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Literature / The Heartstrikers

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Clockwise from left: Julius, Marci, Bob, and Chelsie.

"You are the worst excuse for a dragon I've ever seen."
Bethesda the Heartstriker, regarding Julius the Nice Dragon

The Heartstrikers series is a fantasy novel series by Rachel Aaron/Bach. The series takes place sixty years after an unexplained phenomenon that causes magic to return, awaking several spirits and other magical beings who had gone into hibernation, and causing societal disruption on a global level. It also awakened the latent magical potential of a portion of the human population. The story mostly takes place in the DFZ (the Detroit Free Zone), ruled by Algonquin, the Lady of the Lakes.

The series follows the adventures of Julius Heartstriker, a dragon sealed in human form, and Deuteragonist Marci Novalli, a human mage down on her luck with secrets of her own.

The series consists of five books:

  1. Nice Dragons Finish Last (2014)
  2. One Good Dragon Deserves Another (2015)
  3. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (2016)
  4. A Dragon of a Different Color (2017)
  5. Last Dragon Standing (2018)

A sequel series, DFZ, was released in 2018.

This series provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: The first book seemed to be building up to the J-clutch as a whole playing prominent roles in the story, between Julius, the main character; Justin, who despite being Julius's opposite, protected him all their lives; and Jessica, who Bethesda also seemed to consider nearly as much of a failure as Julius. The clutch was also the first one born after the return of magic, and noted to be more magically inclined than most of the others. In the following books, however, Jessica was killed offscreen, older Heartstrikers became more prominent, and the Js other than Julius and Justin only made minor appearances.
  • Aerith and Bob: Most dragons in the Heartstriker clan seem to have fairly ordinary, human names, even the strongest ones (like Chelsie and Justin). And then there's Brohomir, or as he prefers to be known as, Bob.
  • Alphabetical Theme Naming: Bethesda, Heartstriker clan matriarch, had multiple broods, so each clutch of eggs had names starting with a certain letter. The oldest and strongest are near the beginning of the alphabet (Bob, Chelsie), while younger dragons are farther down the list (Ian, Justin, Julius).
  • An Aesop:
    • Shortsighted goals lead to short lived victories. If you sell out the future to buy the present nothing will be left for anyone.
    • Also, greed helps nobody. If you kill to get power, you'll be killed yourself to get your power. And then they will be killed to get their power. And so on and so forth.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification:
    • All spirits are sentient magic given shape by whatever large force or feature carved out a vessel in the magical landscape. Spirits of the land are born from physical features like lakes and mountains, while animal spirits are born from large masses of a specific animal. Once they gain sentience, they can speak and appear in at least a vaguely human guise.
    • Mortal spirits are conceptually similar, but instead of being created by natural features, they are created by the mass subconscious of humanity, the natural magical ability of all humans carving out much larger vessels in the shape of human hopes and fears. Marci's cat Ghost is actually the Empty Wind, Spirit of the Forgotten Dead. He is the most terrifying of a particularly terrifying class of spirit, but ultimately his purpose is to make sure that the dead are remembered.
  • Action Girl: Despite having to rely on Functional Magic, Marci has shades of this. Chelsie fits into this better, also doubling as The Dreaded.
  • Anti-Hero: Surprisingly Marci can be this, but Julius helps keep her grounded. She is the more pragmatic of the pair, the first to resort to violence, and Justin jokes at one point that she's a better dragon than Julius is.
  • Badass Family: Julius and his family are dragons.
  • Big Eater: A dragon's human form is just a shell of sorts. Everything else is properly dragon-sized, including their appetite. At one point, Justin ate fifty large pizzas, by himself, in ten minutes. And he was expecting another order when Marci and Julius showed up.
  • Blood Knight: Justin, one of Julius's brothers, is a Knight of the Mountain and the Fifth Blade of Bethesda. His reaction to everything is gleeful violence, and Julius notes several times that "Justin wrangling" is a J-clutch survival strategy.
  • Born Lucky: Every Qilin is this, but only so long as they remain calm and/or happy. If they feel any strong negative emotion their luck goes bad in the worst way possible.
  • The Chessmaster:
    • Seers, by default. They can see every possible future, but they can only change the future by affecting the decisions of those around them. Bob is the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers and is repeatedly referred to as a young genius (he's "only" a thousand years old), and he can keep up with Estella. Estella, despite being far older and more experienced, gets tunnel vision and is repeatedly blindsided by people she had dismissed as irrelevant.
    • And then there's the third seer, the Black Reach. He is known as the Death of Seers, and he is as far beyond seers as they are beyond normal people. Bob says that he doesn't even bother considering the Black Reach in his plans because he can barely even detect his machinations let alone his actual strategy, and the Black Reach says that it is flat-out impossible for a seer to beat him. He is actually an artificial construct made to prevent seers from selling the future like they did their home plane. Bob eventually beats him by creating a future so good that the Black Reach doesn't want to stop it.
    • Algonquin might not be as good as a seer, but she is very good. She manages to take advantage of one of Estella's plans by demanding her hair in payment, which allows her to pretend to have murdered her. When Estella's mothers wake up, Algonquin uses this to bait them into a trap and kill them.
  • The Chosen Many: "Merlin" is a title for the greatest of human mages. There were many throughout history, even multiple at once. Their job was to fight and bind gods, and they could affect magic on a global scale. Shiro says that there were never more than a few dozen at once, which is why they were eventually overwhelmed by the mortal spirits. Marci notes that with the much larger modern population and widespread education, they can easily have nine hundred Merlins. Shiro is gobsmacked, and immediately starts supporting her plans, because nine hundred Merlins can handle anything.
  • Continuity Drift: In later books, it becomes a plot point that the Heartstrikers are banned from China. However, this never came up in the first book, in which Justin appears after having just returned from there, or the second, in which Julius mentions that Edmund is Bethesda's official liaison to China and that he'd met members of some of the Chinese clans.
  • Cool Sword: The five Fangs of the Heartstriker, incredibly old and powerful blades granted only to the strongest of the Heartstriker clan. Since dragons obviously can't use swords, they transform along with their wielder. Bethesda's Fang becomes a diadem, Bob's Fang becomes a pair of heavy gauntlets, Conrad's Fang becomes a massive suit of bone armor, Chelsie's Fang fits over her claws, Justin's Fang becomes a set of literal fangs, and Julius's Fang, the SIXTH Fang, becomes a crown of feathers. Though it's not pointed out explicitly, it's interesting to note that it's theoretically possible to wear all of them at once, likely because they are all the powers of the Quetzalcoatl.
  • Dark Ages: The magical drought (which started approximately 1000 years ago and ended only about 60 years ago) caused all of humanity's magical knowledge to be lost; though one could make the point that this allowed humans to thrive and become the dominant species on the planet (since they didn't have to deal with the significantly more powerful spirits and dragons tearing them down). Both Myron and Shiro make this point.
  • Dark Secret: "The China incident" is what forced Chelsie into Bethesda's servitude. The secret in question is F Clutch, the downtrodden Servant Race of Bethesda's clan, are not her children, as previously though. They're Chelsie's. Even worse? They're from a forbidden relationship she once had with the Golden Emperor himself. See the Designer Babies trope below to see why this is particularly bad.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Just one of Bethesda's many examples of her hubris is hanging the skull of her father, Quetzalcoatl, on the ceiling of her throne room. She killed him herself in a hostile takeover of Clan Heartstriker.
  • Designer Babies: Downplayed with the Golden Empire in China, as they only do this with their Golden Emperor. The luck magic that imbues each Emperor did not come about naturally; it was carefully cultivated over thousands of years. As such, each Golden Emperor must find the perfect mate to carry his child, one who is both magically strong and skilled enough to survive pouring most of her magic into the process, as well as being able to combine what would normally be a clutch of 10-20 eggs of either gender into a single, perfect egg containing a male child. The finishing touch is the old Golden Emperor sacrificing his life and pouring it into said egg, passing on his luck magic to the new Golden Emperor. The current Golden Emperor having illegitimate children with Chelsie may have broken this process, possibly forever.
  • The Dragon:
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: Mortal Spirits of death are absolutely terrifying, since they represent humanity's fear of a specific type of death. However, they are also some of the most important spirits, as they are in charge of rescuing humans who have suffered the fate they represent. Without them, human souls are eventually torn to shreds by the Sea of Magic instead of receiving a proper afterlife. Ghost is the Spirit of the Forgotten Dead, the most terrible of all the death spirits. Unfortunately, he's also the only death spirit awake right now, meaning he's in charge of collecting all mortal souls. And since he can only collect a soul once it's been completely forgotten, many souls are lost before he can save them.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Nameless Ends mentioned in third book, gigantic otherworldly monsters not native to this plane of existence. Algonquin's Leviathan is one. Bob's pigeon appears to be the other.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: Augmenting humans with magic to make them superhuman is pretty common.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Julius is surprised when meeting Chelsie face to face for the first time because she is only around his height, and he is short for a dragon.
  • Interspecies Romance: Julius and Marci. Not to mention Katya and Ross, Amelia and the Concept of Mountains, and Amelia and Raven in the distant past. And Bob and the Final Future, a cosmic force of destruction currently incarnate as a pigeon.
  • Good Is Not Nice: While Julius is the first nice dragon, he is not the first good dragon. In fact, it seems like most older dragons (with the notable exception of Bethesda) learn how to be more pragmatic over the centuries.
    Conrad: If this is your idea of helping the clan, I think we're safer without you. But stupid and shameful as your actions are today, it is the privilege of the strong to be merciful.
    Gregory: Merciful? Don't tell me the pathetic nice dragon is wearing off on you, too!
    Conrad: Don't be ridiculous. You think this started with a whelp like Julius? Chelsie and I have always been merciful. Why do you think any of you are still alive?
  • Guile Hero: Julius is this (as well as a lot of dragons in general), but Julius falls on the more moral side of the spectrum.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal: Vann Jeger's main ability, and reason why he is so powerful despite being so far way from his source of power. As the Anthropomorphic Personification of a Scandinavian fjord, he is able to wield the many weapons that were dropped into his waters by the ancient Vikings who lived there.
  • Magic Pants: Averted. Dragons don't keep their human clothing when transforming into their draconic true selves, and thus, when they return to their human forms, they're completely naked.
  • Magic Versus Science:
    • Averted. Magic is treated and analyzed just like really any other force in the world.
    • Shamans, on the other hand, are humans who use the more natural side of magic, and draw power from spirits. Shamans are basically magic hippies, and thaumaturges look down on them for being uneducated and unrefined.
  • Magitek: A result of treating magic like a natural force of the universe. Even phones draw on the mana of the user for power and to draw the Augmented Reality interface.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Even though Julius establishes a three-dragon Council after overthrowing Bethesda, Julius, as the driving force behind the Council, is widely considered to be this. Not only does Justin repeatedly refer to him as the rightful clan head, Katya even addresses him as the Heartstriker.
  • Manipulative Bastard: A common trait among dragons.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Julius has literally hundreds of half-brothers and half-sisters, due to his mother Bethesda mating with ten different dragons; they all share the family name of "Heartstriker" and their dragon forms all have colorful feathers as well as dragon scales due to Bethesda's father being the legendary Feathered Serpent of Central America, the Quetzalcoatl himself.
  • Morality Chain: Julius is this to Justin. And later to Chelsie as well.
  • Physical God: Several spirits and dragons are so powerful they were worshipped as gods by entire civilizations. Even now with all the advance technology and Magitek they still retain their godlike status.
  • Red Baron:
    • Chelsie, Bethesda's Shade.
    • Many dragons (and a few spirits) have some sort of moniker that describes them, like Estella, the Northern Star or Vann Jeger, Death of Dragons.
    • Empty Wind, Spirit of the Forgotten Dead.
  • Resurrection Gambit: Amelia gives Marci half her fire then has Bob kill her so that she can hitch a ride into the mortal afterlife and become the Spirit of Dragons.
  • Rule of Three: Ever since the dragons came to this plane, they have had three seers at a time—one male, one female, and the immortal Black Reach. When a seer dies, the next dragon of the same sex to be born is automatically their successor.
  • Running Gag: Pretty much every time Amelia is brought up in conversation with someone who doesn't know her, they will ask something along the lines of "Amelia? As in, Amelia?" See the Alphabetical Theme Naming entry above on why this is such a big deal.
  • Scry vs. Scry: Bob and Estella spend the first two books fighting each other using their knowledge of the future to ensure a better outcome for themselves. An entire plane of dragon seers doing this is what led to the destruction of the dragon homeworld.
  • Series Continuity Error: In No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished, Svena tells Amelia that she's only having five eggs. However, when she and her children appear in Last Dragon Standing, Julius counts at least twelve of them.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When Justin attacks Vann Jeger, Jeger says that he "Can't even kill my boredom". This is what Mihawk said to Zoro in One Piece.
    • When Algonquin kills the Three Sisters, Bob comments, "Well, that escalated quickly." Sadly, he doesn't add, "I mean, that really got out of hand, fast."
  • Stronger with Age: Dragons never stop growing, and they become more magically powerful over time as well. Centuries-old Conrad is as large as a battleship, and Amelia, who thanks to spending time on other planes where time flowed differently is thousands of years old, is so large that Marci can hardly process it. Both are able to trounce younger dragons, physically in his case and magically in hers. But because of the thin magic on the human plane, truly ancient dragons can't stay long without being driven into hibernation like the Three Sisters. There are almost no elder dragons left alive because they eventually become too large and powerful to thrive on this plane.
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: How Magitek is even a thing in this universe. By the time the story is set in, the many schools of magic are literally that: schools. Marci herself is working on her doctorate degree in Socratic Thaumaturgy, and the end of the second book mentions Stanford University having its own magic department.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Shamans in general are this compared to Mages.
  • Vice City: The DFZ, as a result of Algonquin not imposing any rules on almost anything, and caring more about fish than humans.
  • White Sheep: Julius, due to being the only dragon in his family who isn't a Manipulative Bastard.
  • Winds of Destiny, Change!: The Golden Emperor of China is also known as The Physical Embodiment of Good Fortune due to his ability to manipulate luck itself. Unfortunately, as said luck is tied to his emotions, this carries with it some serious Power Incontinence; he can never be agitated, angry, or tense lest his luck (and the luck of everyone around him) turn very bad, very quickly.
  • World of Badass: With the world being filled (and composing pretty much the entire cast) of dragons, wizards, spirits, and other magical beings this is a given.