Written by Timothy Zahn
The K’da and Shontine races face annihilation. They are fleeing their native home to escape war with the Valaghua, but their enemies have reached the place of refuge ahead of them. With their allies in the Orion Arm, the Valaghua wait for the refugees to destroy them.
Jack and Draycos, meanwhile, are racing to save them. Their efforts now focus on tracking down who is colluding with the Valaghua. Jack joins a mercenary group in order to steal information from them. He intends, of course, to bail out before the firing starts, and of course he fails.
Dragon and Soldier has more action than Dragon and Thief. The plot is clever in this book, too, but in a slightly different way: The twists are smaller but more numerous. Zahn neglects to pick up some of the threads he left hanging in the last book; before this one is over he adds a few more. But as this is a series, and as Timothy Zahn is a good writer, I expect to see it all come together eventually.
One of the things that struck me in this book was the use of Uncle Virge. As readers of the first book know, Uncle Virge is the ship’s computer designed to mimic the voice and personality of Jack’s recently dead Uncle Virgil. He is featured much more prominently in the second book. The setup reminds me of Chef Gusteau in Ratatouille. It’s necessary to the plot of the Dragonback series that Uncle Virgil be dead, just as it’s necessary to the plot of Ratatouille that Gusteau be dead. Gusteau survives into the film as a figment of Remmy’s imagination, and Uncle Virgil survives as a computerized personality. In both cases the characters are kept in the story without really being in it. Uncle Virge tugs Jack to his old life while Draycos tugs him to a new one, and he provides a real, if limited, third partner. But Jack is the captain of his ship, literally and metaphorically.
Dragon and Soldier doesn’t advance the overarching story very much. Zahn pulls at the mystery of the Valaghua and their secret allies, but he unravels none of it. All the same he tells an entertaining story. If it comes off as something of a standalone, it’s a very good one.