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A novel by Timothy Zahn
(2008, Open Road Media)

Dragonback, book 6

Jack and Draycos sneak on board the ambush ships to stop their enemies from destroying the refugee fleet.


-- First reading (ebook)
June 27th to July 3rd, 2022


The usual great writing by the author elevates this book, but I found the plot to be over-complicated, and the most difficult part to process is the way the bad guys stop everything they are doing to talk, talk, talk… Frost and Neverlin never learn, and give our heroes the time to stall and engage in sabotage and other plotting. After all they’ve planned so far, it makes them look stupid. On the other hand, the action was well written, and I really liked the way the author split the point of view once again between Alison and Jack. Jack especially has grown as a person, but I still like the way the author describes Draycos’ fighting skills. The conclusion to this series is satisfactory, and the danger is very real, at least to Jack. The revelations about the K’da and Alison aren’t completely surprising, but make a lot of sense given the information we are given, little by little, and the way this author is known to pull tricks out of his sleeve at the last minute.

Spoiler review:

Things finally come together in this book, which tries to use some of what we learned in the previous books as setup. We dive right into the finale, with Alison and Taneem hitching a ride within the final safe onto Neverlin’s ship, and Jack getting arrested but then rescued by one of Braxton’s people. Neverlin isn’t taking any chances with his plan, so he has four or five jumps into hyperspace before arriving at the rendezvous with the K’da/Shontine. He has a complicated plan to take one of Draycos’ ships to the rendezvous, with some fake enemies firing upon it, such that the refugee fleet takes it in for protection, and so the Valaghua can fire their Death weapon from within the fleet.

It’s unfortunate that Alison doesn’t have much to do until near the end, and that’s marred by turning Neverlin and Frost into bad villains. She plants a spy device so she can listen, and has Taneem go through the ducts to listen in on other conversations, but for most of the story, she hides in the lifeboat. I was confused at how Taneem could fold back over the wall to get back on Alison’s back. Falling through a wall from the human back I can understand, as she’s 2D at that point. But on the other side of the wall, how does she get back onto Alison? The same thing happens at the end of the book with Jack in a spacesuit. I don’t see how Draycos could get back since he was already in 3D form.

After failing to get the safe, Jack is arrested for theft, but is quickly rescued by one of Braxton’s agents, Harper. They go to the location where Frost’s team is to steal ships and sneak on board one, replacing the pilot. They then get free reign of the K’da/Shontine ship, which Draycos knows very well. They spend their time sabotaging the Death weapons and other systems, and fight a guerilla war within the confines of a spaceship, which was pretty fun, especially when they had the two weapons pointing at each other across the ship. Unfortunately, after a while it got long and complicated. Without a map, the areas of the ship were confusing, especially as the Valuagha were shifting and redeploying the Death weapons, and Jack and Draycos were hiding in other areas. Langston, from the last book, shows up and helps them. Why Frost continues to trust him, or at least doesn’t keep a camera tracking him the whole time, is beyond me.

This is also where Alison’s plot falls apart. She reveals herself to be the daughter of the prominent Malison Ring General Davi, and checks prove it’s the truth. She plays the long shot that Davi will want a K’da alive, which ties Neverlin’s hands –except that he will have a complete fleet within a few days with K’da to choose from. Surely they can prevent the Valuagha from destroying one of the ships? Then, when her lies are revealed, when the refugee fleet arrives and she sneaks away to send them a message, nobody puts her in a brig. Neverlin doesn’t seem shy about killing kids, so he should have killed her right then, and taken the risk of General Davi being angry. Or when she’s revealed to have faked that and seems to be a nobody, he could have killed her then.

Instead, every time she says “wait” he waits, and engages in more conversation. Sure, he’s less and less likely to believe anything she says, and indicates this, but he still negotiates with her, to the point that Taneem comes to help and disables the communications jamming. This allows the escaped Jack and Draycos to get another message out, telling the refugees about the Death and Valuaghua.

The origin of the K’da as being genetically engineered symbionts on Earth centuries ago gains an extra twist in this book. It turns out that a K’da-human pair is untouchable by the Death, which sweeps across the Essenay several times. Jack docks the ship and gains Neverlin’s surrender, now that his carefully planned massacre has been thwarted. (As an aside, I don’t think Neverlin would use the word “looting” as one of his objectives. Although an evil man, he seems too sophisticated to be using that kind of language.) I can’t believe, though, that Neverlin’s ship didn’t have any defensive weapons that could have disabled the Essenay or Harper's lifeboat, which broadsides the ship. Neverlin keeps saying “ignore it” when he should have been paying more attention. It’s obvious from a reader point of view, but I think it should have been a nagging loose end for somebody who planned this down to the last maneuver. Neverlin was way too willing to make changes on the fly.

And Alison? It turns out she’s Braxton’s grand-daughter, not Davi's daughter. Braxton himself turned up at the rendezvous point, with the Phookas as a goodwill gesture, and uses them to thwart the Death weapons as well. Uncle Virge reveals how he ended up with Jack, which was nice closure to his story.

The series itself was the usual interesting Zahn story, with very well developed characters, surprises along the way, and a key to get out of trouble at the last minute. Everything goes wrong, which is a great way to keep the reader engaged. It took a long time to get information about the people trying to ambush Draycos’ fleet, but we learned some things along the way. I’m glad that Alison turned out to be a returning character, because she really spiced up the earlier story when she appeared, and then she seemed to disappear. That she started to take an interest in him helped save Draycos’ people, showing Jack that he could learn to trust some people, not having to do everything alone.

Braxton himself hires Jack to be an ambassador to the K’da/Shontine, who will be living on a planet owned by Braxton. It seems like a dream for the Jack/Draycos pair, at least until they decide they need to go on another adventure.


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