Night Shift Dragons is the final instalment in a trilogy that has mainly gripped me with its kick-ass futuristic fantasy setting, the Detroit Free Zone (DFZ). If you like, you can read my review of the first book or my review of the second book before coming back for this one. While I did enjoy it, I felt like this final instalment was the weakest of the lot, mainly because the awesome setting took a backseat and its dystopian nature was really walked back. Note that from here on out this review will contain spoilers for the previous books.
Following on from the end of Part-Time Gods, Opal Yong-ae has spent the last two months in a pocket dimension of sorts, in hiding with her comatose dad, the fearsome dragon Yong of Korea. She's also started training to become a priestess of the Detroit Free Zone, as in a sworn servant of the deity who is the actual city itself. What these two things mean is that we see a lot less of the city than we did in previous books (even once she leaves hiding, she doesn't travel around too much) and yet we also see a lot more of the DFZ at the same time, because the deity spends at least half the book talking to Opal in her mind. The capriciousness and willingness to sacrifice citizens on the altar of the free market that we have come to associate with the DFZ is mostly gone; instead, we get a lot of justifications about how if the worst excesses were just toned down a liiiiiittle bit, the DFZ would actually be great because it's a city of “freedom”. I found this pretty hard to reconcile with the criticism of neoliberalism in just the last book.
There were definitely some good things, though. Opal comes across as substantially more mature than she was in the first two instalments, almost as though two months of learning how to use her magic properly has given her the assurance she needed that she can be a competent adult after all. Her relationship with her dad definitely takes priority here over her emerging romance with Nik, which didn't bother me, but seems to have disappointed some other viewers. On the other hand, while I was fine with the place where her relationship with her dad ended up, I did feel like we got there way too easily. I mean, this is the guy who's spent two books trying to ruin her life with a bad luck curse, and he was convinced of the error of his ways within a few pages?! It felt like it mainly worked out that way so the tension between them couldn't be a problem as they dealt with the main plot of this book.
That plot involves a fighting arena that is unquestionably one of the worst excesses of the DFZ. Basically, this Gamemaster convinces people to sign up for fights to the death, particularly preying on the homeless and vulnerable. These fights attract huge crowds, huge enough to sustain not only on-site gambling parlours but also brothels and strip clubs?! A worthy villain to fight against, but it really seemed like Opal and the DFZ wouldn't have bothered if not for having a more selfish motivation to go in. I dunno, I guess there's nothing much Opal could have done alone, but all the DFZ's excuses for her inaction were annoying, and then Opal's excuses for the DFZ's excuses...
I've got distracted while typing this up, so I'll try to boil things down to the essentials. Like the first two books in the series, Night Shift Dragons is a fast-paced romp of a read. Opal Yong-ae did grow as a character and her storyline ended up in a good place. However, I was disappointed by the lack of exploration of the city in this book compared to the first two, and even more disappointed by the justifications for free-market callousness where previously this was called out. Three stars from me.