Dragon and Judge: The Fifth Dragonback Adventure
Publisher: Starscape; 1st edition (May 29, 2007)
Dragon and Judge is the fifth book in Timothy Zahn’s Dragonback series. The basic conceit of the series is fairly straightforward; young Jack Morgan is an orphan being raised by his Uncle Virge, a rogue and conman in the tradition of Han Solo, but without the redeeming features. Jack’s life gets turned around drastically when he ends up rescuing the last survivor of a ruined K’da expedition. The K’da are a race of warrior poets who need to exist in a symbiotic relationship with a host in order to survive. Draycos, the aforementioned survivor of the crash, bonds to Jack, and the two of them find themselves on the run, and trying to figure out what happened to Draycos’s people, and why. Later books in the series introduced other recurring characters, most notably Alison Kanya, a female counterpart to Jack who, at the end of the last book, acquired her own symbiote named Taneem, after Draycos’s departed love.
Dragon and Judge takes the series for an interesting turn of events, when Jack decides, against the advice of Uncle Virge, to go investigate something on the planet where his parents died. Naturally, the circumstances of his parents’ death are a bit more mysterious than Jack was initially lead to believe, and he quickly finds himself drawn into that mystery. Allison, for her part, is separated from Jack through unforeseen circumstances, bringing her back into contact with some old villains, and allowing her to dig up some clues about the big plot that has hovered in the background of the series for so long.
Like the other Dragonback books, this one is filled with a lot of intrigue and suspense; despite the title, there’s surprisingly little “judging” done by Jack, at least, not in a literal sense. Frankly, I was fine with that—Zahn shows enough of the judging Jack has to do to make it clear what his role is, and then backburners those scenes in favor of moving the action and story forward. The main characters all get to do some interesting personal evolution along the way. It’s not perfect—there’s a character introduced in the middle that takes an odd turn in the cliffhanger—but overall, I think it’s a solid, fun, space-opera kind of romp. I’m having fun reading it, and it’s the sort of thing I’d be happy to read with a kid, if I had one to read it too.