I have been a fan of Rachel Aaron pretty much from the first page of her first book, The Spirit Thief. With Last Dragon Standing, she has released her thirteenth novel and finished her third series, and she is still going as strong as ever. It is the fifth volume in her Heartstriker series, detailing the adventures of Julius, the Nice Dragon and Marci, his human mage. It has been quite a ride since the first novel appeared in 2014, and the conclusion this final instalment offers is nothing if not triumphant. I’ll try to avoid spoilers for Last Dragon Standing, but there will be (very slight ones) for the previous volumes of the series.
Whenever a new novel by Rachel Aaron is released, there is a lot of squeeing at Maison Heloise. Things were no different when No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished came out a couple of days ago. This time, however, a bit of grumbling was mixed among the squees as I’d always assumed that The Heartstrikers would be a trilogy only to find out that it will take four or maybe even five volumes until all the mysteries will be revealed. Of course, this also means at least one more novel in the series, so the grumbling was very short-lived in the end.
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.
Several years ago, the Paranormal Fantasy genre experienced a huge boost in popularity, with literally dozens of new titles being released every week. At that rate, it did not take long for the genre to become formulaic, and by now one would expect it to be quite dead, its life drained out of it by the countless imitators feeding from the same template, using the same conventions over and over again. But then, just as one believes the genre to be finally deceased for good, there is a twitching in the presumed corpse when someone comes up with a new and surprising twist and released a novel that breathes fresh life into tired tropes. M. L. Brennan’s debut novel Generation V was such a work, taking what is at heart a fairly simple concept but which enabled her to approach the genre from a new and original angle, opening up a whole new lot of possibilities.
We are currently having what is apparently the hottest summer since they are making records of those things, and with that brain-melting heat I’m sticking with light reading to keep me distracted. Fortunately, there three of my favourite Paranormal Fantasy series have had new volumes released just recently which should get me through this working week.
Kitty Saves the World is actually the finally installment of Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series about a female werewolf hosting a late night radio show. That sounds a bit gimmicky on first sight, but Carrie Vaughn made it work, with the added oddity of having her protagonist as a beta wolf rather than the ass-kicking heroine common for this genre (a very unusual and indeed quite daring move back then, as can be seen by a look at the Amazon.com and Goodreads reviews for the first volume). Kitty went on to do some serious butt-kicking in subsequent volumes, but the reader always had the impression that this was something she earned and worked hard for, making this one of the character-driven Paranormal series with its protagonists undergoing some actual development throughout the volumes.
I particularly enjoyed how Vaughn handled the way supernatural abilities fit into a mundane reality, and seeing Kitty and her werewolf, vampire and sorcerer friends navigate everyday life always was one of the chief delights of the series for me. Somewhat unfortunately, the author at some stage thought it necessary to introduce a Big Apocalyptic Masterplot (or BAM, as I like to call it) into the series, with an ancient vampire from Roman times plotting doom and destruction for all of mankind in some vast conspiracies. For me, that rather took some of the charm out of the series and I still much prefer the earlier volumes where adventure was on a smaller scale but also more intimate and involving.
Still, the series might have gotten weaker towards the end but it was still entertaining, and the big finale resolves everything in a nice fashion, not only revealing who the real big bad guy behind the BAM is but also giving a cameo to pretty much everyone who ever had a role in previous volumes. Obviously, not the volume to start the series with but long-time readers will be enjoying this a lot.
Harry Connolly is the uncrowned king of the elevator pitch: After “Epic Fantasy without the boring bits” for his Epic Fantasy Trilogy The Great Way, now it’s “Pacifist Urban Fantasy” for his most recent offering, the (you guessed it) Urban Fantasy novel A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark (and he’s really good with snappy titles, too).
And finally it is here, the much-dreaded final volume of Shadow Unit: Just two long episodes and three vignettes, but to say that those packed a massive punch would be an understatement of massive proportions. This installment returns to the accustomed mixture of two episodes and a number of vignettes, but the apparent normalcy is shredded very soon, and the series emphatically goes out with a bang. A big one.