When you start a book you usually have one of these reactions: You can’t put it down, you can’t wait to see what happens next, and if there’s another book in the series, you can’t wait to pick it up and continue the series. For The Heartstrikers series of books, I had all three reactions every time I started reading, and finishing each of the books. Sadly, the series isn’t over yet (ugh I need the fourth book so bad, think it’s coming out later this year) but I’m so happy I took a chance on this indi author. Rachel Aaron is an amazing author, her writing style is so fun and captivating and her characters are just….ugh I love these books! I wanted to hold off reviewing them individually, because really, each book would have just been me gushing about how much I loved them because they are all amazing. I found Rachel Aaron through looking for books on Audible, and got recommended the first book in the series: Nice Dragons Finish Last. When I heard a preview, I not only fell in love with the audio book narrator, but with the authors voice. Really quirky, fun world building and characters all around and…ugh I just love these books so much! But instead of gushing here, time to gush in the review!
Julius Heartstriker is the only nice dragon in his clan and instead of making waves, he hides from his older, more aggressive siblings to stay out of trouble. His Mother doesn’t tolerate this anymore and throws him out at the age of 24 into the DFZ (Detroit Free Zone) and Julius has to figure out how to make it in the world with no money, no street smarts, and trying to avoid being killed in the DFZ because the DFZ is a no-dragons-allowed zone. There’s a lot more to the series, but that’s the plot of the first book and more or less the series is Julius gets thrown into a situation and gets out of it by being himself, with the help of his BFF Marcy, mage extraordinaire.
I’ve complained in the past about fantasy worlds not having a concrete place they inhabit. For example, does the story take place in a full fantasy world, or an alternate Earth. The Heartstrikers series does a wonderful job of both showing, and telling us the world we’re in. A meteor hit the Earth about a hundred years before our story started, bringing magic back into the world. Along with magic, we got the reawakening of spirits, dragons, and human mages and they’re all getting used to magic being back in the world. The series is clearly an urban fantasy dystopia (I know it sounds weird, but it totally works) set in our world. How can you tell it’s in our Earth’s timeline? There are super high tech magic-technology phones in use, along with self-driving cars and GPS. Not only that, but we get characters referencing things like Batman, Super Mario, Star Wars, and a lot of other pop culture references that would be archived in the databases of a post-magic-tech Earth. Does the narrative tell me that? Not at all: but because of how rich the world building is, and how intricate the showing, and telling the world building we see in the books, I can deduce that without even having to be told that somewhere in the narrative.
The magic system is really interesting, and makes tons of sense. There are different magic systems for how humans, dragons, and spirits use magic and even when it’s being explained (it’s explained a lot through the series, it’s a major over arching plot point) never was I confused. I read that in the third book the human system of magic confused a few people, but it made perfect sense to me. And, how the dragons overall work is just really great! I’ve never read dragon fiction before, but in this series, dragons have a human form and a dragon form and it’s just so fascinating and adds so much to the story.
So yeah, all in all, the best world building I’ve read in a modern fantasy series. I’m not huge into urban fantasy, and wasn’t aware this was going to be one when reading, but it’s so great.
They’re all perfect~
Ok to go into more detail every character is really fleshed out, human, and interesting. Even the side characters, even the characters that you know are there just to be offed later. Any important player in the story is very human, very real, and very loveable. If they aren’t lovable, you understand their motives and are able to sympathize with them to a degree. I adore Marcy, who is Julius’ best friend/love interest, and all of Julius’ siblings we see (he has a lot of them, his Mother gets busy) wind up having wonderful storylines and plot motivations and by the third book we see something big is coming together, and I can’t wait to see how it will end for our characters.
I mentioned this in my opening paragraph, but the writing is what got me wanting to read this series. It’s like reading a sit com, but a really good sit com! Whitty dialogue, great descriptors, really good pacing. All around just an amazing job from Rachel Aaron.
The Heartstrikers series ventures to answer this question: Can a genuinely nice person succeed in a world filled with power hungry, aggressive people, and still stay true to himself and his ideals? Will doing so change his surroundings for the better? Along with that, we have plotting dragons, humans and spirits just trying to survive, and the magical future of the world coming to a head. When you think someone is “the villain” you find out their motivations, and realize what they’re trying to do may not be so bad. It’s a book series about humanity at its core, what drives us to do things, what makes us stay true to ourselves, and how someone we’ve met by chance (or perhaps by fate dun dun dun) can affect us, for better or worse.
nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished are all amazing reads. I think there are one or two books left in the series that aren’t out yet –shakes fist- but I anxiously await the next installment of the series because ugh this is so good! I haven’t been this invested in a book series in a very long time. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do! If you have read it, I’d love to talk about it in the comments!