by Timothy Zahn
Tor Hardcover: ISBN 0765301245 PubDate Jan 03
Review by Ernest Lilley
256 pages List price $24.95
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Jack Morgan is a fourteen year old orphan with a spaceship he inherited from his “Uncle” Virge…a con artist and safe cracker who took Jack in after his parents died in an explosion. Uncle Virgil is gone, but not forgotten, since he programmed the ship’s computer with his voice, personality…and least endearing…his values.
With his "uncle" gone, Jack was determined to look after himself and to turn his back on the life of crime he'd been schooled for. Jack and Uncle Virge (the computer) were getting along just fine until somebody set them up with a mysterious disappearing cargo, cargo belonging to the Braxton Universis, the most powerful corporation in human space. Now they’re hiding out on a backwater planet nobody’s supposed to be interested in. Of course, the farthest place from anywhere else can be a popular place if you're in trouble, and the last thing Jack and Virge want to see is the evidence of a space battle being fought overhead. When one of the losing ships manages to limp down out of orbit more or less intact, they go to investigate...looking for survivors or loot.
They certainly didn't expect to find Drayco, a poet-warrior who happens to be 1) a dragon 2) able to move along four dimensions and 3) badly in need of a sybiont host to bond with. Drayco's kind can't live apart from their bonded hosts for more than six hours and his last host died in the crash. Lucky for him that Jack happens along.
Among Drayco's neat tricks is the ability to extend his 3rd dimensional self somewhere else...making him as two dimensional as a sheet of paper, or a tattoo running around Jack's chest. That may not be the most acceptable component of the story, but Zahn handles it nicely and the two develop as a strong pair of protagonists as they try to settle the dual mysteries of why (and how) Jack's cargo disappeared and who (and why) the fleet Drayco was with was attacked by. Sooner or later Jack's going to find out what really happened to his parents, but that's a few books away. For now, it's enough for him to stay one step ahead of a blackmail plot intended to smoke his Uncle out of "retirement"...except that there are some kinds of retirement you can't come back from.
I really enjoyed Dragon and Thief. Zahn has no trouble keeping the sense of adventure up and the action moving. Of course what makes it all work is his deft handling of characters. After reading mind-bending fiction about the future of humanity for weeks on end, it's a welcome change of pace to read about a future where fourteen year olds wear jeans and dream about cheeseburgers.
Dragon and Thief is the first of six Dragonback books, which sounds like a great number for a story arc that's going to include galactic skulldugery and a first rate coming of age story by an author that's just plain fun to read.