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.
4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars