Copyright Date: 2003
The jacket blurb:
Vetch was an Altan serf working the land which had once been his family's farm. Young and slight, Vetch would have died of overwork, exposure, and starvation if not for anger which was his only real sustenance - anger that he had lost his home and family in a war of conquest waged by the dragon-riding Jousters of Tia. Tia had usurped nearly half of Alta's lands and enslaved or killed many of Vetch's countrymen. Sometimes it seemed that his entire cruel fate revolved around dragons and the Jousters who rode them.
But his fate changed forever the day he first saw a dragon.
From its narrow, golden, large-eyed head, to its pointed emerald ears, to the magnificent blue wings, the dragon was a thing of multicolored, jeweled beauty, slim and supple, and quite as large as the shed it perched on. Vetch almost failed to notice the Jouster who stood beside him. "I need a boy," the rider had said, and suddenly Vetch found himself lifted above the earth and transported by dragon-back to a different world.
Vetch was to be trained as a dragon-boy, and he hardly believed his luck. The compound seemed like paradise: he could eat until he was full, and all he had to do was care for his Jouster's dragon, Kashet.
It didn't take long for Vetch to realize that Kashet was very special - for unlike other dragons, Kashet was gentle by nature, and did not need the tranquilizing tala plant to make her tractable. Vetch became determined to learn the secret of how Kashet had been tamed. For if Kashet could be tamed, perhaps Vetch could tame a dragon of his own. And if he could, then he might be able to escape and bring the secret of dragon-taming with him back to his homeland of Alta. And that secret might prove to be the key to Alta's liberation....
Joust is the first book in the Dragon Jousters series written by Mercedes Lackey, and it takes us back to the slightly young adult nature of some of her earlier books. I'd feel quite comfortable recommending this series to someone venturing out of the teen books into the adult ones, if they liked fantasy novels.
Anyway, Lackey has done something a bit different with this series: She's used ancient Egypt as her model for the lands, religion and civilization of Alta, but especially of Tia. It makes the books both familiar and alien at the same time, I found, as I recognized the source, but I'm not overly familiar with it.
Her dragons are fairly unique as well in the Dragon Jouster series: they're modeled off of cats and falcons in terms of temperament, and unlike most dragon-based novels I've read, they're not intelligent and able to speak, nor do they magically bond with their riders.
Vetch is fairly typical for a Mercedes Lackey character: young, had a hard life, but also has a strong code of honor. He's rather similar to Mags (Foundation, book one of the Collegium Chronicles) or Talia of the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy.
It's rather neat that in the Dragon Jousters books, most of the characters do not have any special gifts. It's only knowledge, determination and skill that enables them to become Dragon Jousters, rather than in the Elemental Masters books or the Valdemar series where the magic (be it true magic or Mind Magic) is a key part of the characters.
At any rate, Joust is a book that kept me up late to finish, and I started the second book Alta right away. Although it was a re-read, that didn't affect the story at all in a negative way (that's something I love about all of Mercedes Lackey's books, they're just as good on re-reading as they were on the first read). Now I've got to find Sanctuary and Aerie to finish the series. Somehow I don't remember if I read them when the series first came out, although I know I read the first two books.