Top critical review
on April 19, 2004
Timothy Zahn of "Star Wars" spinoff novel fame tries his hand at young adult scifi, reprinted in paperback by Starscape Books. It's a straightforward, solid sci-fi adventure, though it lacks in character development and spends too much time on action chases.
Fourteen-year-old Jack Morgan is a thief, a fugitive, and an orphan accused of a crime he didn't commit; the guy raising him is a holographic replica of his Uncle Virge. When Jack is hiding on an abandoned planet, he sees ships engage in a battle, and one crashes. When he and Virge check out the wreckage, a dragon-like creature leaps at Jack -- and becomes a two-dimensional, tattoolike image on his skin.
It turns out the dragon is Draycos, a K'Da warrior whose symbiotic host died in the attack. The K'Da are incredibly smart and dangerous, but they die in six hours if their host dies. Jack soon learns that there are advantages to having the stalwart Draycos on his side -- especially when they are being attacked by the Valahgua, the deadly race who have lethal energy weapon "The Death." Together Jack and Draycos must clear Jack's name and stop the Valahgua.
"Dragon and Thief" takes place in a pretty standard sci-fi setting, with space travel, cool gadgets and a few trappings reminiscent of cheesy SF movies. Aliens, battles, and a teenaged anti-hero are the basis of it all. Zahn doesn't add a lot to the setting, but he gives a good feeling for the grit and danger of it.
Written with a young adult audience in mind, "Dragon and Thief" could use a few more pages. Zahn keeps the plot going by fast, but fails to pause for much development -- he barely even describes the future world that he drops readers into, and the characters don't get a lot of development. But he's clearly thought out the sci-fi elements, such as the Valahgua and the K'Da. The idea of a giant dragon that turns into a tattoo could have been silly, but Zahn pulls it off well.
Draycos (the dragon of the title) is by far the most interesting character in the book. He's a "poet-warrior," with a strict code of ethics and wicked fighting skills of all stripes. Jack (the thief) is substantially less interesting as an anti-hero, and he never develops much of a personality. Uncle Virge is much more interesting (which is surprising as he is actually dead).
"Dragon and Thief" is a flawed but promising start to a new sci-fi series. Zahn needs to get a better handle on the characters, but it might all turn out to be worth it in the end.