Nice Dragons Finish Last (Heartstrikers #1) by Rachel Aaron, Books for Boys Review

Introduction

Title: Nice Dragons Finish Last (Heartstrikers #1)
Author: Rachel Aaron
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Dystopia
Release Date: July 13, 2014
Synopsis (from Amazon):
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 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…

Why I Think Boys May Enjoy This

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.

Content/Appropriateness

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.

Rating

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