Book Review: Dragon and Liberator by Timothy Zahn

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The Dragonback series concludes with this sixth book featuring the symbiotic pair of Jack Morgan (a 14-year-old orphan raised to be a thief) and Draycos (a K’da poet-warrior who can survive for up to six hours as a flesh-and-blood dragon, before having to “recharge” as a living tattoo on Jack’s skin). These strange, er, skinfellows continue to make fresh discoveries about each other and the unique way they work together. But they will have to make a quick study of it, for the arrival of the K’da refugee fleet is at hand – as is the deadly ambush being arranged by certain human and Brummga villains, together with Draycos’s Valahgua enemies.

The Valahgua have a weapon whose name, the Death, says it all. You’ll get to see it in action in this book, proving that the purple cone of energy snuffs out human life as efficiently as any other. Rogue mercenary Col. Frost, working with evil tycoon Arthur Neverlin, has assembled a fleet of human and Brummga fighters to engage the K’da fleet until the Death weapons are within range. A captured ship from the annihilated vanguard squadron will serve as bait. The entire operation is shrouded in secrecy and fanatically tight security. And Jack can’t think of anyone he can trust enough to help him with this. But what can one human boy and his scaly symbiont do against all this?

The answer is: not enough. But they aren’t entirely alone. Another human-K’da pair lies hidden aboard Neverlin’s ship. But one doesn’t really know who Alison Kayna is, or what drives her agenda. And her symby Taneem has only just awakened from a state of brute insensibility. They can scarcely move a muscle without being caught. Then there are a couple men who might be on Draycos and Jack’s side, but who knows? As the net around them tightens more and more, the two friends haunt the crawlspaces and uncharted regions of the captured K’da ship, looking for increasingly risky opportunities to sabotage the Death modules. And they finally realize that, before they can disarm the last one, it will be aimed at them.

I’m not giving away another word about what happens in this story. It’s simply a terrific conclusion to a roaring good series. It hasn’t quite made a sci-fi convert of me. But it offers every incentive for fantasy fans to cross over. It’s got spaceships, yes; but it also has dragons. It’s got ray guns, talking computers, communication devices, and several cleverly imagined alien races; but it also has battle tactics, character development, textural details, and a growing throb of suspense.

You’ve been waiting for five whole books to see the Valahgua in the flesh: it’s worth the wait. You’ve plowed through five action-packed, intriguing adventures for this payoff. Haven’t you? Well, you should have. If you take my advice, you will have. And then, take my word for it: this book does not disappoint. Except – well, for the fact that it’s over.

Order it if you must. That’s how I got hold of this book, since Borders carries it only on their dot-com. It won’t kill you to wait a few days. Better that than to miss out altogether!