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Dragon and Herdsman: A Dragonback Novel    by Timothy Zahn order for
Dragon and Herdsman
by Timothy Zahn
Order:  USA  Can
Starscape, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Dragon and Herdsman is the fourth in the Dragonback series - following Dragon and Thief, Dragon and Soldier, and Dragon and Slave. Fourteen-year-old Jack Morgan has a symbiotic relationship with Draycos, a K'da poet-warrior who can meld into Jack's person in 2D form, or materialize as needed to protect his host. Jack has evolved through the series from a skilled con artist who always put self interest first (following his uncle Virge's training) to take on many of the altruistic attributes of Draycos' people. He is now working to help these folk who are at risk of annihilation from an odd alliance of other aliens (Valahgua), Malison Ring mercenaries, the powerful Brummgan Chookoock family, and the renegade Arthur Neverlin.

Now Jack and Draycos have landed their ship Essenay (whose computer is imprinted with Uncle Virge's personality) on Bigelow, where they plan to infiltrate a Malison Ring office in search of information. After being captured, they escape with the help of an old friend, Alison Kayna, and leave together on the Essenay, taking Alison to Rho Scorvi. There, the Erassvas natives are placid nomads who co-exist with Phookas, a disturbingly primitive form of Draycos' own kind. When Malison Ring soldiers track them to Rho Scorvi, seeking to capture Jack, he, Alison and Draycos end up herding the barely sentient Phookas cross-country to avoid their being slaughtered by the mercenaries. The latter stay close on their trail, leading to frequent explosions of violence, only survived through Jack's clever use of Draycos' talents. Along the way they discover that the Phookas can learn from their hosts and evolve surprisingly fast into true K'da.

Of course, they escape the trap that Rho Scorvi has become and head off-planet for their next adventure. But this episode ends on a cliff-hanger as questions arise at the very end about Alison's role and objectives. It's an exciting series for those who enjoy interplanetary adventure, best read in sequence starting with Dragon and Thief.

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