Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron

This is a review for the fifth and final Heartstrikers book. If you’re thinking of getting into the series, check out Tam’s review of book #1, Nice Dragons Finish Last! In this review there are spoilers for books #1-4.

Last Dragon Standing is a fun, fast-paced, and extremely satisfying conclusion to a fun, fast-paced series.

The book picks up right where the last one left off: with most of the key players — dragon, human, and spirit — gathered in the DFZ and the threat of the Leviathan looming right above them. Together they must figure out a way to save the city and, indeed, their entire plane of existence. As if that wasn’t enough, the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers has been messing with things he shouldn’t have been messing with, and all his chickens very deadly dragons are coming home to roost…

For me the word that best describes Last Dragon Standing is satisfying. A series finale is one of the hardest things to pull off and Aaron absolutely nails it. Questions are answered, loose threads are tied up, and heaps of fun are had — the character interactions alone are glorious. The pace feels quick without being frantic; there’s always a moment for a short yet gratifying heart-to-heart before charging off to save the world. And all of those moments, both big, heartfelt gestures and speeches as well as the little side conversations, fit excellently with the core philosophy of the books: a simple encouragement of more kindness, niceness, and forgiveness.

What I appreciated most was that everyone had a chance to shine. Characters and character interactions have always been the highlight of the books, and it’s no different for the finale. Whoever your favourite side character is, they all get one last moment to show off why you love them: Amelia and her hilarious bravado, Justin and his way less justified bravado odd loyalty, Emily and her cool determination, etc etc. Of course, at the heart of it all are still Julius and Marci — and this time around, Bob. After all the trouble they went through together, it’s great to see Julius and Marci as a bona fide power couple, confident in their love for each other and both equally great at that out-of-the-box thinking. As for Bob, we’re deep into his endgame now. One of the best parts of the book is finally finding out what makes him tick.

The other aspect I really enjoyed was that the final book remains true to its core of niceness. Julius is a guy who changes people for the better — sometimes by making them kinder, sometimes just by giving them an opportunity to show their innate kindness. That’s his “superpower”, what the whole series revolves around. It would have been so easy to forget that core in the face of looming apocalypse, with all the epic magical powers coming together, but the book never does. And despite their protestations that he’s too nice, Julius’ actions and thoughts echo in everyone else’s. (Count how many times he has to use his Fang, and compare it to book 3. Amazing, huh?)

One final thought is that if you’ve never listened to the audiobook, you are seriously missing out. Vikas Adam continues giving a masterful performance. The funny scenes become even funnier, the exciting scenes even more exciting, and oh the emotional scenes! Heartily recommended, whether for first-time readers or anybody thinking about a re-read.

All in all, in some sense the final Heartstrikers book doesn’t deliver any “surprises”. The focus stays on the characters and those characters remain awesome and hilarious; while there’s tension and sacrifice, there’s no sudden moodshift into bleakness. If you loved the first four books, I’m 99% certain the conclusion won’t disappoint.

I especially recommend Last Dragon Standing for:

  • Fans of urban fiction
  • People looking for uplifting, light-hearted fantasy
  • People looking for genuinely decent protagonists
  • Fans of dragons, nature spirits, and super badass mages
  • People who loved the first four books, duh! What are you even waiting for, go go go!

(As a side-note, I spent yesterday marathon-listening to the whole book and scribbling fanart to it meanwhile, so here’s my impressions of the whole book in fanart scribbles. Spoilers, obviously!)

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