Up until now, dragon riding has been almost completely left to Anne McCaffrey. But Mercedes Lackey has drawn on her extensive experience with hawks to create a new kind of dragon, and a new kind of rider. Joust, which kicks off a new series, uses Egyptian influences to build a society where the warriors ride dragons to battle.
Tia, a land of armies and royalty, stands on the brink of conquering their neighbors, the Altans. Although both sides fight using the mighty dragons that populate their deserts, Tia has more dragons and better-trained riders. Thus, many Altans find themselves existing as serfs, tied to the land they once owned, and treated worse than slaves.
Vetch is one such serf, beaten and starved by the man who claimed his family’s lands, until the day a Jouster — a dragon rider — claims his service. From that point on, Vetch’s life becomes no less busy, but he’s treated well and even learns to like Ari, the Jouster who saved him. Ari and his dragon Kashet are among the Tians’ most skilled, and Vetch learns much from them.
He intends to put the knowledge to good use: Vetch still harbors dreams of freedom, and when an opportunity arises, he snatches it. There is a small chance, almost an impossible chance, that Vetch could flee Tia on the back of his own dragon.
One of Lackey’s greatest skills lies in her ability to create a world. You can feel the hot desert winds and see the diamond-bright stars. Her dragons are lovingly portrayed, with their behavior and need well-defined.
This is also a bit of a drawback. Joust is the first novel in a series, and it definitely shows. Much of the book is spent establishing the world and its quirks. Very little happens plot-wise, although Lackey’s characterizations remain as strong as ever. Even the dragons have personalities. Readers likely will coast through the book on these strengths.
Detailed and thorough, Joust sets up what looks to be an intriguing new fantasy world. Wherever Lackey takes it next will undoubtedly entertain readers.