This book should be familiar to you since I know you have at least one book in the series on your shelf. It’s been many years since I read Joust, so I was eager to open the pages again and rediscover it.
Series: Dragon Jousters; Book 1
Author: Mercedes Lackey
ROTS Setting: UU, Bronze Age, Dragons, No Higher Magic
Synopsis: Vetch leads a pitiful, miserable life. That is because Vetch is a serf. Bound to work the land of his forefathers for the rest of his life he is less than a slave. However the chance encounter with a Jouster and his dragon will alter the paths of nations.
Recommendation: I read this when I was in my late teens but I met a 10 year old at the library pulling it off the shelf to read again. That might be a bit young however I would recommend it for teens and up.
The setting is taken directly out of ancient Egypt. I never realized just how much it was actually based on it until later in the series. Now reading it through a second time I can see the correlations much better now. It’s almost too similar in some ways. Change some names, make magic real, add dragons and that’s pretty much it. Ok, there might be more to it than that. I am not well versed enough in Egyptian culture and history to spot all the differences. History and mythology were clearly the primary sources of information for this series and not just Egyptian either.
The nations of Alta and Tia are currently under a truce but tensions are running high. Thanks to the southern Tia’s superior dragons and Jousters they managed to claim a large chunk of the northern Alta. Both are actively seeking ways to gain the upper hand and the breaking of the truce is inevitable. The Great River connects the two nations. Tia is distinctly more arid while Alta is located in the river delta and along the coastline. This difference in geography and climate have helped shaped the differences between the two nations.
Vetch is an Altan serf. A veritable slave; bound to the land his family had worked for generations. The early chapters are very effective world builders and create a disturbingly cruel society. Vetch changes greatly throughout the book, but his core elements remain unchanged. You see his determination and subtle pride keeping him alive. His intelligence and ingenuity seek out the path for him to reach his goal and not just the path of least resistance.
His greatest weakness is his inability to make friends among his peers. It almost feels artificial that he only ever has a two conversations with others of his age or status. He works, lives, and eats with the same people for over a year and only ever talks with a handful of people. I can understand not being overly social but it seems a bit extreme even for someone like me who verges on hermit level social interaction. A couple of additional conversations or interactions with people would have been more natural while still maintaining the characters integrity.
Ari is, what I would consider, the only secondary character of the book. No one else gets as much word count and you get to know him as a character and as a person. It’s easy to care about him and invest in his story. That just isn’t there for any other lesser character. He’s complicated, engaging and I really wish he was a more featured character in the series as a whole. (Spoiler: He does make an appearance later on. I just wish it was bigger because it just felt like fan service.)
I really love the elements of falconry and other forms of animal training and husbandry. It gives the book some firm anchors to reality that help balance the magical aspects of the storyline and world. This book actually got me to take a close look at modern falconry because who didn’t wish they had a falcon or hawk growing. up. Who knows in an other few years time I might take a more serious look too.
Despite the presence of magic in the world, dragons aren’t magical. No breathing fire. No obscenely heavy monstrosity that can fly. I can’t say that they are entirely realistic but they are far less fanciful than most other kinds of dragons out there. Again this reinforces the historical nature of the book. Instead of looking at them as mythological beasts or monsters we are treated to a view of highly intelligent animals with real needs and evolutionary history.
All in all, a pretty solid dragon book with a couple of refreshing elements. It’s definitely one of my favorites and I really enjoyed the opportunity to read it again.