Book Review: Timothy Zahn’s Dragon and Thief

So, here’s to hoping all of you loyal Dial H for Houston readers had a wonderful Christmas or other seasonal holiday. I certainly did!

In any case, it’s crunch time over here at Dial H for Houston. Not only has the holiday been keeping me busy, but the end of the year’s coming up, so I wanted a quick read to pad out my end of the year review count, if just a little. If I’m feeling ambitious, I might even have one more book review to post after this, but the current book is much longer, so … we’ll see.

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But yeah, that’s what brings us to Timothy Zahn’s Dragon and Thief. I’m cheating juuuust a little, as I picked up a collection of Zahn’s first three “Dragon And … “ novels under the title of Dragonback Bargain for a dollar some years and years ago. But hey, since each book was published individually (and since each book was kinda short), here ya go.

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It’s been a few years since I’ve read any Zahn, but I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of his stuff. He’s good at writing fun space adventures. In particular, Zahn should be credited with the new Star Wars movie (and subsequent pile of action figures and/or Legos you got for Christmas). Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy really kickstarted the Star Wars franchise into being A Thing in the early 90’s, the initial tiny little snowball that has built up to the marketing avalanche people are flipping out over as we speak.

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The Force Awakens really was lacking in LASER FINGERS, now that I think of it. 

Of course, said trilogy (along with the volumes of books it inspired) is no longer canon, but Zahn should still get some props. I might even go out on a limb and declare The Force Awakens to be a better Star Wars sequel, since Zahn’s books introduced Han and Leia’s force-sensitive kids who seemed to get kidnapped every other freakin’ novel. But! That sort of discussion is another blog post entirely. This isn’t supposed to be a Star Wars post.

So yeah. Dragon and Thief is a straightforward little adventure. I suppose it’s a YA series, since the protagonist, Jack, is a 14 year old scrappy space orphan. Then again, I might even label it as ‘pre-YA’ or whatever the official term is. It’s got a younger protagonist, for one. Dragon and Thief is also more concerned about whacky space adventure than any sort of romance or growing up or anything like that- then again, it’s also the first in the series, so who knows where it roams. Honestly, Dragon and Thief reminded me more of old science fiction “juveniles” by guys like Heinlein and Clarke.

The plot to Dragon and Thief is pretty straightforward. Jake, the aforementioned teenage orphan, is the titular thief- who finds the titular dragon in a crashed spaceship. Said dragon is named Draycos, which made me roll my eyes. It makes me want to write a SF book with the only human in it being named Hugh Mann or something. But hey, this is pre-YA here, so maybe I’m being a bit too cynical.

Draycos is your typical ‘mysterious and powerful alien buddy.’ His race is called the K’da (apostrophe alert!), he can change color when he fl es into a ‘blood rage,’ he’s puzzled by human culture, and he’s big on stuff like honor. Draycos at least has an interesting gimmickas he’s an alien that exists in more than three dimensions, which means he can do all kinds of weird tricks like seeing through walls and stuff. He can also flatten himself out into a two-dimensional tattoo like image, which is how he bonds to Jack.

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Artist’s interpretation. 

 

Draycos is also unable to maintain a three-dimensional shape for more than six hours, which is what requires him to bond to Jack as a symbiont. Better than Spider Man’s Venom suit, at least? It’s more than a little cheesy, but it’s a kind of fun way to link the two characters together. It’s at least more creative than ‘dragon imprints on the first person it sees after hatching’ trope used in pretty much every other ‘a boy and his dragon’ book.

Jack and Draycos get linked together, and then they’re off on space adventures. The plot coheres a little when Jack is blackmailed into stealing a MacGuffin from a luxury space liner, at which point it breaks down into a heist story, with the requisite recon and scheming and inevitable betrayals. Of course, since I like heist stories, this was kind of a bonus. Of course, since this is a kid’s book, the heist isn’t too complicated, and the violence is (mostly) bloodless.

All and all, Dragon and Thief is a perfectly serviceable adventure story. Had I been a few decades younger when I read it, I’m sure I’d be more excited. The book isn’t bad, or even dull. It’s just so stripped down and straightforward there’s nothing to really talk about. I kind of imagine Zahn just hammered this book out on a long weekend, just as a writing exercise. Maybe things get a little more complex in later novels, but that’ll be something to think about when (or really, if) I read further. But hey, I’ve read enough of Zahn’s work (and not just the Star Wars books!) to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this sort of thing.

Stay tuned, loyal readers! I’m gonna get back to reading Grown Up People Books soon, and I may even do 2015 blog retrospective post. And once again, Happy Holidays!

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