Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Joust by Mercedes Lackey

Vetch is an Altan serf, starved and beaten on a regular basis by his Tian master Khefti-the-fat.  Tied to the land that once belonged to his father, Vetch hangs on by sheer force of will and a boiling hatred for the man who controls his life and doles out beatings and punishments like most parents dish out sweets and praise.  He is constantly tired, constantly hungry, and constantly wary of anything that could be perceived as an excuse for Khefti to give him a beating or deprive him of his meager rations.  When a dragon jouster appears out of nowhere and both causes a beating and prevents it, Vetch has no idea just how much his life can change.  In the Tian jousters compound Vetch is still a serf but he is given enough food to eat and the opportunity to stay clean and healthy.  The work is physically punishing and you have to keep your wits about you, but for a child pushed well beyond his physical capacity for years the jousters compound is almost a vacation.  

The other dragon boys may avoid Vetch because he is an Altan serf and they are freeborn Tians, but their lack of friendship is nothing new - and at least they leave him alone, something Khefti's apprentices never did.  One of the biggest surprises though is his relationship with Ari, the jouster who swept him up into his new life.  On every level of his being Vetch wants to keep his distance from Ari, but as time passes he comes to realise that not every Tian is like the men who killed his father and took his land.  Throiugh Ari Vetch learns about dragons, especailly dragons like Kashet who Ari raised from an egg.  Soon Vetch secretly dreams about a dragon of his own - and when the chance comes he seizes it with both hands.  But can Vetch keep his growing friendship with Ari intact as he secretly plans his escape back to Alta and his own people?

I first read Joust when it was released in 2003, and I have fond memories of reading the series which blends together elements of Egyptian-like mythology with magic and dragons.  I have loved dragons since I first read Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey and tend to read anything I can find that features these amazing mythological creatures.  The dragons of Joust are an interesting take on the myths of Earth and science fiction, which tend to have dragons in several different "genre" from telepathic entities that bond with their human partner, to wise creatures that hold knowledge and horde treasure, to mindless beasts that destroy anything they can.  The dragons of Joust are an intriguing mixture of reptile, birds of prey, and other greater predators - they don't breathe fire, and if I had to choose one influence most strongly for them it would be birds of prey.  This fresh take on dragons is staisfying enough, but then you add the human story to the mix and it makes the story even better.

Joust is a coming of age story, but on a deeper level is also about learning about the complexities of human nature and the true natufe of war.  Through his relationship with Ari Vetch discovers that the world is not black and white like he has come to believe - Ari is Tian and he is the enemy, but Ari is also a man who sees the hypocrisy of the system he lives in, he may fight for Tia because of his oaths but he does not follow orders blindly.  The relationship between Vetch and Ari feels very genuine and opens a world view for both of them that in turn opens the world view of the reader.  Joust establishes the foundations for Vetch and his world of Tian and Altan jousters and their dragons, a world of intrigue and promise where friendship can develop in a situation of hate, and where a serf can overcome his destiny in a world that would keep him under its heel.  More than your average fantasy with dragons, there is a lot to like about Joust.

The only thing that bugged me about Joust really was the number of errors in the copy I purchased not so long ago - words repeated where they shouldn't have been, weird breaks in words, and I am pretty sure some of the spelling was not American-English or English-English either.  If you have a paperback copy like mine try and ignore it, those errors were not in the original hardcopy as far as I could recall - but I have to say they were annoying and at times jarring.  Hopefully if they reprint again DAW can correct the copy errors.

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Reviewed by Brilla

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