The story is of Joaz Banthen, the wise and modest ruler of Banthen Valley. Overseeing his land with aplomb, Joaz breeds dragons efficiently while ensuring the villagers have enough food, as well as a means of escape when danger comes. The latter is needed as Ervis Carcolo, the ruler of nearby (ironically named) Happy Valley, spites everything Joaz does, and ultimately seeks to take over Banthen Valley and its dragons for his own. Humans inhabiting the world for only a handful of generations, a species of alien patrol the neighboring galaxy and pop in to take slaves as needed. Fighting off the malice of Carcolo’s on one side and the harvesting of humanity on the other, Joaz has his work cut out for him.
Action and entertainment taking center stage, thematically there is little to say about The Dragon Masters. What can be said is that the hubris of working independently toward a goal common to all appears and reappears; Ervis is not the only one who refuses to join forces with Joaz to fight the aliens. An underground group called the sacerdotes inhabit the land, secluding themselves, hoarding their secrets, and are unwilling to unite against their common foe. Discussion futile, the smoke of battle drowns all.
In the end, The Dragon Masters is full barrel Vance aimed at fun and entertainment. The usual bits and pieces of moral and cultural insight exist, but are most often smothered by the carnage of Juggers, Termagants, Long-horned Murderers, Striding Monsters, and other genetically modified beasts duking it out in the valleys. Like a boy in the sandbox with his collection of action figures, dragons, space ships, and ray guns, Vance fills the story with all manner of youthful imagination. Short and sweet, the novella is recommended as light reading for Vance fans for this precise reason.