REVIEW: Dragon and Thief by Timothy Zahn

REVIEW: Dragon and Thief by Timothy ZahnDragon and Thief (Dragonback #1) by Timothy Zahn
Published: Starscape (2003), select, 256pg
Source: Bought
Genres: Action, Adventure, Fiction, Sci-fi

Orphaned, 14-year-old Jack Morgan, raised to be an assistant to his now-dead con-man uncle, Virgel, is on the run after being framed for a crime he didn’t commit. He is hiding out in his uncle’s spaceship–whose computer program, Virge, is a virtual Virgel–on a remote, uninhabited planet when another spaceship crashes after a fierce battle. The only survivor is the K’da warrior Draycos, a dragonlike being who cannot live apart from a symbiotic relationship with a humanoid host. Teaming up to clear Jack, the boy and Draycos embark on a fast-paced chase across space and into danger. (From Amazon)

What do you think when you look at the cover and title of Dragon and Thief? I know what I thought: I thought “okay, dragon, thief, illustrated cover– this must be some sort of fantasy, possibly urban, most likely set in the present day. I hope it’s not full of tropes. That’d be really annoying.” Finding out it was really a sci-fi action/adventure novel with aliens and space ships and other planets was really fantastic!

I haven’t read a lot of YA sci-fi books (if we’re not counting dystopia books as sci-fi), but the ones I have read have tended to be hit-or-miss. Either the balance between the characters and the setting is off, or the world is boring, or the plot is ridiculous. The ones that’ve hit, though, have hit hard– and Dragon and Thief is a hit! Everything, except for one thing, is perfect.

I like action/adventure books. They make me feel like something more exciting is going on than what normally happens in my life, which at this moment is coffee-internet-books-internet job-coffee. Soon it’ll be travel-ESL-foreign language-coffee-internet-books, but right now it’s a pretty tame life. Fast-paced adventures about a kid thief and an alien poet-warrior fighting against a corporate conspiracy and other Big Stuff brightens up my day!

As a bonus, Dragon and Thief isn’t just action-packed excitement. There’s also a heavy dose of That Emotional Stuff, with hint of future character development of at least the two main characters. Character development! The thing I love best! In sci-fi? Hell yeah.

I love the characters, who ring true to life (as true as a space alien poet-warrior who looks like a dragon can ring true, anyway). Jack is exactly the sort of character that I like: he doesn’t annoy me with pretending to be full-on adult and he isn’t so bizarrely naive that the fact that he’s still alive is a shock. He’s a thief, yes, which means he’s clever and precocious and a bit more adult than the usual 14 year old, but he’s also not an adult yet and it shows.

Draycos, meanwhile, is an adult, but he’s also an alien and way out of his element. He’s more stable and level-headed, and he sort of reminds me of the stereotypes of Japanese samurai, and yet for all that he, too, is vulnerable in certain ways. His development is more subtle and it doesn’t really show up until the next couple of books, but even in this one you can see how he’s adjusting to being partners with Jack and being in an alien world.

Also, on a completely different note, it’s nice to read a book where humanity’s journey into space doesn’t automatically mean dystopias and horror. Plus there’s aliens! I love aliens.

The only thing that was off about Dragon and Thief was the lack of female characters, which is a Big Issue with me. A single female character showed up at the end, but I think she got maybe one sentence of dialogue.

While we’re at it, can anyone tell me why there’s such a lack of female characters in action books starring male protagonists? Would it have been so difficult to make the villain in this book a female? Or the dragon– couldn’t the space alien dragon be a female? Or Uncle Virgel could have been Aunt Virgel! Why must every major character be male? Or every secondary character, for that matter? Where are the women?

I read this tip for writing stories once where the author said that for every character where you’d automatically think “female” or “male,” she’d switch it up. So a nurse character would be a dude, and a senator character would be a lady. I found her stories really fresh and exciting, and even though they starred male protagonists I never felt the lack of a female presence. Just because your protagonist is a dude doesn’t mean everyone else needs to be as well, see?

Anyway, I was disappointed about that whole thing but that’s really the only thing that I was disappointed about. And luckily in later books there’s more female characters that play larger parts in the plot! (Although they’re still way less in number than the dudes.) Dragon and Thief is a very good start to a series. It just needs more WOMEN.

Read: April 8, 2011

4 thoughts on “REVIEW: Dragon and Thief by Timothy Zahn”

  1. This book sounds pretty interesting! I have no idea why there’s a lack of female characters in certain types of books but you’re right that it would be so refreshing if there’s a female villain. Now that I’m thinking of female villains, have you read Y: The Last Man graphic series? It has a male protagonist but there are tons of female villains.

    1. I honestly can’t think of ONE female villain in a YA book with a male protagonist. Maybe one of the witches in the Last Apprentice series? Although that series has a whole other host of problems with female characters.

      I’ve read most of Y:The Last Man, I think! It’s basically the only major male-fronted series I can think of with a female villain. There MUST be more female villains out there that aren’t just in books with female protagonists. Maybe Google knows of a few.

  2. I was just thinking as I was reading your review, wow, doesn’t sound like there’s any girls in this book. Two minds with but a single thought! :p I was just reading an article about female protagonists in Pixar films, and how there, you know, are none. If only there was a box you had to tick off before publishing that said “Are you happy with the gender balance in your book?”

    1. I think I read that article! I love Pixar but they are killing me with the lack of female protagonists. Even Disney does a better job of having female protagonists in their movies, and they have way more issues of sexism and crappy stories and whatnot than Pixar does.

      I just. I don’t understand. How hard is it to include even not-really-important female characters somewhere in your story? The security guards, who show up for maybe half a scene, got more lines than the sole female character got in this book.

      Maybe writing schools should have a “make sure your book has women in it” class, so maybe SOME authors could finally get the hint that it’s not cool to only have dudes in your book.

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