Review - Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron - 3 stars
I really wanted to like Nice Dragons Finish Last more than I did.
There's an interesting and complex world. Rachel Aaron sets her scene on near-future earth. Magic has returned and woken up all the magical creatures who were just resting their eyes a bit. I loved the magic elements to this story. They were well explained without a ton of exposition.
The supporting characters were also fantastic. The dynamic interactions between the characters made them feel lifelike, and the intrigue added enough mystery to keep them interesting. Best of all, they were remarkably distinct from one another. I had no trouble recalling a character who appeared briefly at the beginning of the book, even when I was near the end.
The storyline has some great twists and turns, and the setting and supporting characters create a great mix of assumed backstory and ambience.
Unfortunately, the main character annoyed me.
It's important to note, the main character Julian has a lot to recommend him. He's wicked smart. He has a gift with words. And - oh yeah - he just happens to be superhumanly swift and strong. He also sticks with Marci, the most interesting character in the story, so he has good taste.
Don't get me wrong, he wasn't written as an annoying person. That wouldn't be nearly as frustrating. Instead, he is maddeningly self-assured in his sugar-sweet, "if we all just held hands the world would be so perfect, but alas no one knows how to be really nice but me" mentality.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the message this author wants to send. Time after time, the story contorts to prove him right.
Sometimes characters go completely against what they're characterized to be in order to aid that desired result. Julian, a twenty-four year old and incredibly sheltered dragon, drops his "just be nice and it'll all work out" mentality in among a bunch of centuries and even millennia-old dragons, and somehow they don't die of laughter. They even agree with him after the end of the story, albeit after some dangerous hijinks ensue.
Other people aren't as easily convinced about his rightness. Somehow, that never poses much of a problem for a literal apex predator like Julian. I suppose it's easier to be nice to someone when you know you can do just about anything to them and get away with it.
He has plenty of allies to call to his side when he's overpowered. Sometimes they show up even when he doesn't want them, which prompts some great scenes.
All of this means that Julius spends the entire story not growing or changing an awful lot. He goes from knowing that the world would be better if people would just listen, to knowing the world will be better because people listened. Not a lot of character growth there. Not to mention, his inherent rightness seems odd. He's a young man who spent most of his life in his mom's house, unwilling to venture outside. Why is he so savvy?
Another issue I found annoying was his constant stonewalling of the secondary character, Marci. If she says or does something he doesn't like, Julian just stops speaking to her. After the third time this happens, I find myself wondering why such a cool chick still has any interest in him at all.
He explains those silent brooding moments, but only in his head. Not to Marci. Even then it seems odd.
Okay, spoilers over.
Despite my frustrations with the main character, this was still a good book, and worth the read. The author champions Julius' worldview heavily in this book, but the other characters make some strong cases for their own points of view. This makes me hopeful for the author's future work.
Many other elements are strong in this story, so I'm at least hooked until the next part in the series.
If you are a sucker for YA paranormal fantasy with romantic elements and a trickster hero, this is the book to try. Especially if you think a broody dragon dude is super hot.