The Dragon Jousters series
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The Dragon Jousters is a series of fantasy novels written by Mercedes Lackey. The books primarily follow the story of Vetch (or Kiron, from the second book onward), and center initially around a war between the neighboring countries of Alta and Tia, both of which use Dragon Jousters as their most powerful weapons. The books are based on the predynastic period of Ancient Egypt and (very loosely) the myth of Atlantis. This series began with a short story entitled "Joust" which was published in The Dragon Quintet (ISBN 076531035X). This short story was later expanded into the series with the first novel holding the same name and overall plot as the short story. In order, the novels are Joust (2003), Alta (2004), Sanctuary (May 2005), and Aerie (Oct 2006)
The basic setting for the series is Ancient Egypt when it was divided into two kingdoms. The Upper Kingdom is called Tia, and the Lower Kingdom called Alta. The series starts with the two kingdoms at war.
In addition to foot soldiers, each Kingdom's army also include a group known as the Dragon Jousters (hence the series' name), men who ride dragons into battle, who hold a large amount of power over deciding how a battle goes. The main threat the Jousters pose to foot soldiers and commanders is that the dragons can pick anyone up and drop them from high in the air to kill them. So, each set or riders is equipped with jousting equipment to try to knock opposing riders out of their saddles, sending them to their death and removing the threat of their dragon.
There are two types of dragons in the world, desert dragons and swamp dragons, the latter only used by Altan forces. Dragons used in jousting are usually caught from the wild, and thus very hard to control. Only when they eat meat covered with powder made from tala berries are they easy to control. Dragons raised from hatching, though, imprint on the human who raised them, and so are incredibly easy to control; they also appear to be bigger, stronger, and smarter, as tala seems to stunt dragons' growth in all areas.
Religion in Tia and Alta highly mirrors Egyptian mythology and worship. Specific gods are associated with all aspects of life, and there if a firm belief in spirits and the afterlife among the people. Tia and Alta officially have different sets of gods, though they are highly similar, and in fact only differ in name and maybe a few minor details.
Magic also plays a large role throughout the series, from controlling weather to growing crops to being a powerful weapon. Each person who is able to use magic usually has a certain "gift", or specific type of magic they can use. Particularly powerful magicians are known as Magi, and though most of the Magi encountered are evil, this is not always the case.
Joust follows the story of a young boy named Vetch. He is an Altan, and a serf: someone lower than a slave who is tied to the land they work on under their master. His Tian master, Khefti the Fat, is quite cruel, and Vetch is the last member of his family on the land, taking all of Khefti's beatings. Vetch's luck changes when Ari, one of the Tian Dragon Jousters, appears one day and takes him to be dragon-boy for Kashet, the dragon Ari raised since hatching (and thus unique in the jousters' ranks).
Life in the dragon jousters' compound proves to be much more pleasant that slaving away in the fields, but Vetch's relationship with all the dragon jousters is tolerating at best, (though he likes the dragons,) as he sees them as a symbol of the Tian power that killed his father and put the rest of his family into serfdom. The one exception to this Ari, whom Vetch respects and even grows to liking.
Among the myriad of other challenges that happen at the compound, Vetch gets his hands on a dragon egg of his own, which he raises to hatching in secret, calling the female Avatre. The novel culminates with he and Avatre escaping the compound by air, only to be caught by Ari and Kashet. Ari, though, has also grown to liking Vetch, and convinces the other Tian dragon jousters that Vetch died in the chase, then helps Vetch get to a nomadic people, known as the Bedu, who will help him complete his escape to Alta. It is revealed that, in the Atlan tradition, "Vetch" actually has two names, one for use during his childhood and one for adulthood, his "real" name. As the novel closes, he takes on his real name, Kiron, and flies on Avatre toward Alta.
Alta begins as Kiron and Avatre transition from the nomad lands into Alta. Not far inside the Altan border, the two of them save a girl from one of the dangerous "water horses" (presumably a hippo). The girl is Aket-ten, daughter of Altan noble Lord Ya-tiren; she has magic abilities, including the ability to speak telepathically to animals.
Lord Ya-tiren and the rest of Aket-ten's family take Kiron in temporarily to help him adjust to life in the City of Alta, central hub of Alta, a large city built on seven earthen rings separated by canals. Kiron and Avatre are accepted into the ranks of the Altan dragon jousters, and Kiron gets to start his own wing of jousters who are to raise their dragons from hatching, a new concept for the jousters. His wing of eight other boys includes Aket-ten's brother and one of the heirs to the Altan throne.
Kiron's group of friends (his wing, Aket-ten, and others) eventually surmise (correctly) that the powerful Altan Magi are exercising more and more control over the country, to the detriment of its citizens. Aket-ten is one of the first people targeted, due to her magic abilities, and later the heir in Kiron's wing is murdered when he tries to speak up leading to Aket-ten joining the wing. As the first step in an unsure plan to remove the Magi from power, the group decides they must leave Alta and remove the jousters from both armies.
After assuring that all the tala in both Tia and Alta will fail to control all dragons not raised from hatching, they fly into their first battle as Altan Jousters. With no tala, all the other dragons on both sides refuse to obey their riders, leaving an air battle between Ari and Kiron's wing. Ari is dislodged from Kashet, and only survives thanks to a trick Kiron had all the dragons in his wing learn based on what he had seen Kashet do while he was still a dragon-boy in Tia. Back on the ground and away from where the armies are fighting, Kiron's wing, along with his friends and members of the Bedu, convince Ari to join them in a new city apart from both Tia and Alta, the desert legend they now call Sanctuary.
Sanctuary follows the inhabitants of Sanctuary as they try to make their city as functional as possible, having to deal with battling the harsh elements of the desert, growing the ranks of the New Dragon Jousters, and sustaining the city as refugees from both Alta and Tia constantly trickle in.
Much of the first half of the novel follows Kiron as he tries to find his place the societal structure of Sanctuary, and his relationship with Aket-ten (and her family).
Eventually, the Jousters of Sanctuary run one rescue mission in to Alta when new refugees tell of worsening situations there, coordinated with the help of members of Aket-ten's extended family who are still there. The failure of a second rescue mission sends the plot toward the climax, where the Jousters of Sanctuary, the Tian army, and the Altan Magi all meet over the city of Alta.
Aerie follows the inhabitants of the combined Altan and Tian nation. The jousters have discovered a hidden city (based on the lost city of Petra) and find it uniquely suited to the needs of dragons and their riders.
After moving to the newly found city, which they name Aerie, the Jousters of the new country must find a purpose. At first that purpose is the securing of trade routes through the desert. That changes when out on patrol Kiron found a dead body coming in out of the desert.
As the priests of Alta and Tia search for information concerning this mysterious body they uncover the truth about an old enemy, the Heyskin, creators of the Magi.
With this information and tools given by the gods the people of Alta and Tia fight and defeat the Heyskin and their blood-born god of the Heyskin.
After the battle the land is united under a new name: Altia.
Kiron/Vetch + Avatre
Kiron is the protagonist and main character of books 1-3 and a primary character in book 4. He starts the series as a serf (read: abused slave) whose name due to his culture is named Vetch. He is rescued from that Master by Ari. Vetch/Kiron later escapes slavery (with some help from Ari)and makes his way back to Alta, where he becomes the leader of the first wing of tame dragons.
Avatre is Kiron's dragon and the second tame dragon in known history. She is primarily the color of rubies, though she shades through into topaz in places; her name means "fire-of-the-dawn". She was born in the Tian Jousters' Compound, where Vetch/Kiron raised her until she was old enough to carry him, at which point they escaped.
Ari + Kashet
Ari starts the series as a Tian Jouster. He was trained as a scribe as a boy, and it was in this capacity that he first entered the Compound of the Tian Jousters. He is very honorable, and at the end of the first book he helps Vetch to escape from the Tian Jousters (and from Tia), after seeing how Vetch would rather die than return. He is revealed to be the son of the Tian Great King's brother near the beginning of Sanctuary. Kashet, Ari's dragon, is the first tame dragon in history.
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Orest, had truly found his passion. He had flung himself into the work with his dragon to the point where Kiron sometimes had to order him to rest. When he wasn't tending his dragon —which was so immaculately groomed that his scales gleamed like gems—he was reading about them, asking advice of the other dragon boys, and even (when he dared) querying the Jousters about combat. His father, from being resigned, was now as proud of his youngest son as he was of his eldest.
(murdered) Toreth was a little more divided. Then again, he had to be; as the likeliest heirs to the thrones, he and his brother perforce spent a lot of time in learning governance. And, though this was not what Kiron would have expected, mastering the tasks of dragon care came as easily to the prince as breathing. Perhaps it was his calmness, which seemed to have as much of a tranquilizing effect on his charge as the tala did. After the first day, Toreth had come to the pens with the royal hairstyle gone; he had opted for a cut like Aket-ten's, just at chin length. He said nothing about it, and nothing was ever said to him, but Kiron knew that he was serious after that day.
Ka-lenteth, the falconer, had the most fractious of the beasts, and as a result, took longer than the others to accustom it to his hand. It even tried his immense store of patience a time or two, and he was the only one to be injured. Not badly, but his dragon had learned the use of his tail to intimidate, and Kiron finally had to get the young falconer fitted with actual boots before the moon was over. Kalen (as he liked to be called) was the smallest of the boys, thin and wiry, and seldom spoke. When he did, it was in a low, soft voice. Kiron only heard him shout the once, when he got the first lash of a tail across his shins.
Pe-atep, the cat keeper, was Kalen's match in patience, but was his exact opposite physically. He was taller and broader than the prince, with an equally broad, flat face and a booming voice when he raised it in conversation. He had no trouble with his fractious charge, actually staring it down during their first confrontation—something he said also worked on lions. He and Kalen were often found experimenting with minute changes in the dragons' diets to see if there was any corresponding change in their behavior. Not varying the tala ration, of course, but changing the kinds of meat and the mix of meat to organs, adding things like hide and hair.
Huras was a friend of Pe-atep, though not an animal keeper. The son of a baker, he was the lowest-born of the lot. And was second to no one in his intelligence. He tore through the scrolls on dragons, Jousting, and dragon keeping twice as fast as anyone else, and anything he read stayed in his memory forever. Otherwise, he was average-looking in appearance; he probably would have run to fat if he hadn't been working so hard.
Ganek-at-kel-te-ronet (Gan) would have been the highest-ranking member of their group, if the prince had not been one of them. Gan was tall, lanky, and had a languid air about him that gave the impression that he didn't care a great deal for anything except, perhaps, food and gossip. Nothing could have been further from the truth. He was the oldest, no longer a boy, but a young man—and his airs concealed a passion as fervent as Orest's. Kiron had the feeling that, like Orest, he had been looking for something for his entire life without knowing what it was. And now he had found it.
Oset-re, the peacock of the group, and a friend of Orest's. He was, to put it bluntly, the most beautiful human being that Kiron had ever seen, of either sex. No matter what the time of day or the task he was engaged in, he was always impeccably, flawlessly groomed and clothed. Whenever he ventured outside the compound, women flirted with him covertly or openly, and like Ari, there were even women who pursued him shamelessly. And he wore his peacock persona like the mask it was. Beneath the seeming vanity was a hard purpose, honed to razor sharpness. He had seen what Kiron had with Avatre on an early visit, and he was determined to have something like that bond for himself. But not at "all" costs; he would have it with honor or not at all. Even if it meant ruining his finest kilts to achieve it. He had already made one great sacrifice; the day after Toreth cut his hair, so did Oset-re.
Menet-ka was shy, never spoke above a whisper or unless he was first spoken to, who hung at the back of any group, and who seldom made eye contact. He was so successful at self-effacement that most people who knew him would have had a hard time describing him, and if there were three other people in a room, would forget he was there. He had never yet demonstrated why he was here, for it must have taken an extraordinary act of will for him to put himself forward.
Aket-ten tooke over Toreth's dragon after his murder. She is Orest's little sister and faked losing her gifts from the Magi.
Other dragon boys
Very little of the other dragon boys from the second book onward. In the first book it shows the life and chores that dragon boys are charged with within the jouster compound. Some examples of the chores are making sure that the lances Jousters use are in good shape for the Jousters to fight with. Cleaning the living space that the Jousters live in. Feeding the dragon they are charged with.
Also known as the Blue People, they are desert nomads who help guide the people of Alta and Tia back and forth from the cities of Mefis, Sanctuary, and Aerie. Very little is known other than live in the desert and it takes all of their resources just to survive. The only person who is allowed to talk to outsiders is called the Mouth of the Bedu.
Aket-ten has 7 brothers, including Orest, and is the first female jouster in history. She also has a father (Lord Ya-tiren) and a mother. They do not show up often in Alta but show up more frequently in Sanctuary.
- Lackey's Official Website (New information has not been added to this site for almost three years)
- The Queen's Own Newsletters archive, provided by The Official Mercedes Lackey Fan Club in Laguna Beach, CA (with archives online dating back to 1988)
- Mercedes Lackey at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database