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 the 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 halt 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 special--for unlike other dragons, Kashet was gentle by nature and did not need the tranquilizing tala plant to make her tracttable. 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 back to his homeland of Alta. And that secret, might prove to be the key to Alta's liberation....
Mercedes entered this world on June 24, 1950, in Chicago, had a normal childhood and graduated from Purdue University in 1972. During the late 70's she worked as an artist's model and then went into the computer programming field, ending up with American Airlines in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In addition to her fantasy writing, she has written lyrics for and recorded nearly fifty songs for Firebird Arts & Music, a small recording company specializing in science fiction folk music.
"I'm a storyteller; that's what I see as 'my job'. My stories come out of my characters; how those characters would react to the given situation. Maybe that's why I get letters from readers as young as thirteen and as old as sixty-odd. One of the reasons I write song lyrics is because I see songs as a kind of 'story pill' -- they reduce a story to the barest essentials or encapsulate a particular crucial moment in time. I frequently will write a lyric when I am attempting to get to the heart of a crucial scene; I find that when I have done so, the scene has become absolutely clear in my mind, and I can write exactly what I wanted to say. Another reason is because of the kind of novels I am writing: that is, fantasy, set in an other-world semi-medieval atmosphere. Music is very important to medieval peoples; bards are the chief newsbringers. When I write the 'folk music' of these peoples, I am enriching my whole world, whether I actually use the song in the text or not.
"I began writing out of boredom; I continue out of addiction. I can't 'not' write, and as a result I have no social life! I began writing fantasy because I love it, but I try to construct my fantasy worlds with all the care of a 'high-tech' science fiction writer. I apply the principle of TANSTAAFL ['There ain't no such thing as free lunch', credited to Robert Heinlein) to magic, for instance; in my worlds, magic is paid for, and the cost to the magician is frequently a high one. I try to keep my world as solid and real as possible; people deal with stubborn pumps, bugs in the porridge, and love-lives that refuse to become untangled, right along with invading armies and evil magicians. And I try to make all of my characters, even the 'evil magicians,' something more than flat stereotypes. Even evil magicians get up in the night and look for cookies, sometimes.
"I suppose that in everything I write I try to expound the creed I gave my character Diana Tregarde in Burning Water:
"There's no such thing as 'one, true way'; the only answers worth having are the ones you find for yourself; leave the world better than you found it. Love, freedom, and the chance to do some good -- they're the things worth living and dying for, and if you aren't willing to die for the things worth living for, you might as well turn in your membership in the human race."
Books like these make me nostalgic for childhood, when I would stay up way past my bedtime reading books with a flashlight, so utterly absorbed that it felt like I was physically unable to put the book down. Mercedes Lackey is an amazing fantasy author who is not afraid to write about serious subjects, strong women, and LGBT characters, and even though she's been around forever, not nearly enough people know about her or read her books. My job today is to try and fix that by telling you about the awesomeness that is JOUST.
Vetch is a serf tied to his land. He is an Altan, a country that is at war with the Tians. His Tian master is cruel and abuses him all day as he toils under the hot sun farming finicky root vegetables, and his only solace comes from cursing his master and wishing him ill. One day, one of the dragon riders called Jousters comes to the land to borrow some water and witnesses the extreme abuse Vetch suffers at the hands of his master. Shocked by such a brazen display of cruelty, the Jouster, named Ari, steals Vetch away to become a dragon boy. At this compound, his new job is to tend to the soldiers' dragons and try to anticipate both their and their riders' every need.
Ari, his savior, is different from other Jousters. He is the only rider to have hand-raised his dragon from the egg, and the difference in behavior shows. However, the work and time involved have kept others from doing this. Vetch, however, who is no stranger to hard work, can't get the idea out of his head. Even though he loves his new job working with the dragons, the cognitive dissonance of working for the selfsame army that oppresses his people does not escape him. And when one of the dragons at the compound goes into heat, suddenly the possibility of getting his own egg to hatch and raise seems more than just a pipe dream. The risk could be deadly. But the payoff could affect wars.
From the beginning, I found myself immersed in this world. Vetch is a great protagonist, selfish and impulsive at times, but also endearingly idealistic and naive. His outsider status makes him relatable to anyone who has ever felt like they didn't belong, and watching him get revenge through patience and hard work is incredibly satisfying. I also loved the descriptions of the dragons, and how each had their own personalities. Dragons are some of my favorite fantasy creatures, and I loved, loved, loved how Vetch's every day tasks with the dragons were so well thought out and detailed. It really added to this world, which was clearly inspired by ancient Egypt, and made it feel vivid and realistic.
If you're into classic high fantasy that is intelligent, deep, and not too dark, Mercedes Lackey is an excellent pick. She has her ups and downs with her books, but man, when she nails it, she freaking nails it. JOUST is a must-read if you love dragons and magic. I can't stress that enough.
I just finished this enchanting first book in a trilogy and I am very interested in knowing what happens in the story. I like the writing and I love the world and the dragons. I really, really wish she had edited more heavily, it could have been at least a 100 pages shorter. Love the Egyptian influence and the hot sandy ecosystem in which the dragons feel most comfortable. As always, I love how well the author portraits the horrors of war.
I also feel, and I can't believe I am saying this, because usually just the opposite is my complaint, that our very young hero acts waaaaaaayyyy above his years. I know harsh childhood can accelerate maturity very fast, but in this case, our 12-13 years old kid speaks at times as a counselor for adults who attend college, or as a student of psychology, who is wrestling with his own failings... And this is a kid, who has had no schooling, nor any adults guiding him since he was 5... Not very congruent...
However, the story is still very intriguing and leads the reader to the desire of more! 👍😃🐉
[4.5/5 stars] I’m thrilled to say that Joust held up to the test of time.
I’d first read it some 15 odd years ago, back when I’d done more than dip my toes into the fantasy, but didn’t yet consider myself a well-rounded reader of the genre. I was worried a reread would showcase a story I’d given a lot of concessions to because of how much I love dragons. While that’s probably still the case today, time and distance didn’t alter my enjoyment of the book in the slightest.
Having buddy read Joust both times, it’s clear I’m always the one in the group who rates it the highest. Others like the story well enough, but sometimes struggle with the pacing. As someone who loveslovesloves the idea of following along the minutia, day-to-day monotony of taking care of a dragon, every part of this story sang to my soul. I even loved the few parts where he’s organizing his master’s chambers, lol. It was an immersive experience and I loved it.
The book does a great job at showcasing the dragons. They are the focal point of the story and Lackey doesn’t take a lot of extra time, save at the beginning, to highlight the external plot of this world. It was there, for sure, but the focus was ever on the dragons themselves. At this point in the series, I really couldn’t have cared less about what was going on beyond the walls of the dragon stables, but do concede that the conflict felt rather thin. I do remember it getting a bit more important and more well-done as the series progressed, but I’d have to continue my reread to be sure.
Recommendations: if you’re as enamored with dragons as I am, you’ll have a lot of fun with this series. It remains one of my all-time favorites, perhaps even more so after my reread. Venture in expecting a slow, intimate plot centered on a boy and his dragon. :)
Thank you to my Patrons: Filipe, Dave, Frank, Sonja, Staci, Kat, and Katrin! <3
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 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.
I'm going to call this a 3.5. This is a fun, easy to read book about a boy and dragons. Yes, there are some books out there with similar ideas, but pretty much every fantasy book out there is borrowing ideas or influenced by other authors.
I found parts of the book to be a bit slow, but I liked Vetch and the dragons. I did think that Vetch said things that were way too grown-up sounding for a 10-12 year old kid though. For example, he said something to Ari like "If you don't talk about this you're just going to snap".
Overall I liked it, I would recommend it if you like books that have dragons in them.
Vetch is honest, kind and humble, everyone else is lazy, incompetent and ignorant. But Vetch makes these snap decisions at first sight. He decides the other dragon boys don't like him so never attempts to say hello to them, yet it's their fault that they are not friends.
Vetch assumes (again at first sight) that one of the overseers is concerned only with proving his status above others and will punish Vetch for any mistakes. The overseer never actually does, he leaves Vetch alone when he sees that he knows what he should be doing.
Joust continues on like this, in fact, the vast majority of the book spends it's time hammering home how wonderful Vetch is, and how rubbish everyone around him is. It's pages and pages at a time, and it overwhelms the story.
Somewhere in all this, there are dragons! The first 60% does it's best to ignore them, after that there is a bit more dragon time but just not enough to keep me happy.
It's been so long since I first read this that I only had the vaguest ideas of what would happen and how, so this was a really fun re-read with my book club on Discord. I love Lackey's approach to dragons and their relationships with humans here, and the strong nods to Egyptian culture throughout are well done and enjoyed. I'm not sure when I'll have time to keep reading the series, but I know I need to since I never read the fourth book during my initial reading.
When I picked this up, I expected to really enjoy it. After all, I like Mercedes Lackey's writing, and it had been a long time since I had read any good dragon-focused fiction. Sadly, it seems as if Lackey lifted this story from one of my favorite series of all time- The Pit Dragon Trilogy by Jane Yolen.
Although I will admit that the whole dragon and his boy theme is old as dirt, reading Joust was more like deja-vu than I ever could have imagined. Both stories take place in dry, arid locations and focus on a serf/slave boy who finds work with dragons and eventually befriends one and raises it and trains it to fight. This story is so similar to Dragon's Blood (which I read more than ten years ago), that I honestly had to keep reminding myself they were different books. I will say that after the first book both stories go off in different directions, but at the beginning they're almost like carbon-copies of each other. It's true that Lackey's book is more political, is meant for an adult audience and is set in a very Egyptian land, but for me, that really wasn't enough of a difference.
If I hadn't read Heart's Blood years ago, I may have rated this book higher than I did, because it's not a bad book, it's just unoriginal. But I really enjoy when authors put a twist on an old story and make it their own, and I really didn't see that happen in Joust. Fact of the matter is, I've heard this story before, and Yolen told it much better. With that in mind, I really can't rate it more than a two, because...well, it comparison, "it was (just) okay".
Although none of the books in the series were AWFUL enough to recieve 0 or 1 star, I would say that this is the best one of the series. Unfortunately, as is typical of Lackey, the further she gets into this series, the less interested I become. I've read the first four, but after reading the last one I don't think I have any intention of reading any more about the dragon jousters.
4.5 stars This book made me realise something in particular I really enjoy in books; learning about things. I get it, I'm a big nerd even in my spare time. I thoroughly loved learning about caring for the dragons, saddling, buffing, etc. Will I ever get to meet a Dragon to carry it out? No! Would I be able to do it though? Probably!
The writing did not translate 100% for audio format, but it was a great story and I loved getting back into a world with dragon riding. Which reminds me that I need to re-read Pern & finish that series.
I was something of a Mercedes Lackey fan when her earliest books came out -- not a fanatical fan by any means, but I read and sought out the subsequent Valdemar books as they came out. Somewhere along the way I moved on to other things, and the reviews on her later offerings didn't motivate me to return.
I picked up Joust recently, in part because I was looking for a book of a certain length to read at a 10-12 pages a night from mid-August through September. This turned out to be an ideal book for my purposes -- it was a pleasant enough read to keep me on track, but not riveting enough to tempt me to read more than my 10 pages.
There's actually a really good coming-of-age fantasy book somewhere in here just waiting for an aggressive editor to break it out. Lackey has done a great job creating a fantasy world set in a world much like ancient Egypt (if a little too westernized for a truly different fantasy novel).
Vetch is a serf boy rescued from oppressive servitude by one of the Great King's Jousters (dragon-riders who patrol the kingdom's borders). The novel follows Vetch as he settles into his new position as dragon-boy, learns the ropes, excels, and fixes on the idea of hatching a dragon of his own.
Not much really happens beyond that in this 384 page novel. We're treated to long passages on Vetch's duties as a dragon boy, the care and training of dragons, the duties of the Jousters, Vetch's day to day resentments, attachments, worries, and lessons learned. That all this carries the story through 384 pages is a testament to how well Lackey has developed this world and the people and dragons who inhabit it.
Unfortunately, with only three characters who have major speaking roles, the story itself wears thin. The plot's bogginess isn't helped by the author's tendency to repeat herself numerous times, or when she allows Vetch to veer off into multi-page worries that turn out to have no bearing on how the story actually turns out. A paring down of the book by about 1/5 might have helped get things moving along without sacrificing anything important.
Still, an engaging story, and the jousting dragons are interesting creatures with a believable biology. I may pick up the sequel.
Vetch, a serf working for a terrible and abusive master, knows nothing but servitude until Jouster Ari comes along. Taking Vetch under his wing, he gives him no more work than he can handle, teaches him the ways of dragons, and trusts him with the care of his dragon, Kashet. Soon after, Vetch has dreams of raising a dragon of his own.
I must address an issue here before I start my review. Many people see this series as comparable to The Pit Dragon Chronicles by Jane Yolen, and in many ways it is… But how many vampire and werewolf books do you see these days with familiar stories and plots? This book was far original enough for me to feel like I was reading something separate and different. It evolved into it’s own type of beast. To be honest, the hope that this series would be similar to The Pit Dragon Chronicles is what originally attracted me to it. I was very delighted to give it a try! Joust did not disappoint!
Normally I would remove a star for this book not having some sort of love story, but it doesn’t need it!! Vetch’s developing passion for dragons took that place for me. I don’t know how Lackey did it, but I was hooked... This book became like a drug for me. I couldn’t stop reading! And yes, because of the attachment to the characters, I did cry.. but only once.
The one problem I have is with the cover. The dragon looks great, but the man on the front is nothing like how I pictured a jouster. Ok, maybe it’s just the helmet... I don’t think I’d want to look like I was wearing a freakin’ vase on my head. Real intimidating. Just my personal opinion.
I’ve read Mercedes Lackey’s books in the past and liked them, but where was this series all my life!? The characters, setting, and plot were all perfectly conceived to build this sure-to-be epic series. I love how Joust ended and cannot wait to delve back into this amazing world.
I haven’t read that many Mercedes Lackey books, even though she’s one of the most popular and prolific fantasy writers today. I picked up Joust for $1 during a Borders closing sale. The plot follows Vetch, a young serf plucked from his cruel master’s yard to become a dragon boy to the jouster Ari and dragon Kashet. The world is Ancient Egypt with a little magic and a few flying serpents.
The beginning is slow. Very slow. It takes 23 pages for Vetch to fetch a bucket of water. Of course, if someone had to describe fetching water for 23 pages, Mercedes Lackey is a good choice, but even so I was getting antsy.
Chapter 9 is the turning point. Until then, the book creeps along, still interesting in its way, like floating a canoe down a lazy river. Then in Chapter 9 (literally almost exactly halfway through: page 210 for a 442-page book), the story picks up, and you’re paddling frantically through rapids. They’re not Class VI by any means, but the contrast between the first half of the book and the second was so disjointed that it made the first half seem worse by comparison. Vetch spends so much time trying to be good and responsible, laying low, and figuring things out, and then in the second half all his well-laid plans yield bountiful crops one right after the other.
I liked exploring the Egyptian fantasy land, a fascinating change from typical European Medieval world, and I enjoyed the unique day-to-day of jouster society. Still, the stakes were never high enough, I liked but didn’t love the characters, and the pace was too uneven. An interesting read but not a favorite.
This was my first read of Lackey's and I enjoined it well enough. The few characters (3-4) that were developed were three dimensional and real enough. The plot was good, if not fast paced, and the world building/dragon knowledge well thought through.
What took this down from a five star?
I could probably summarize this 373 page book in less than five plot points. It was definitely slow moving, and I can't help but feel it would have been better if it was a little hacked down and its sequel was tacked onto the end. That being said, Lackey's writing never left me bored, just a bit disappointed in its slower pace.
What really levelled Joust down from a love to a like for me was the repetition. I kid you not, every thought, memory, or feeling of Vetch's is rethought of at least twice in the novel, which is fairly annoying if you're reading it in a shorter time period. In this way though, if you're reading more than one book, Joust is the perfect one to have on the back burner without fear of forgetting important tidbits.
Overall, this probably won't be a series I'm going to reread, but Lackey's writing makes it worth continuing.
This book was my first experience with the work of Mercedes Lackey. Joust is moderately enjoyable, in spite of the fact that very little actually happens in it. Presumably this is because the author is using the story to set up a larger series, but I would have preferred half as many words and twice as much conflict.
That said, it is probably to the author's credit that she was able to drag me through 400+ pages of internal monologues. (The first 23 pages chronicle nothing except the main character fetching a pail of water. But I kept reading.)
I did enjoy her handling of forgiveness and the danger of misidentifying one's enemies. I also thought her treatment of dragon taming was fun, though not particularly unique. For that matter, most of the plot twists were predictable, though handled skillfully. Her worldbuilding is engrossing (though at one point she uses accusations of witchcraft to imply that certain people are narrow-minded and superstitious; later we learn that actual witches are causing all the big storms.)
No regrets about time spent on this one, but I doubt I will continue with the series.
For the first time ever, national best-selling legend Mercedes Lackey draws from her extensive knowlege of animals and her professional background as an avian expert-to create something truly special…
The most exciting, authentic and believable portrayal of dragons ever imagined.
It is a richly conceived, fully realized vision, inspired by the culture of ancient Egypt, the legends of Atlantis--and the science of animal behavior and biology. This is how dragons would live, breed, hatch, hunt, and bond.
The first book in this thrilling new series introduces readers to a young slave who dreams of becoming a Jouster--one of the few warriors who can actually ride a flying dragon. And so, in secret, he begins to raise his own dragon. I originally read a short story based on this book by Mercedes Lackey in an anthology of dragon stories. I thought the way the story ended was the way the book would end but I was glad it did not. I was even more thrilled to know this is a series and I have gathered the rest of the books to read.
My heart was breaking for Vetch several times and I was so happy when Ari saved him and took him to the compound to become a dragon-boy - which led to more heartbreak. *g*
I like Vetch and Ari - the two main characters. I like that Ari understands how Vetch feels but still remains "the emeny". I love the Vetch POV but I still would have loved to have Ari's thoguhts on Vetch now and then.
I like the idea of lazy (cat like) dragons and that they aren't tamed and therefore dangerous when you aren't careful. And I like the idea that they can be tamed when you treat them right and take good care of them as Ari and Vetch proof.
I also like that everything is a bit like an AU of Egypt. The way people dress, the landscape, the gods and everything.
I'm looking foward to the next books of the series. :)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I'm really not a huge fan of either dragons or Egyptology, so don't let that put you off reading this if you're not either. I really really enjoyed Joust... I liked the descriptions of Vetch's day to day life and his care of the dragons, and I liked learning about the dragons as Vetch did. I totally get why some reviewers complained that nothing happened in this book, but I didn't find this slow at all. I really liked the writing, the characters, and even the pace. It all felt well done and right for this story. I wonder where the series is going to go -I especially wonder if/when the war/politics will come into play. Will try to get my hands on book 2!
I think the polite thing to say would be this series hasn't aged well, though I need some serious convincing that it was ever good. Generally poor and often repetitive writing with crappy yet seemingly acceptable gender politics. Were women ever mentioned without us being told how limited they are? I don't remember an instance.
Oh shit! I thought this was at least 40 years older than it is. I didn't think someone who has Internet access and owns a refrigerator could seriously write this.
Review copy and pasted from the last book in the series so may not be an accurate portrayal of the first book, but of the series.
A good kids book I loved when I was younger. The series gets more sophisticated as it goes on, so I'd suggest for kids who are starting to get into YA or even are on the upper end, because the writing itself is superb. The worldbuild is intensely Egyptian, but enthralling and very well developed. The main protagonist isn't stupid, for once, which is amazing. The others in the series are much better (the third is the BEST, I've read it four or five times) but this one is the foundation and still worth a read.
New series by Ms. Lackey is awesome! I'm rating this a 3.5 but since I only round down, it's showing up as a three. I loved the attention to detail on showing how to take care of a dragon. The opposing forces are ominous. I know which side I'd pick. This book reminded me of Ms. McCaffrey's dragon singer series. When Menolly raised the fire dragons, this book is similar in several ways. Enjoyed it and can't wait for the next one.
Boringgggg. This book was so boring. 90% of it was about Vetch feeding dragons and doing his chores. That's it. No wonder I fell asleep within minutes every time I picked up this book. I struggled to finish it at the end as it had a most unlikely ending and although it ended in favour of dear Vetch, I did not find myself rooting for him and thus did not enjoy it.
Look, I'm a sucker for kids stealing dragons and raising them to be their lifelong devoted friends. That is a trope I will always, always adore. Joust does not disappoint, and has that signature rags-to-"riches" (where riches is a loving family and support structure) thematic content that Lackey is known best for.
I remember reading the original short story so was delighted to have the full book. A serf who is given an opportunity to improve his life and in doing so discovers a love of dragons. A love so strong that he decides to hatch his own, not really thinking about what he will do after that...
Before I start this review, I would like to issue a warm apology to my friend and colleague Elisabeth, who loves this book.
Quick plot recap first:
The Tians and Altans have been at war for a long time. The Altans aren't doing very well. Vetch is an Altan serf, bound to the unbelievably cruel Tian Khefti-the-Fat. Vetch is overworked, physically abused, and starved. One day, as he is hauling water during the hottest part of the day, he has a chance meeting with Ari, a dragon jouster. Ari, seeing the state of the emaciated boy, promptly takes him away with him and decides to have him trained as his personal dragon boy.
We need to start by talking about this cover art:
I normally don't comment much on the cover art, but whoever did this should be put in art prison.
I mean, it makes the book look like cheap, soft-core porn.
Which it really isn't.
"Joust has many flaws, but gratuitous cheesy sex scenes happily aren't amongst them.
Let's really get into this, then.
Lackey has a decently good grip on the English language, and clearly has a relatively wide vocabulary, but she has a tendency of writing sequences in an unnecessarily verbose way, often using terms that sound archaic and difficult. I see this in a lot in fantasy writers, particularly Americans who want to sound more ... fantasy-ish (read: usually British)? As if making their writing extra convoluted somehow makes their book fit into the genre more. And the thing is, if a writer manages to pull off writing in a more classical manner, this can actually heighten the reading experience, particularly when the setting is clearly in a time meant to be more ancient than our own. However, in Lackey's case, this only makes the writing confusing, and frequently hard to read.
Lackey also allows a large part of the plot to be driven by loooong internal monologues by Vetch instead of letting us witness things firsthand. This is made even more frustrating by the fact that these internal ramblings are frequently incredibly repetitive. More on this in the "plot" section.
Lastly, there are SO. MANY. LANGUAGE ERRORS. Seriously, who edited this?
And, I mean, we're not just talking more complicated grammatical mistakes like concord errors, dangling modifiers, etc., mistakes that typically annoy language and grammar nerds like me. We're talking stupid mistakes like misspelling characters' names and leaving entire words out of sentences, mistakes that are easy to make when you're writing something very quickly, but that any self-respecting editor should have caught, and removed.
I do think Lackey has done an acceptable job with her characters, though there are only a few with whom you spend much time. Ari is interesting and sympathetic, and probably my favourite (human). I would have liked more time with him instead of listening to the abovementioned and seemingly unending internal monologues from Vetch.
Vetch is your typical underdog character, and this isn't a character trope I mind in general. However, Vetch is just a little bit too good at everything he does. I think he is successful at every single turn, and he would have been more realistic, not to mention more relatable, if he failed every once in a while. Additionally, his backstory is so tragic, and rehashed so frequently, that it ends up feeling rather forced and, quite frankly, irritating.
My favourite character is definitely the dragon, Kashet. He's just plain adorable. The way he plods after Ari and Vetch like a big cat honestly makes me like this book at least 10% more. He really isn't granted enough time to shine either, though.
Plot is definitely this book's biggest problem.
First of all, there are a lot of plot holes and inconsistencies.
Don't worry, I'm not actually going to list all of them, because that would take forever.
Lackey clearly hasn't spent enough time developing the logic behind her universe, so though the setting and concept behind the story are both compelling, there are serious problems that are bound to irritate critical readers like myself.
For instance, the concept of Dragon jousting is really cool, but the justification for it is rather laughable.
Similarly, there are major problems with Lackey's understanding of serfdom. The serf was a staple of early medieval Europe, when feudalism became an important way of structuring society. The serf was usually attached to an estate or manor, however, the serf typically had more freedom, more rights, and higher status than did an ordinary slave. The simplest explanation of how this worked is this: a serf was free in body, but his labouring capabilities were indentured, bound to the estate. He could not, therefore, simply move or attempt to find work elsewhere, however, he was, in most other aspects, relatively free. Most serfs also had a right to their own plot of land on the master's estate.
In other words, Lackey has written a story with a system based on European medieval feudalism, but she has either misunderstood said system, or deliberately decided to turn it on its head. And the explanation she gives for the serf's low status is patchy at best. Additionally, the existence of serfs in her society is, in and of itself, illogical. If the Tians can simply go in and take Altan farms away by force, why would they adhere to some sort of rule about the original owners' families needing to stay connected to the land? There is no decent explanation for why such a rule would exist to begin with (as mentioned, this is not how historical serfdom worked) - or why it wouldn't simply be scrapped to allow for easier Tian conquering.
Another major problem is the justification for not rearing dragons from the egg. When they see how well this works for Ari, how much more control he has over Kashet compared to the other jousters' control over their mounts, how much more efficient he is in every way, it would be unbelievably ridiculous not to have more jousters try this method. The argument basically boils down to the time issue, that the jousters rearing their dragons would, for a time, be grounded and bound to their young dragonets, and thus unable to patrol - however, the clear evidence of how much time a dragon like Kashet saves them by his very loyalty to his rider, should be ample evidence that rearing from the egg is the only way to go.
There are many more of these types of plot problems, but I won't bore you by going through all of them.
An equally problematic aspect of Lackey's writing is her "quick fixes".
As I mentioned earlier, Vetch is automatically just good at everything he sets out to do. Despite having no experience with dragons, he just knows how they work, with very little training or effort. This is (poorly) explained using his experience with farm animals.
Dragons are likened to one animal after another, as it suits the story and different characters' experience with animals, which is an easy way of avoiding the need for excessive training (for instance, when the falcon trainer comes in, he is instantly successful using tricks he uses with his birds, and the dragons, who have previously been likened to cats, dogs, goats, you name it, are now suddenly just like falcons).
Whenever Vetch sets out to do something, he always succeeds. Seriously. He doesn't fail once. And some of his endeavours are dangerous, and should involve more trouble for him, but Lackey constantly employs these above-mentioned "quick fixes" to make sure there is nothing in his way.
Need to steal yourself a dragon egg?
No problem! Everyone immediately trusts you with a new dragon and conveniently leaves you and said dragon completely alone.
Need to get a stolen dragon egg from one pen to another?
No problem! In this busy, busy dragon compound, there is literally nobody other than you who is out at night.
Need to find a place to hide your dragon egg?
No problem! There is an easily available pen, and no one ever checks it, because apparently there is no oversight in this place at all.
Need to rear a noisy and rambunctious dragonet?
No problem! A bunch of other dragonets are suddenly brought in to the compound, and apparently no one bothers to keep count of these large, dangerous beasts, so obviously yours goes completely unnoticed.
I think I've made my point.
My third, major problem with "Joust" is the book's length.
It is way. too. long.
First of all, the first 250 pages read like one looong introduction. Seriously, the advertised main plot, the one where Vetch actually moves to get his hands on his own dragon egg, doesn't happen until then.
Secondly, the same details are constantly rehashed. I'm sure Lackey could have easily edited out at least 100 pages without losing a single plot point. Once more, this is something an editor should have been able to help with, so I can only assume that he or she was sleeping on the job.
Ok, let's end on a semi-positive note.
The dragons are cool. And I really did like the basis for the plot. It just needed a lot more work.
I also loved the setting, particularly the dragon compound, on which it is obvious that Lackey has spent a lot of time. I could really see it in my head, and though the descriptions might occasionally have been a bit too technical, I still enjoyed travelling into this dragon world.
The sad thing is that I am actually really curious to see how things go for Vetch, however, I don't think I can suffer my way through more of Lackey's writing. It took me nearly a month to finish this, and, as the first book is said to be one of the best of the series, I don't have particularly high hopes that the sequels will be any better.
So, sorry, Mercedes Lackey. Your writing is not for me, I think.