Book Review: No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished by Rachel Aaron

22 Sep

The reward for a job well done, is another job. Or another challenge, anyway. Julius Heartstriker has defeated his mother, Bethesda, head of the Heartstriker Clan. Instead of killing her, as a Dragon would be expected to, he has simply defanged her, and proposed a power-sharing arrangement for a council, not an autarch, to rule his clan. This is rather unprecedented for dragons, where might makes right is a way of life. Julius can propose a council, but actually getting his siblings and his mother to go along with this plan is nothing but trouble. And given the large size of the Heartstrikers clan, bringing everyone back to the homestead to meet for this council is a recipe for intrigue…or disaster.

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Actually getting a bunch of dragons to come together to elect and cooperate in a council, however, isn’t even the biggest problem that Julius faces. Algonquin, the powerful river spirit that rules Detroit, has announced her intent and desire to wipe out all Dragons from the face of the Earth, everywhere, and might have the power to make that threat more than an idle one. Other Dragon clans are rather interested in Julius’ feat in defeating his mother, and scheme and plot as to what this means. The US Government is awfully interested in Julius,  the Heartstrikers, and his human mage partner Marci. Especially Marci, given her strange connection to Ghost, who in the two novels of the series has revealed himself to really be much more than Marci first thought.

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished is the third novel in the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron, following Nice Dragons Finish Last, and One Good Dragon Deserves Another.

The novel does well in its change of venue for the most part. Whereas the first two novels gave a look at the altered Detroit of Aaron’s urban fantasy future, for the most part this novel uses the Heartstriker homeland of New Mexico to excellent use. We get to see much more of the nuts and bolts of how the clan actually runs. Julius, being junior and usually far away from the seat of power, makes for a stranger in a strange land that is home sort of point of view. The fact that his rank and power are now much higher than they were makes for some interesting draconic politics all around.

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished also does flesh out the secondary characters in an engaging way. We’ve mostly had Bethesda at a distance for most of the first two volumes. Here she is much more front and center, much more on the screen and engaged with the reader and the world.. Some of the best scenes in the book are from her point of view, giving us the inside look on just what it takes to be one of the most powerful dragons in the world, and how a paranoid, power-grasping mother of dragons really thinks and acts from her perspective.

I think that a couple of things in the novel could have been done better. For example the flashback cold open with Chelsie could have been done smoother, or better integrated into the flow of the novel. It makes sense why this story is important, but I am not entirely certain it’s best placed at the front of the novel. Too, at this point in the series, I have come to the conclusion that Julius himself, the ostensible center of this universe, is not quite the least interesting of the characters, but the other characters around him, from Marci to Justin, to Amelia, and Bob, and Bethesda, and now, Chelsie, all are a lot more interesting, a lot more leaping off the page and into my mind. Were I ever to borrow an expy of a character from this world for a GMC/NPC for one of my roleplaying games, I would, quite frankly, not reach for Julius. I’d go for one of the others. And with that personality void, the novel and this point, the series, does suffer for it.

The novel, too, is a bit darker in tone, a little lighter touch on the humor, and a stronger touch on serious character developments and scheming. For a writer that I associate with relatively large dollops of fun and humor, this is a change in writing style and output that I am not sure I have articulated feelings about. It’s not that this novel is a joyless piece of grimness, but, especially compared to Nice Dragons Finish Last, there has been a definite and definitive tonal shift in the series.

At this point, the series still holds my interest, because of the worldbuilding, and the secondary characters. Aaron does do an excellent and engaging job on those fronts. Aaron throws a couple of world- and character-changing events into this novel, continuing to enjoy to poke and send her world spinning, even as she reveals more and more of it.  Actions have consequences in the Heartstriker universe, and I am interested in the fallout from events in this book.

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