As a dragon enthusiast I jumped for joy when I found this book on the bookshelf at my local bookstore. After I read it I couldn’t help but think thatAs a dragon enthusiast I jumped for joy when I found this book on the bookshelf at my local bookstore. After I read it I couldn’t help but think that this was what a dragon book should be. Mercedes Lackey has always been one of my favorite fantasy writers and in this book she proves why she deserves all of the praise that she gets. Fans of Anne McGaffry’s Dragonriders of Pern series will not be disappointed in this book. Despite the fact that Joust revolves around dragonriders, referred to as Jousters, Lackey’s book is a new and refreshing read that stands alone and alongside the Dragonriders of Pern series.
The story follows the adventures of Vetch an Altan surf, just another of the spoils of the Altan - Tian conflict. Vetch was merely a farmer’s son until the day the Tian army declared possesion of their farm after having gained more ground in the war. Before his eyes he saw his father murdered, his sister beaten, their possessions stolen, and then he and his family were placed into a life worse than slavery. Torn from his family Vetch is forced to serve a cruel master. Khefti the Fat, his master, continuously beats, starves, and overworks Vetch while his apprentices take great pleasure in tormenting him. This continues on for several years until the day Jouster Ari arrives at Khefti’s to stop for a drink of water and a small respite from patrols. There Ari witnesses first hand the harsh labor that Vetch undergoes and the treatment he receives. Seizing upon the law that states all Jousters may requisition anything they need within reason, Ari states he is need of a boy to tend his dragon and carries Vetch off to the compound.
Vetch’s lot improves greatly here where food is in abundance and he is treated with a measure of respect. In fact Vetch at times has trouble remembering the hate and anger that kept him going while working for Khefti. I found this to be exceptionally well done and played out. Throughout Joust Vetch is undergoing a major development. He began the story as an angry, spiteful, and vengeful child who was no longer really a child. Vetch’s existence was a miserable one and the only thing that kept him going was his stubborn will to live on despite the hardships, but the thing that fueled him the most was his anger and hatred for the Tians.
While Vetch is at the compound he begins to realize that the atrocities inflicted upon his people by Tian soldiers do not reflect the attitudes of all Tians alike. Indeed at one point he is even shocked to realize that he does not pray for Ari’s defeat, as he initially had, but that Ari would always return safe because Ari had become his friend.
As time passes on Vetch becomes as dragon obsessed as his Jouster but with the bravery and hope that only the young [and foolhardy] can have Vetch endeavors to purloin a dragon egg of his own to hatch and raise. The Great Tian King has ordered that the number of Jousters in the skies be doubled so that the Altans can be at long last crushed and Vetch seeks to learn how to the methods of raising a tame dragon to the Altans to shift the tides of the war.
Lackey’s story is beautifully told, the amount of detail an attention paid to the dragons is astounding. The reader’s mind will be filled with visions of dragons and soaring above the clouds long after they have finished the book. To top it off the setting for Lackey’s world is a sort of alternate ancient Egypt which gives the setting an extra touch of exoticness that somehow makes the world seem familiar and different all at the same time. Young and old readers, be they fantasy buffs, or just bookworms will adore this first book in an exciting series.