Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

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A Saturday Morning "Hot In The City" Review: Dragon And Thief

Timothy Zahn's been writing workman-like hard SF for many years now. Despite sidetracking into Star Wars tie-in fiction for while, he's now back out in the mainstream of SF, with a mixed batch of novels. Dragon And Thief is the first part of a new series, "The Dragonback Adventures". Featuring an implausible lead character, and a Heinleinian capable-kid, this is clearly not intended to be an adult novel - despite being marketed as such.

Draycos is a K'da, a symbiotic warrior poet whose partner has been killed in a sneak attack on their refugee starship. Only able to survive for 6 hours or so without a host, he attaches himself to a fugitive teenager, Jack. Luckily for Draycos, Jack has a starship, but he's struggling to deal with his uncle's legacy of crime, and a false charge of theft hanging over his own head. Draycos is going to have to help out Jack if he's to stand any chance of saving the rest of the refugee fleet. It's a journey that mixes corporate politics and treachery, and hangs a distant threat over the civilisation of the Orion Arm.

Now there's hope here for a reasonable little juvenile adventure. Unfortunately, Zahn ruins it by creating in Draycos a character that just doesn't make sense. For one thing, he can transform from a 2D tattoo to a 3D warrior dragon in a few seconds (and no one wonders why a teenage kid has such a spectacular piece of artwork on his skin), and for another, the sudden death of his partner of many years appears to have had no emotional effect whatsoever. Draycos' sole purpose in the story seems to be to turn the otherwise ineffectual Jack into a pocket superman. After a while it's just to difficult to suspend disbelief, and when the novel switches from chase thriller to heist caper, it's clear that Zahn wants to squeeze in as many movie tropes as possible.

What might have been a candidate for the now defunct Jupiter line of Heinlein-style juveniles, Dragon and Thief is unfortunately likely to disappoint many of its readers. Zahn isn't writing at his best (this is no match for his more complex works like Angelmass). If you're after modern juveniles you're probably better off with David Gerrold's recent trilogy...
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