Ruthless or Worthless?: Nice Dragons Finish Last | Review + Narrator Interview

Nice Dragons Finish Last: Heartstrikers, Book 1 - Rachel Aaron, Vikas Adam

A quirky and enjoyable NA Dystopian Urban Fantasy that sucked me into it's complex world.


Audie Award, Fantasy, 2016. 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. 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...


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Source: I purchased this book myself from Audible.



Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron, read by Vikas Adam, published by Audible Studios (2014) / Length: 13 hrs 2 min



This is #1 of 2 (so far) in the "Heartstrikers" series. Book #3, No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished, will be out in August with the audiobook being released, "by September or October at the latest."



Can I describe a book as light if the main character is in danger of being eaten by his mother for his failure to measure up? What if I add in the fact that it takes place in a post-apocalyptic dystopian city where you have to pay the police to show up and dangerous magical creatures roam the squalid underbelly of the city, which is where the majority of the people live. This is not a place I would want to live, and yet I enjoy spending time there as long as I'm with Julius.


I am labeling this as New Adult because Julius is 24 and Marci is a year older, and they are both having to learn to make their way in the world. There isn't anything explicit in the book.


The covers of this series are great.




Julius Heartstriker: The dragon equivalent of the guy living in his mother's basement and playing video games all day. He's just trying to stay under everyone's radar and stay alive. His human form is gorgeous, all dragons' are; but he is the furthest thing from the typical arrogant, amazingly attractive, smoldering, controlling jerks I've been getting sick of lately. He's not only the nicest dragon, he's the nicest anything. And every once in awhile he surprises us with a reminder that, even as the least of the dragons, he's NOT just some human slacker.


Marci Novali: As a Socratic Thaumaturge, she's the mage equivalent of the computer nerd who insists that their OS or language is the best. She's more dragonishly ruthless than Julius sometimes, but also gets all fangirly over magic and magical creatures.


Julius & Marci: I'm not sure how this relationship would work if it becomes romantic. Would Julius give up his immortality somehow, or would Marci gain it in some way? I wouldn't mind if they end up just being really good friends and co-workers, although they are cute together. (As a side note, I think I would love a television show about the further adventures of Julius & Marci in the DFZ. One of those "will they or won't they?" kind with lots of nerdy bookish banter.)


I think my favorite supporting character is Julius' sister Chelsie "the enforcer," probably because she's sounds so totally "bad." Although I also love the clueless & pushy Justin's straight-forward caring for his "little" brother.



This world is incredibly complex. The premise is that a natural disaster returned magic to the world and awoke all the magical creatures. They weren't very happy with what humans had been doing and proceeded to make that very clear.


You have dragons and their complex schemes & ambitions. You have Spirits (elementals), who want their bits of the earth back. And you have human mages of many different varieties.


Most of the book takes place in the DFZ (Detroit Free Zone) where life is great - if you are a Spirit, or a fish. Not so much, if you are a human. And it's illegal to be a dragon.


Despite the presence of magic, technology has not stopped developing. Self driving cars and augmented reality phones are common.



The book begins with an introduction to Marci's situation that raises more questions than it answers, in a good way, before jumping feet first into Julius' problems. Because he is newly arrived in the DFZ, we are able to get a good introduction to the city and the background of the world that doesn't feel awkward.


Once Julius & Marci begin working together, we get a series of adventures that just keep getting bigger, with nice interludes between. Despite the relatively short time covered by this novel, Julius' character growth seems very natural and satisfying. I especially like that his changes involve embracing and improving on who he is, rather than becoming what everyone else wants him to be.



  • Great bookish references:
"In addition to the mini fridge and the lamp, she’d acquired a couch and a gigantic wooden wardrobe that looked like it might contain Narnia."

“You don’t have to come with us if you don’t want to.”

“No way,” she said, shaking her head. “I said I’d stick with you and I will. I just want to get all this out now so I can say ‘I told you so’ later when we get eaten by a Balrog.”

Despite everything that had happened, Julius couldn’t help smiling at that. “I can’t believe you know what a Balrog is.”

She gave him an arch look. “Who doesn’t? I mean, really.”

  • I love Julius & Marci's first meeting, her sweetness & vulnerability contrast with the ruthless dragons he's been dealing with, and also with some of her own actions later.


I COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT: Some swearing, including one instance of the Lord's name

OTHER CAUTIONSCaution: The other dragons’ morals are almost as bad as their ethics (but there is nothing explicit). / Marci's ethics are a bit shady as well, which is understandable given her background.



Since he just won the Audie award, you don't need me to tell you he did a good job, but I will anyway. / His Marci is one of the better male-voiced females I’ve heard. And I love how menacing Chelsie sounds. / The speed is good (My usual 1.25 is a bit fast) / Accents sound good to me although I can't judge their accuracy.



Nice Dragons Finish Last (Heartstrikers #1) by Rachel Aaron, read by Vikas Adam, published by Audible Studios (2014) / Length: 13 hrs 2 min Buy Now | +Goodreads

Talk to Me (pretty please)

  • I have struggled with Urban Fantasy (since so much of it tips over into erotica), can you recommend other books such as this that don't?
  • In fiction, everybody seems to love the bad boys. Do fictional nice guys really finish last?


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Bonus Narrator Interview (Part 1)

The remainder of the interview will be included with my review of Book #2


So, Congratulations, how does it feel to be an Audie Award Winner?

Thank you very much!  It feels amazing to be honored this way.  I was on Cloud 9 just being nominated alongside Simon [Vance], Robin [Miles], and Tim [Gerard Reynolds].  They are all so immensely talented with Robin and Simon being audiobook royalty (with good reason) and Tim being one of the most respected narrators out there that to be in their company was a gift. More so than the win though, was the amazing tsunami of love and congrats I received from my peers that night and after.

Who was your favorite character in the book and why?

Ohhhh, Julius is always great (his heart and purity are anchors) but I’m extremely partial to Bethesda and Bob.  I’m drawn to the wicked and the zany as well, what can I say?  Bob, in addition to his zany side, is probably one of my favorites to narrate because of his multidimensionality (did i just make up a word?) and the numerous choices he affords me to explore.  Where is he playing?  Where is he teasing?  Where is he communicating something of great peril?  Where is he walking a fine line in giving information?  Everything he says is for a reason.  So the way he says it is calculated and chosen because he wants to have a certain affect on the characters he’s interacting with.  It’s a puzzle and it’s a testament to Rachel’s writing that she doesn’t just launch him in with funny lines for nothing.  That’s one of the reasons I feel fans of the series really gravitate towards him.

Who was the easiest to narrate?  The hardest?

Oh, the lovely trio: Estella, Svena, and Katya.  I’m reading the book for the first time and going, “Okay, Svena is Russian, no probs [I then meet Estella] ohhhhkay another Russian sister, yup, yup...[and then Katya comes on board] Oh man, how am I supposed to differentiate three young looking beautiful sisters who are all Russian??"  I recall talking to Rachel and she laughed and apologized for doing that.


I decided that since it was sonic theatre, the Russian accents would differentiate them from the other characters but in order to tell them apart age wise (older, middle, youngest) as well as characteristically, I affected my voice pitch and tonally so that Estella as the oldest and the Seer of that clan had the lowest ‘I’ve seen the world and everything across time” voice, while Katya as the youngest was breathier and higher with still a youthful rebellious streak; Svena fell somewhere in the middle pitch wise but was the most sensual of the three with power aspirations so I could play with those tones too. 


Bob took a bit to find as well.  He started off as a surfer dude and I tried it and felt, “Nooooooo that’s too stereotypical.  He’s much more nuanced.”  So I played with him a bunch more and found where he would launch into a sing song vs speaking directly but then find his ‘real’ and serious voice as well.   Once again, a testament to Rachel’s writing.

Which actor/actress do you think should playing the lead character(s)?

I don’t know if I could cast specifically per se.  I do know that I would love to see the main Heartstriker clan members populated by actors of various colors, united by their green eyes. It’s about the energy of the actor and how they can effectively breathe life into these creatures. I don’t know who should play Julius, Bethesda, Marci and company but I do know that I would LOVE to play Bob.  Hands down. I’d be fascinated to explore his movement and the ability to play with communication and thought process visually would be an incredible opportunity!

For more information:

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