?

      And thanks! :)

      • The Paradox series is the only one to date I think that she wrote under Rachel Bach, but under Aaron she has another fantasy series that I have not read.

        • Okay, that’s enough info for me to go digging, thank you! :)

  • Maraia

    Oh man, spoiler tags are SO TEMPTING. I also heard about this book from Danya and am hoping to read it eventually, so I will try to resist the urge.
    I actually don’t like urban fantasy, so I’m curious to see if this one will change my opinion. I do like funny books in general, so that’s another point in it’s favor.

    I love dragons and they’re such a classic fantasy creature, but I always have a hard time thinking of books I’ve read that actually feature them. Robin Hobb’s books are the first that come to mind, along with Seraphina. What about you?

    • DON’T READ THE SPOILER. Seriously. I know they’re tempting but try to resist. ;) (I always end up cursing myself when I look at spoilers.)

      Well, I’d read this one if I was you – to give UF a try, at least. I’ve read one of those Dresden books everyone keeps talking about (by Jim Butcher) and Hounded by Kevin Hearne – those are the series I’ve heard most about in this genre – and Aaron trumps both. I like that her hero isn’t a puffed-up macho (which is the case with both series I mentioned) but an underdog.

      THE HOBBIT :D Um I wrote a post about this a while ago (just after I started the blog) – there’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and others: (excuse the horribleness – is that a word? – of the formatting and probably writing as well, it’s one of my first posts, actually, I wrote it when Of Dragons and Hearts was just 3 weeks old).

      • Maraia

        Okay, I haven’t done it yet, and I’m not letting myself scroll back over your post.

        Ugh, yes, I would much rather read about an underdog than a puffed-up macho. That’s an automatic no for me. I loved Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series, but I have no interested in the Dresden ones.

        I CAN’T BELIEVE I FORGOT THE HOBBIT. That’s embarrassing. I did think of Harry Potter, but since it’s my answer for everything, I decided not to mention it. I already have The Brothers Lionheart on my TBR based on your recommendation, but I didn’t realize it featured a dragon. I did read Eragon years ago but wasn’t too impressed, so I never finished the series. Did it get better?

        • Err no. Eragon does not get better. I liked Paolini’s dragons but the story is pretty derivative, which is unsurprising given how he was 15 when he wrote it. I read the entire thing and liked it well enough but it will never make any top 10 lists based on its plot and characterisation. :)

          And yes, The Brothers Lionheart has dragons in it – there’s two of them and they’re pretty scary – they don’t have very large roles but they’re important…

          • Maraia

            Haha, I won’t go out of my way to read it, then. It is definitely impressive that he wrote it when he was so young, but the only thing I remember about the first book is thinking how much it resembled other classic fantasies.

  • I, too, have heard amazing things about this book from my fellow bloggers :) I didn’t actually hear about it until a couple months ago or so? A little before the second book was coming out. The only reason I read a review for it, was because of the title. Maybe it’s because I don’t picture dragons as “nice”? Regardless, I LOVED the title and had to read what it was about.

    I don’t read too much UF, but based on my other reading choices, I’d probably have to go with dark UF.

    • Well, it’s a fairly new series and there hasn’t been a lot of buzz around it. The third book isn’t even published yet!
      Well, Julius’s whole problem is that he’s too nice to be a dragon – that’s the reason his mother kicks him out and locks him into his human form. :)

      I like dark stuff, too, occasionally, but I like my happy endings and some laughs, too. I feel like I should explore UF more as a genre but both “classic” series I’ve tried (The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and Hounded by Kevin Hearne) had me rolling my eyes because both heroes are such macho types – manly men doing manly things with their manly swords and staffs *ugh*. Nice Dragons Finish Last is a really good change from that so I’ll definitely be reading the sequel soon.

  • I just read this a month or two ago (half in audio, half in ebook) and really enjoyed it! The humor was definitely a nice touch, though I agree with your second critique. I also had a few issues with the romance, but that’s normal. :) Great review!

    • Thanks, Kel! :) Well, I liked the romance (as usual), at least it wasn’t some insta-love thing and there’s no love triangle to be seen anywhere, which is a definite bonus. I’m really curious about Marci and Julius’s business arrangement – we’ll see how things go in book 2!

  • Darn, I want to comment on your second negative point, but I guess doing so would reveal spoilers too :) I guess all I’ll say is, the second book improves on this and if you decide to continue with the series I think you’ll be quite pleased! :)


    • Oh that’s good to hear. I think I’ll be getting the second book soon – I really want to know how their business relationship will evolve. :) I would have completely missed this book if it wasn’t for you and Danya, so thank you for that!

  • Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

    I’ve been really curious about this series, because I absolutely loved her Legend of Eli Monpress series. I was a bit hesitant picking this one up even though I’m not exactly sure why. Not hesitant after reading your review though. Really want to read this now!

    Great review!

    • Oh I’ve seen the Eli series around but didn’t know it was hers! I hope you’ll like this one if you decide to give it a try – my faithful sources tell me book 2 is really great as well! :)

  • *FLAILS* I’m sooo glad you liked this one, Kaja! After reading two books by Rachel Aaron I am a dedicated fan. I’m planning to go through her back log and read her space opera series soon!

    Aren’t Marci and Julius great? I thought it was really fun to see the male protagonist as genuinely nice person who’s kind of a pushover while the female protagonist is a badass with…shall we say few scruples? Haha. Nice reversal of typical roles, I thought. Chelsie and Bob are amazing too. Bob and his pigeon made me laugh out loud a few times!

    I completely understand your spoilery complaint, I felt the same! All I will say is that book two is definitely going to be fun for you. ;)

    • She has a space opera series? :) Sounds interesting. Yeah, I really liked Nice Dragons – so thank you for the rec!! :)

      Yeah, Julius and Marci complement each other perfectly. Have you read Attachments by Rainbow Rowell? I thought the dynamic was similar between the protagonists there (I loved that book – it’s not a fantasy, though).

      Ohh Chelsie is perfect. I hope she gets a bigger role in books 2 and 3.

      And yeah, Mogsy hinted that my complaint will be answered in Book 2 ;) I’m definitely reading it soon!!