TPG Reviews: Dragon and Thief, by Timothy Zahn (Dragonback, book 1)
An excellent start to the series.
Jack Morgan has a dragon on his back – literally. The warrior K’da species are symbiotes, can only live six hours without their humanoid host. Draycos is the sole survivor of the three ships destroyed scouting for their refugees, and Jack is the only possible choice. They may be an odd couple, but together they’re more than the sum of their parts. They are destined to travel far and wide, facing many perils – human, alien, and other, as they seek justice and safety – Jack for himself, and Draycos for his people.
My rating: 4/5
Yeah, no prizes for guessing why I took an interest in this one. I originally found out about it over on tvtropes and bought a copy soon afterwards, but it then proceeded to languish on my bookshelf for ages. I finally read it not so long ago, and I’m glad I did. Dragon and Thief is not particularly groundbreaking, sure, but it’s good clean fun that I ended up steaming through in only a handful of days. And, really, what more can you ask from a book than that?
Jack Morgan is a 13-year-old ex-crook who is desperately hoping to move away from his old lifestyle. At the start of the book he is on the run from the authorities and is therefore hiding out on a backwater planet, ironically over a theft he didn’t actually commit. While there, he comes across a wrecked spaceship and meets Draycos, the only survivor of the crash. After running away from the very people who downed the ship in the first place, Draycos explains that this ship was one of four sent out a few months in front of a large fleet of refugees. Jack and Draycos soon make a deal: Draycos will help clear Jack of the recent accusations, and then Jack will help Draycos determine who it was who attacked the scoutships. Seeing as the other three scoutships were recovered intact by the enemy, Jack and Draycos have no time to lose if the dragon’s people are to be saved.
Draycos is a k’da a largish dragon-like alien with the ability to become a two-dimensional tattoo on Jack’s skin who needs to at least once every 6 hours in order to stay alive. Quite why he needs to is unclear, seeing as he needs to eat and drink normally anyway, but it’s nonetheless a neat concept that is explored in ample quantities over the course of the story.
Draycos is not just any k’da, however. He is a “poet-warrior of the k’da”, as he seems to remind Jack (and the reader) every few pages. Seriously, you could probably make a drinking game out of the number of times this phrase comes up. That said, he can and does back it up, employing a little bit of poetry and plenty of fighting abilities during his and Jack’s travels. A surprise ability to juggle also comes in handy at one point. I found Draycos to be a little flat overall, if you’ll excuse the pun, but not to the point where it detracts that much from the book overall.
Jack, meanwhile, is an excellent protagonist. This is probably just as well, as the bulk of the book is told from his perspective. At the beginning Jack is out purely for himself, having learnt just a little too well from his crooked mentor, but he slowly comes out of this shell over time. Jack is repeatedly forced to use his abilities as a thief and con-artist in order to get out of trouble; this, among other things, leads to a particularly memorable scene in which he and Draycos put on an impromptu magic show for a crowd of potentially-hostile onlookers.
The writing style was clear and concise, containing just enough description to allow readers to picture people and places without drowning said readers in information. The dialogue, meanwhile, mostly rang true. What really sold this series to me, however, was the ending. Without giving anything away, there’s a big twist near the end which came completely unexpectedly and yet didn’t seem particularly surprising on reflection. The book ended very much on a high note, and I am already planning to read other books in this series.
The book is supposed to be for readers aged ten and above. Though it is a little juvenile in places, you’ll probably end up enjoying no matter what your age is. Personally, I would recommend it.
Have you read this book or any of the other in this series? For that matter, have you read any other books by this author. If so, then I’d love to hear your opinions.