If M.L. Brennan’s Generation V series is The Godfather with vampires, then Rachel Aaron’s Heartstrikers trilogy (of which One Good Dragon Deserves Another is the second volume) is Generation D, with D standing for Dragon. There are some distinct similarities between the series: a beta hero who is a slacker and dropout from a powerful family ruled by a matriarch, a female partner / girlfriend who is also supernatural and considerably tougher than the protagonist. They also share similar themes, the hero trying to keep his humanity and stay a nice person even as he gets pulled increasingly into his family’s power games.
If Rachel Aaron wasn’t inspired by M.L. Brennan those would be a lot of coincidences; but with all the striking similarities there are also a lot of differences. Where Brennan sets her series in the present day with a host of traditional-but-twisted Fantasy creatures, Aaron sets her series in the futures and sticks mostly to dragons (although spirits play a major part, too, especially in this second volume of the trilogy), dragons which are somewhat influenced by both Western and Eastern dragon imagery but which are for the greater part her own invention; thanks to that and the setting of the trilogy in a future in which magic has returned, Heartstrikers often has as much the feeling of a Second World Fantasy as of Paranormal Fantasy, in fact presenting what I think is a quite mixture of the two. Which goes to show two things – one, that the concept of your series still can be original even if your basic plot isn’t, and second that Rachel Aaron is an excellent writer who knows exactly what she is doing.
Not that the latter was a surprise from the author who brought us the The Legend of Eli Monpress series and the Paradox trilogy. In fact I would go so far to claim when it comes to page-turning, squee-inducing excitement, to rollicking, romping reading enjoyment – to, in short: sheer fun, there is currently no SFF writer equal to Rachel Aaron. Her novels grab you right from the start, then pull you along at just the right speed to keep you reading on but not so fast as to make you run out of breath or lose sight of the characters among the action going on. As countless post with writing advice on her blog prove, Rachel Aaron is a very intelligent and conscious writer who knows what she is doing and thinks a lot about how to keep readers interested in her works. But this never results merely in calculated, empty effects because all of her books are informed by a genuine passion for writing and deep enthusiasm for her characters which transfer to the reader.
And she seems to be getting better with each new book: The plot just zings along from page one, and you hardly notice the pages flying by while you’re enjoying your time with omega dragon Julius and his partner the human mage Marci (who really gets to shine in this volume), as they attempt to once again thwart the plans of the returned dragon Estella to annihilate the Heartstriker clan and her personal nemesis Bob. As in all Rachel Aaron’s series so far, the second volume brings a widening of the scope as well as a darkening of the general tone: We get to find out more about the Dragons and where they came from (all revelations deftly handled to deepen the mystery and make the reader want even more, of course) while the enemy forces (and that actually includes Bethesda, the head of the Heartstriker clan) show just how powerful and ruthless they are. We meet both old and new characters; Bob still remaining the most fascinating but Amelia who we first meet here giving him a close run for his money – with both, Rachel Aaron did an excellent job at making them both very likeable and quite alien in the way their minds work.
There is not even the faintest trace of the infamous middle book slump which besets so many trilogies to be found in One Good Dragon Deserves Another – the excitement never lets off from the first page to the last, and really the only thing to complain about is that the final volume of the trilogy is not out yet. Seriously, entertainment does not get any better than this.