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Book Review: Minimum Wage Magic by Rachel Aaron

Title: Minimum Wage Magic

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: DFZ #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: The DFZ, the metropolis formerly known as Detroit, is the world’s most magical city with a population of nine million and zero public safety laws. That’s a lot of mages, cybernetically enhanced chrome heads, and mythical beasties who die, get into debt, and otherwise fail to pay their rent. When they can’t pay their bills, their stuff gets sold to the highest bidder to cover the tab. That’s when they call me. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one—there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves—but when you’re deep in debt in a lawless city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there. -Goodreads

The Review:

Minimum Wage Magic was such a delightful read!

Even though it’s a spin-off of Aaron’s Heartstrikers series, it felt completely fresh, going a long way towards reinvigorating my love of this author (the last two books of HS were a bit too repetitive and drawn out for my tastes). I loved the premise – “cleaners” in the DFZ (magically altered Detroit) buy abandoned/reclaimed living units and turn a profit from what’s left inside. If any of you have spent entire days binge-watching Storage Wars (guilty), you’ll understand why this concept is incredible appealing to me lol.

I really liked Opal as the main character. She had a lot of YA fun infused into her personality, but remained “sophisticated” enough to pull off the lead in an urban fantasy. I especially loved her backstory and how pieces of it came together throughout the book. Discovering the many surprises was the highlight of the experience, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next.

Although this can definitely be read as a stand-alone, you’d be missing out on the cool magics behind the DFZ (a living entity in its own right), and a lot of the significance surrounding the dragons and how they affect the world around them. Heartstrikers gives MWM a lot more depth and robustness. However, without it, it’s still a fun, if slightly lighter read.

Series status: I waited an extra few months for the audio release (worth it), so I’m hoping this time next year I’ll have another installment to dive into. I loved it enough that I will be continuing as soon as the audio comes out.

Recommendations: within this world Rachel Aaron has created a fun fusion of genres – fantasy elements (dragons, magic), urban fantasy plot and settings, all told with an exuberant YA feel (without any unfortunate YA tropes or issues). If you’re sick of the same old stuff, let this author give you a breath of fresh air. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron

Last Dragon Standing

Title: Last Dragon Standing

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: Heartstrikers #5

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Fantasy [Hybrid]

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Dear Reader, There is no way to write a blurb for this final book without spoiling all of the others. Suffice it to say, mysteries resolve, dragons war, pigeons abound, and Julius must risk himself in ways he never dreamed possible as Bob’s grand plan finally comes to fruition. But the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers isn’t the only one whose schemes are nearing completion. The Nameless End is coming, and even the machinations of the world’s most brilliant dragon seer might not be enough to stop it. As the world comes crashing down, it’s up Julius to prove what he’s always known: that seers can be wrong, and Nice Dragons don’t always finish last. -Goodreads

The Review:

My thoughts on this final book (reluctant disappointment) are vastly different from my thoughts of the series as a whole (happy feelings). The series is such a unique blend of genres and ideas, with some of the most memorable characters you’ll ever come across. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (Book #3) is one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. All that said, although I loved where the story ended, I had quite a few issues with how it got there and can’t help but feel let down by the overall execution of the last two novels of this series.

My #1 Issue: pacing. Rachel Aaron is also known for her super insightful 10000 words a day writing technique (one I’ve tried and it really makes a difference!). Unfortunate, I think all of that unbridled word vomit inevitably led to two final books that were unnecessarily drawn out, wordy, and dialogue-driven than necessary. At least 90% of Last Dragon Standing was strictly dialogue – rehashing ideas and other endless explanations and discussions. The 10% of actual plot advancement was amazing 5-star quality writing, it just took FOREVER to get there. I sincerely think the series could’ve turned out amazing had books 4 and 5 been condensed into a single novel. I did not pick up anything new in book 5 that wasn’t explained 10 different ways throughout book 4, and all of that endless dialogue effectively killed any momentum it had going for it coming into the finale. I maintain that a more concise flow would’ve made for an absolutely KILLER conclusion to this series. Overall, it felt very… self indulgent seems to harsh a phrase, but it definitely looks to me as though the story could’ve benefited from an more impartial outside perspective (such as a publishing house) by requiring a more intensive edit. That’s just my personal opinion on the matter based in part on comparing these last two books to her other trad-pub titles (which had perfect pacing).

Whatever the cause, the end result felt an opportunity wasted.

But is the series still worth reading? That’s an easy: absolutely!

I went into this final book with clear expectations, so I was specifically looking for things to go a certain way. At the end of book 4, I stated: “I swear if they try to rationalize and discuss things with the enemy in the final book, I’m going to throw a fit” … which I did. And: “If she can write at least 50% of the final book without endless dialogue and explanation, I’ll be happy” …which I wasn’t. So you can see how I set myself up for a bit of disappointment. However, the friends I read it with over at Fantasy Buddy Reads didn’t dive in with such a picky mindset, and for the most part loved the dialogue and character immersion this book had to offer. They had so much fun with it, and I was the raincloud on their parade (I hate it when I do that). Also keep in mind that this series produced one of my favorite books EVER (#3) and I still absolutely loved the vast majority of it. I am just feeling very over-critical of the final installment. For what it’s worth, I really like how it ended. :)

Recommendations: Heartstrikers is an excellent series to dive into if you like fun characters, dragons, great world-building, more dragons, and awesome moments. My personal issues with the final book aside, it’s a unique series well worth your time of you’re in the mood to have some fun. :)

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by Niki Hawkes

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Series Review [So Far]: Heartstrikers by Rachel Aaron

The Heartstrikers Series:
Nice Dragons Finish Last – 4/5 stars
One Good Dragon Deserves Another – 3.5/5 stars
No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished – 5/5 stars
  by Rachel Aaron

Rachel Aaron (who also writes as Rachel Bach) is easily one of my top ten favorite authors – I’ve read everything she’s published so far and have been blown away with every book (check out her Eli Monpress fantasy series and Paradox scifi series if you have a chance – you won’t be disappointed!). Then along came the Heartstrikers series – an urban fantasy about a clan of shapeshifting dragons and one who doesn’t quite fit in – and I was beside myself with excitement!

The coolest thing about Heartstrikers is that it’s a true hybrid of all my favorite genres. The story and presentation is very urban fantasy, but the dragons and other magical elements give it a low-fantasy feel. Also, even though it’s an adult series, it has that same accessibility and fun factor of a young adult novel. Regardless of how you classify it, the most important thing is that it’s a dang good series!

The books have so many interesting dynamics! Especially surrounding the characters. Starting the series, I thought they were all going to be pretty surface level. Fun to read about, but not much depth. Boy, was I wrong! Each book takes you deeper into specific characters and they just get more and more fascinating as time goes on. After finishing book 3, I’m agonizing that it’ll be at least 8 months before I can unravel even more mysteries about these great characters.

I also love the relationship between the two main characters, Julius and Marci. They are enamored with one another, but too uncertain and insecure to act on those feelings. It’s a dynamic I have never seen work well before, but Aaron found a way to make it charming rather than insufferable.

Last but not least, my favorite element of the books are the dragons. They’re every bit as powerful, greedy, and cruel as they are supposed to be, which is why Julius (a nice dragon) has so many problems fitting in. The dragons have strict hierarchy, lots of interfamily dynamics, and plenty of cultural backstory to make the society feel rich and well-rounded. For this reason, the world building gets top points in my book for creativity.

Overall, heartstrikers (particularly book 3) was one of my favorites of the year, and I highly recommend them to anyone wanting a fun series to read!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Spirit’s End by Rachel Aaron

Spirit's endTitle: Spirit’s End

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: The Legend of Eli Monpress #5

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Eli Monpress is clever, he’s determined, and he’s in way over his head. First rule of thievery: don’t be a hero. When Eli broke the rules and saved the Council Kingdoms, he thought he knew the price, but resuming his place as the Shepherdess’s favorite isn’t as simple as bowing his head. Now that she has her darling back, Benehime is setting in motion a plan that could destroy everything she was created to protect, and even Eli’s charm might not be enough to stop her. But Eli Monpress always has a plan, and with disaster rapidly approaching, he’s pulling in every favor he can think of to make it work, including the grudging help of the Spirit Court’s new Rector, Miranda Lyonette. But with the world in panic, the demon stirring, and the Lord of Storms back on the hunt, it’s going to take more than luck and charm to pull Eli through this time. He’s going to have to break a few more rules and work with some old enemies if he’s going to survive.

Spirit's end 2

The Review:

If you are a fantasy-lover and have not yet had the pleasure to read The Legend of Eli Monpress, you are missing out. This series has some of the best world-building of any series I’ve ever read. Combine that with great characters, a cool magic system, originality, an engaging plot, and a fantastic writing style, and you can begin to see why I hold this author and series in such high regard. Aaron is such a great writer that, in my opinion, there’s not a single element storytelling from a craft standpoint that she doesn’t do brilliantly.

With that said, you would think composing this review would be a walk in the park, however, I’ve stalled on writing it longer than any other book this year. I loved how it wrapped up all of the conflicts of the series. It was a beautifully epic series that deserved an epic ending, and that’s exactly what it got. I feel really guilty for saying this, but I think the ending may have been just a tad bit too drawn out. It essentially took up a full third of the book, making me hold my breath uncomfortably for a really long time. There was so much momentum going into this last book that I don’t know how Aaron could have done it any other way. I wanted to know what happened badly enough to devour it in one sitting, but definitely had one of those Lord of the Rings (film) moments where I wasn’t sure if it was actually ever going to end. As with the LOTR, although it felt drawn out, I couldn’t tell you which part I felt she should cut… it was all essential to completing the plot and everything needed time to fully flesh out (not to mention the dozen or so amazing characters that needed proper resolution). Anyway, I think you can see why I’ve had such conflict over this one. Let’s suffice to say, now that I’m finished with the series, I eventually loved where it ended. We ‘ll leave it at that.

I’m actually kind of sad it’s over – I thoroughly enjoyed these characters, some of which are now among my all-time favorites (Nico, I’m talking to you). This is one of those books I will definitely go back and reread, if for nothing else than to study the craft because, seriously, Aaron is brilliant. The good news is, I just found out she published a space opera trilogy under the name Rachel Bach, so you’d better believe I will be devouring those as soon as I can get my hands on them!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Spirit War by Rachel Aaron

a1Title: The Spirit War

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: The Legend of Eli Monpress #4

Rating: 4.5/5 stars!

The Overview: Eli Monpress is vain. He’s cocky. And he’s a thief. 

But he’s a thief who has just seen his bounty topped and he’s not happy about it. The bounty topper, as it turns out, is his best friend, bodyguard, and master swordsman, Josef. Who has been keeping secrets from Eli. Apparently, he’s the only prince of a rather feisty country and his mother (a formidable queen who’s every bit as driven and stubborn as he is) wants him to come home and do his duty, which means throwing over personal ambitions like proving he’s the greatest swordsman who ever lived.

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The Review:

I want to start out by sharing the overview for the first book:

Eli Monpress is talented. He’s charming. And he’s a thief.

But not just any thief. He’s the greatest thief of the age – and he’s also a wizard. And with the help of his partners – a swordsman with the most powerful magic sword in the world but no magical ability of his own, and a demonseed who can step through shadows and punch through walls – he’s going to put his plan into effect.

The first step is to increase the size of the bounty on his head, so he’ll need to steal some big things. But he’ll start small for now. He’ll just steal something that no one will miss – at least for a while.

Like a king.

I don’t know about you, but that short teaser convinced me right away that I wanted to give the series a try – and it was even better than I could have imagined. The first three books have to be, by far, one of the most memorable trilogies I’ve ever read. There was a high level of originality and it was spectacularly funny without ever crossing over to stupid or overdone.

I have to give major kudos to Aaron for pulling off two things you rarely see done well in fantasy: creating a feel of wonder, and doing so using almost poetic imagery. A lot of authors try to introduce wonder into their stories but it usually comes off ridiculous rather than awe-inspiring. Aaron pulls it off in a cheeky, fun manner without losing any more serious and thought-provoking overtones. She did this through exceptional character development and dialogue and introducing epic world-building and magic systems. I can’t say enough good things about this series. I am hooked, and will definitely read anything Aaron publishes in the future.

Surprisingly, compared to the first three novels, I thought the Spririt War started out a bit slow. Luckily, it was still rich, quality writing, so the pace didn’t bother me like it might have in other books. Regardless, the slower pace can be attributed to Aaron’s choice to expand on some minor characters and introduce some new ones, which means that she couldn’t possibly take it any faster if she wanted to develop them properly. I have criticized authors in the past for telling their stories from multiple viewpoints. I believe the key to doing this well is making sure all of your characters add directly to the overall arc – with each perspectives taking nothing away from the story’s momentum. All of Aaron’s viewpoint characters help maintain this momentum, adding a complexity to the story that still blows my mind.

Aspiring writers out there, including myself, could learn a lot by studying the way this author weaves the story, creates and maintains characters, and describes her world. She brings things to life and does so in a beautifully effortless manner. I will definitely be rereading this series for tips because there were moments of pure brilliance in every aspect of her writing.

Recommendations: As I said before, this series is whimsical without being ridiculous. I find myself recommending it to many types of readers because it’s one of those stories that has appeal for all ages (but for the sake of a few “scary” moments, I keep the recommends to 10+). It is probably best for fantasy lovers who are in the mood for something different. Its also my number one choice when someone says they want something “fun” to read.

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: Spirit’s End by Rachel Aaron

Title: Spirit’s End

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: Legend of Eli Monpress #5

Release Date: November 30, 2012

One of my favorite reads of 2011, the “Legend of Eli Monpress” trilogy was extremely entertaining. I am completely invested in all of the characters, and can’t wait to get my hands on “Spirit’s End” to find out what happens to them next! If you sick of the same old stuff, this is the series for you!!

By Niki Hawkes