Dragon and Thief

by Timothy Zahn 

This very sci-fi story is about two unlikely companions. Jack is a boy- about twelve I think- who was raised by a conman, decided to quit that lifestyle and at the opening of the book is hiding out on a mostly uninhabited planet because someone framed him for a very serious theft. Draycos is an alien being, a highly intelligent dragonlike creature trained as a warrior, with a strong sense of honor and ethics. Draycos and his crewmates are fleeing an enemy intent on commiting genocide against his race, when they\’re ambushed and his ship crashes on the same planet: Draycos is the only survivor.  Some dangerous mercenaries come to inspect the crash site, to do away with any possible survivors or witnesses. The boy had approached the crash site out of curiosity but finds himself fleeing alongside Draycos for his life. They strike up a very unusual partnership. Draycos agrees to help Jack solve the mystery of the theft he was blamed for, after which they intend to do something about the aliens that killed Draycos\’ people- because they are now approaching humankind as well, presumably with similar intent. This quickly becomes a story with a lot of action and intrigue, which ends up centering on a high-stakes heist Jack is forced to perform by his enemies, only in the end to discover the enemy isn\’t quite who he thought it was. There are encounters with other aliens, chase scenes with narrow escapes, sophisticated break-ins, and other adventures. Not my usual kind of reading yet I was riveted to the page. 
The dynamic between Jack and Draycos is a good one- Jack is not really pleased at having to use his thievery skills just when he was trying to start living a reformed life, but at the same time he is often irritated by Draycos\’ insistence on honorable actions which he perceives as being pointless or getting in the way of their goal. Draycos is literally bound to the boy in order to live (more on that in a moment) but finds Jack\’s everyone-for-himself attitude troublesome and at one point serious thinks of abandoning him, even though it might mean his own undoing. His often superior attitude reminded me a lot of Ax from the Animorphs books. And there is an even stronger connection:
SPOILERS in this paragraph. I didn\’t know this aspect going into the book, it took me by as much surprise as it did the main character, and I was instantly intrigued and delighted by the unique idea. The dragonlike alien shifts between dimensions. He can be three-dimensional for a six-hour limit, then must rest or he will die. And he rests by flattening himself into two-dimensional form that lays over the skin of an appropriate host- in this case the boy Jack. He\’s like a living tattoo that can slide around into any position on the body, and pop out into real space at any point. I\’ve read plenty of books featuring dragons that have some sort of bond with a human partner- mental telepathy or sharing emotions, etc. This idea! It was so fascinating to imagine, and of course gives Jack an edge when facing his enemies who don\’t know Draycos even exists, much less is travelling along with him at every moment, communicating, planning, and able to snap out into attack mode when the moment is right. The dragon can also bend himself somehow to move through walls, and says that when he is in two-dimensional form \”most of my body is now projected along a fourth dimension, outside the bounds of this universe.\” Does that sound like Z-space to anyone? Ha. But in this case it\’s handled so well- the alien\’s attempts to explain a complicated phenomenon of his life-form to an unbelieving boy is totally believable to this reader. 
And my fascination with this concept- that Draycos with all his speed, agility, intelligence, claws that can pierce metal and ability to go through walls- yet had a serious vulnerability in depending on this young boy for his continual existence (also he couldn\’t read written language, a crucial flaw in a few points of the story that he struggled to overcome)- kept me reading with a lot of interest, even though the main premise is outside my usual interest. It\’s a well-written story too, which also kept me very engaged. There\’s even some funny moments. Like when they are running from enemies, crash an alien celebration ceremony and avoid being outright killed for the intrusion by pretending to be hired performers. Draycos stepped up to the role very adroitly!

Well, I picked this one up on a whim at a library sale once. Glad now that I did! I recognized the author\’s name, probably because he has written a lot of Star Wars books (even though I\’ve never read any of those). I liked this so much I looked for the rest of the series before I was even halfway done with this one. Someone else has #2 and 3 on hold ahead of me at the library, so I\’ll have to wait a bit, but I already have #4-6 in hand now. My only complaint- and this is a silly one- is that the cover image doesn\’t really match the description of Draycos. He has shiny gold scales with red edges, that color change to black when angered or excited. So I guess that\’s why the cover image dragon has dark skin, but it looks more leathery than scaly, hm.

Rating: 4/5                             248 pages, 2003
More opinions: Thistle-Chaser

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