Ossus Library Index
Science Fiction Index


A novel by Timothy Zahn
(2006, Open Road Media)

Dragonback, book 4

After dropping Alison off on a remote planet, Jack and Draycos find that the planet offers something valuable, and they are willing to protect it against their enemies.


-- First reading (ebook)
June 16th to 20th, 2022


This is the first Dragonback novel that I can honestly say that I enjoyed front to back, all the way through. It was engaging, funny, intense, and had some great fight scenes. I’ve complained in the previous books that they never get closer to their goal, and here is no exception, but the story was so good that it didn’t matter. While it’s true that Draycos gets the best of the mercenaries a little too often, it’s also fair to say that he’s great at what he does. The Phookas were a great addition to the story, as they gave the main characters some much needed growth. It’s interesting how the symbiosis works, especially that it might go both ways, and a person can awaken a K’da. The trek through the forest could have been yet another dull romp around scenery, but the author manages to keep it interesting, with different methods to deal with the ambushes. It’s a good thing Jack is wanted alive, because they had many chances to kill him. The one thing I didn’t like about this book was the last segment, which seems like an unnecessary twist and could potentially ruin an otherwise excellent character. We’ll see.

Spoiler review:

For all the time spent in the previous three books that developed the relationship between Jack and Draycos, where they search unyielding leads and seem to get almost to where they need to go, based on hunches and strange leaps of logic, I was frustrated because they were no nearer their goal than the start of the series. I thought they should have had some solid leads by now, at least. Then, at the end of the last book, they discover that the very Brummgas they were investigating are in league with the mercenary group that attacked Draycos’ advance scout. It seemed like a stretch, especially with the slow stories.

Then comes this book, which has changed the way the characters interact and adds a more tense atmosphere. I really liked this book, even though there was absolutely no development on that part of the plot to save Draycos’ people. The story itself, a dangerous hike through an unknown forest, evading and springing traps, getting to know potential allies, and protecting a primitive version of the K’da was very engaging, and thoroughly enjoyable. It was like reawakening to a Timothy Zahn novel after reading Zahn-lite for three books.

So maybe it was the writing style, which I found top notch, that made the difference. We still have the same characters, from Jack and the dragon-like Draycos, who get captured in the first chapters as they try to infiltrate a Malison Ring mercenary base, to Alison, the girl they already met back in Dragon and Soldier, and Uncle Virge, the computer personality version of Jack’s dead uncle. Alison springs them from the mercenary cell, and because her ship is being watched by mercenaries, she hitches a ride with Jack.

Her destination is a planet out of the way of where Jack and Draycos want to be, investigating Malison Ring bases, but they relent. Upon landing, they are greeted by sluggish human-like beings and the equally slow-witted Phookas, whom are instantly recognisable as K’da, but without the abilities Draycos and his people have for high-level thought. They can take the 2D form on their hosts, and they do a daily dance before breakfast, but nothing more.

When they find that the Malison Ring soldiers, led by Colonel Frost, has tracked them, and apparently destroyed Uncle Virge’s ship, Jack and Alison are forced to flee. And while Draycos is content to let these primitive Phookas stay where they are, because they are a disturbing idea that K’da might not have evolved as he’d been taught, Jack won’t leave them behind, in case the mercenaries recognize them as K’da, too, and slaughter them.

So begins a long trek through the forest, where Frost sets traps, and Draycos, or Draycos and Jack, disable them. There is no real killing here, at least not intentionally, so most of the soldiers can come back again and again. A few times, Draycos indicates that they will need a long time in recovery for what he’s done to them, but I don’t think most of the soldiers were incapacitated like that.

I don’t understand why Frost was always waiting to ambush them, which made it easy for Jack and Draycos to evade the traps, instead of coming at them in the night. Alison often thinks that after disabling the traps, made of dozens of soldiers, that Frost had to regroup and would set a new trap somewhere else. That would have been the perfect time for him to dive in and capture them, when their guard was down.

Regardless, springing the traps was the main draw of the story, as we get to see once again how effective Draycos is at what he does. Sometimes it’s in a direct attack, while other times he sets traps for the soldiers themselves. Each time, they completely devastate the mercenaries. At one point Alison is in trouble, and Draycos is pinned down in a tree, but Jack finds a way to use the Phookas to his advantage. The independent one they dub Taneem understands his instructions to run away, and this distracts the soldiers enough that Draycos gains the advantage again. The fact that he’s upset with Jack shows how his attitude changed through the story, and how Jack has evolved from the selfish thief his uncle tried to make him into.

Then there is the very satisfying moment that I’d been waiting for the whole book, when a bear-like creature attacks them, and Draycos is forced to reveal himself to Alison. She’s suitably shocked, and it was a terrific evolution of their relationship. They decide to experiment with the Phookas, and Alison takes Taneem onto her skin as a symbiont.

I wonder if we’ll get an explanation of why Alison had to sleep so long, or how Taneem was able to develop so quickly after joining with a human instead of the slow-minded people of this world.

When they do escape, it’s because of teamwork, as once again Jack, Draycos, Alison and Taneem work together to defeat Frost’s mercenaries. I loved the moment when Draycos was caught beneath the stun net, and Jack was able to stick his hand inside, to the dragon could go 2D onto him, then back to 3D warrior again out the other sleeve. It did make me wonder, though, why Draycos thought he would die, when he could have tried to move onto the unconscious soldier’s body. Or maybe it required a permission of sorts that I don’t recall.

And so they head off-planet on Uncle Virge’s ship, having hidden in the water until he could damage all of Frost’s ships together. While Jack still doesn’t trust Alison, the girl wants to stay. I don’t like the secret tech she uses to send a secret message to a hidden person at the end, though. We know she was doing something for herself in the mercenary camp back in Dragon and Soldier, but we don’t know what, and I really hope it doesn’t come into contrast with the great character work the author built during this book. It sounds like she might be in league with Frost, despite all appearances to the contrary throughout the story. But knowing this author, I reread the message again, and it sounds like she might just be wanting to keep track of Frost, not glad to see that he survived. Maybe this will be addressed in the next book.

With the great character work and especially the teamwork in trying to survive while keeping a pack of animal-like creatures alive at the same time, springing mercenary traps and outsmarting their commander, this book was a lot of fun to read. Looking forward to the next one, which I’ll probably start right away!


Back to Top

All reviews and page designs at this site Copyright © 1999 -  by Warren Dunn, all rights reserved.