Copyright Date: 2004
The jacket blurb:
Vetch had done the unimaginable. He had secretly raised his own baby dragon, a crimson female he named Avatre, and when she first took flight he had been on her back. Although Avatre was new to flight, with the help of his trainer and friend, the dragon Jouster Ari, he had managed to evade pursuit, escaping from the compound that housed the dragon-riding troops of Tia, his homeland's enemies. Aided by the nomadic tribes of the desert, Vetch and Avatre had crossed the vast sands heading north towards the lands still held by Alta.Alta is second story in the Dragon Jousters series, and the sequel to the book Joust. Vetch, now Kiron has made it as far as his plans took him. He's back home now, but not all is as it seems. There are more problems than just the Tians invading the borders of Alta, and the worst of those problems are internal.
It was Vetch's plan to convey to his half-conquered homeland the secret which he hoped would be the key to Alta's liberation: how to tame dragons. If he imparted this secret to the Altan rulers, would it not give them the edge they needed to throw off their conquerors despite their lesser numbers? And it seemed that his good luck was holding when, after saving a young priestess of noble blood from the dangers of the Great Mother River, he was given entree into the dragon Jouster compound of Alta City.
But Vetch, now calling himself by his birth name of Kiron, was completely ignorant of the true forces that controlled Alta. For though the royal Great Ones sat on the Altan throne, they did not truly rule. In Alta, the Magi, the all-powerful practitioners of sorcery, held the populace - royalty and commoner alike - under the sway of a mysterious weapon. The Magi claimed that the Eye Of Light would forever protect their land from Tia, incinerating enemy troops as far away as the seventh canal. But were the Magi really interested in protecting their land from outside invaders? or would Kiron find that Alta was burdened with a far greater threat than an enemy kingdom - a threat from within its own borders?
For all the problems though, between his luck, and the new techniques pioneered in Tia that he's brought to the Altan Jousters, Kiron can make a place for himself in Alta.
As in Joust the Egyptian influences worked into the cultures of Tia and Alta are strong, but they do make for a very different story. The whole atmosphere is different when it's a tropical/desert-based world rather than a northern/European one.
The story was gripping too. I couldn't put the book down, even though I was re-reading it. On the other hand, the last time I read this book was when it came out, back in 2004, about five years ago, so it was almost like reading a new book. For some reason, I don't think I especially cared for the series back then, as I'm now absolutely certain I hadn't read the final book Aerie at all, although I'm loving this world now.
These books: Joust, Alta, Sanctuary and Aerie are perfectly safe for teens as well as adults, reminding me of the Owl trilogy (Darian) and the Heralds of Valdemar set (Talia), which are also by Mercedes Lackey, in terms of writing style. Also, the ages of the characters are similar to those of many teen books, although it's not explicitly stated anywhere.
Although part of a series, I found that Alta came to a satisfying conclusion of its own. None of this "middle book" stuff where either nothing happens, or the conclusion is left for the final book. Alta almost stands on its own, although there is plenty left for the following books to explore.