Dragon and Soldier
by Timothy Zahn
Review by Ann Cecil

Dragon and Soldier is the second book in a YA series, called the Dragonback Adventure. The first book was Dragon and Thief, which introduced 14 year-old Jack Morgan. Jack's folks are dead, and he was raised by Uncle Virgil, a conman/thief who died about a year ago, but left the boy with a spaceship run by a computer that has Uncle Virgil's personality uploaded. In book one, Jack was salvaging a ruined alien spaceship when a semi-parasitic life form, the K'da poet warrior Draycos picked Jack as a new host. In the first book, Jack and Draycos managed an uneasy alliance that wound up fixing several of Jack's financial and legal problems.

In this book, Jack sets out to return the favor and help Draycos find out who has conspired to destroy his people. Given that a mercenary spaceship ruined Draycos' spaceship, Jack decides to join up with the nearest mercenary operation, figuring that he can get a look at their records and see not only what kind of ships they use, but also what they have on the competition. Mercenaries turn out to be less than honorable groups. The plan to get into the records develops more complications, not the least of which is a mysterious adolescent girl, who clearly has an interest in Jack. Just what kind of interest is not at all clear -- but that adds to the fun.

This book is extremely well written; I found it engrossing and altogether charming. Zahn has a good time taking shots at the society that allows children to be recruited for armies, let alone promote thievery at many levels. This book, like the first, has much the flavor of Heinlein's juveniles: a hero who is bright, capable, but woefully inexperienced (i.e., a believable 14), but who is involved in a fast-moving, complex plot, with a nice balance of action and thought. Draycos gets some point of view without being overdone or trite.

Highly recommended.

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