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Science Fiction Index


A novel by Timothy Zahn
(2003, Open Road Media)

Dragonback, book 2

Searching for the ships that attacked a scout for two-dimensional beings, Jack infiltrates a mercenary organization, learning about compassion and betrayal as he trains to become a soldier in their army.


+ -- First reading (ebook)
June 3rd to 9th, 2021


This series feels like it will play like a string of clues until Jack and Draycos find the ones who want the symbiotic aliens dead, presumably in the last book. In the overall sense, they learn nothing, and I hope that changes in future stories. The story we experience here is a lot of fun as Jack infiltrates a mercenary organization and learns to be a soldier. The relationships he develops here look like they may be more permanent than a single story, and I wonder about other motivations. I liked the way Draycos advised Jack, and the author really knows how to set up a complicated plan and execute it well and understandably. I suspected Jack’s ultimate solution as soon as we saw the mine, earlier in the story, but was happy about his deception, as the two mercenary groups were just looking for power and money. It’s a typical war situation, with the local populations caught in the middle. Draycos was not happy, and a lot of that rubbed off on Jack, who is evolving into a more social character.

Spoiler review:

Enjoyable, and I always enjoy Zahn’s characterizations and situations. In the previous book, Jack and Draycos learned that there was an organization out to destroy the dragonback’s people. Here, they get a small lead in the kinds of vehicles being used, and they trace it to a group of mercenaries. Jack infiltrates them with Draycos’ help, and gains some other teen friends, some of whom he got along with; others were obvious competition. Alison had her own agenda, as she also infiltrated the group.

But it looks like the mercenaries saw right through Jack, though not to the point where they learned about Draycos. The training allowed Jack to learn more about tactics, which he put to good use later, when they were sent to a planet in dispute between two mercenary groups. During training, Alison and Jack help each other, as Uncle Virge, the AI of Jack’s uncle is missing for most of the book. Jack and Draycos go out at night to a building that holds the records of the mercenaries, but don’t find anything –and it turns out that Alison beat them to it.

On the planet, Jack is put on outskirts guard duty, and then the entire base is pulled away, so that an elite group can capture Jack –and presumably Draycos. I liked the parade through the streets where the locals didn’t like either the oppressors or the rescuers. But they have a mine that everybody wants, and they don’t have the ability to protect it –or themselves. I also loved Draycos’ ability to spin a trap and turn it on the trappers. He springs from tree to tree, picking off the mercenaries one by one. Jack is almost useless in this situation, but he has the brains for espionage after they escape and go to find the headquarters where the mercenaries are sending a computer program to take over the planet and the mine.

Zahn always writes a great battle scene, and the final battle in this book is no different. Guns fire from buildings and soldiers and airships, armored carriers fly around shooting at each other, and Jack, Alison and Draycos are in the middle of it, of course. In the end, Jack destroys the entrance to the mine, so the two groups lose interest as the money is not-so-easy anymore. The locals, of course, make their lives digging, and will be able to dig it out again. Hopefully no more mercenaries get their eyes on it.

The story was interesting and fun, especially Draycos’ trap in the forest. I do hope, though, that they learn something in the next instalment, such that they can start piecing together why somebody has taken an interest in Draycos’ people. The best part of the book, though, was turning Jack’s selfish behavior into one that wants to help the locals. I think the greater good is rubbing off on him, which I really like.


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