CBR11Bingo: And So it Begins
Life kind of got in the way of reading, so I doubt I’ll complete a bingo or even my CBR goal, but I figure I’ll keep trucking along. Please be aware that because this is a review of a series, there will be spoilers.
Joust is the first book in Mercedes Lackey’s Dragon Jousters fantasy series. We are introduced to main character Vetch, a serf with an abusive master. Vetch was born in Alta, which has long been at war with Tia, and he currently lives in Tia because the Tian army had been invading Alta and taking over land; this included the farm that Vetch’s family had. In this world, serfs are treated even worse than slaves, who at least have the option of becoming free. Early in the novel, Vetch meets Ari, a dragon Jouster. Both Alta and Tia train dragons to be used in the war, but Tia has far more dragons and is winning the war because of this. Each Jouster has a dragon boy who tends to him and his dragon (the Jousters are all male), and Ari essentially rescues Vetch and has him become his dragon boy. Ari and his dragon are very different from the other Jousters and dragons. All of the other dragons are captured as fledglings and require a drug called tala to sedate them enough to be controlled. Ari, however, found an egg and basically bonded with the dragon when it was born, so his dragon Kashet is tame.
As Vetch cares for Kashet and gets to know Ari, he learns a lot about dragons and Ari’s process of hatching, caring for, and training Kashet. When one of the female dragons in the compound becomes pregnant, Vetch steals one of the eggs and ultimately ends up with his own dragon, which he names Avatre. There’s a fair amount of tension in parts of this novel because there’s always a fear that Vetch will be discovered. This eventually happens, and Vetch and Avatre flee with several Jousters chasing after them. They nearly escape but Ari and Kashet catch up to them. Ari ends up helping Vetch fake his death, and then Vetch and Avatre begin to make their way toward Alta. The book ends as they are approaching the Altan border.
In Sanctuary, which ended up being my favorite book in the series, Vetch, who now goes by Kiron (his father’s name), makes his way into Alta atop Avatre. They rescue a nobleman’s daughter who had fallen into a river. He needs to be healed, and does this at the nobleman’s household, where he meets the head of the Altan Jousters and shares his story. He gets to know 2 of the nobleman’s children: daughter Aket-ten (the one he’d rescued) and son Orest. Like the dragons of Tia, the ones in Alta are also only controlled with the drug tala, so Kiron and Avatre are anomalies. The head of the Jousters arranges for dragon eggs to be taken and Kiron is given the responsibility of a wing of boys who will bond and train with the dragons when they hatch and become basically a new kind of Jouster.
This novel contains much more in the way of politics and magic than Joust did. Although gods and magic were referenced in Joust, there was relatively little “on-screen” action involving them. This changes as we learn about magi and just how much control they have over Alta. The rulers of Alta are always a pair of kings and queens – 2 sets of twins who marry. There is always a betrothed pair ready for when the kings and queens die. One of these princes becomes part of Kiron’s wing. We learn that the magi are draining Winged Ones and their trainees for unknown purposes. The Winged Ones (and the Nestlings and Fledglings who are in training to become Winged Ones) are basically psychic in some way or have other types of powers (e.g., can see far away or in the case of Aken-ten can speak to animals). The magi become more and more openly nefarious, and the prince in Kiron’s wing is murdered after trying to voice his concerns to the kings and queens, who have been getting younger rather than older as a result of what the magi are doing. Aket-ten ends up taking his place because her animal-speaking ability helps her bond with the grieving dragon the prince left behind; she is the first female Jouster. The prince’s twin brother ends up also being god-granted powers and foretells of a city that the Jousters and other refugees can escape to. The Jousters come up with a plan to prevent tala from being effective in Tia because they don’t want Jousters on either side to be tools of the magi, and at the end of the book they escape to that city, called Sanctuary. Along the way, Kiron reconnects with Ari.
Sanctuary feels like it should have been the last book in the series; this really should have been just a trilogy. We learn that more and more refugees are coming to Sanctuary, from both Tia and Alta. We also learn that the magi are continuing to promote war so that the deaths of others can help keep them from aging and can give them power. There are now magi in Tia doing the same thing, which resulted in the deaths of many children who were drained of their powers until they died. The people running Sanctuary have a plan of uniting the two countries and also want to work on getting the magi out of power. Kiron and his wing of dragon Jousters play an important role in that and in rescuing Winged Ones. Meanwhile, Kiron and Aket-ten are developing feelings for each other.
Sanctuary ends in a good place. The magi, Altan kings and queens, and Tian king are all destroyed, though the defeat does seem to come a bit too easily, and power is given to a new king and queen (the king is Ari). The series could have easily ended there, with audience recognition that although it would take a lot of time and effort to rebuild and unite the 2 kingdoms, the ends were essentially tied up. Instead we get the 4th book, Aerie. I liked Aerie, and although it got off to a slow start and seemed a bit aimless for a while, it was often just as engaging as the rest of the series. But it seemed unconnected. There is a new threat that, though based in magic, basically comes out of nowhere and is barely connected to events that came before. Yes, this gives us a chance to see more of how the kingdoms are uniting and to check in on other characters, but it just didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the series and I didn’t really like the role that gods played in this. In the other books there was magic, but people were doing most of the work. Here, gods had to get involved in too much of a deus ex machina kind of way. Also, all of the other books were told entirely from Vetch/Kiron’s POV. This one occasionally has sections from Aket-ten’s POV and from a new female Jouster’s POV. I found this jarring, in part because the vast majority of the book was still from Kiron’s perspective. Some of this is personal preference; I tend not like perspective changes, especially if I don’t know to expect them, and I had gotten used to Kiron’s POV.
Overall, I enjoyed the series. I really do love books about dragons (when the dragons are “good” at any rate), and the plots were engaging. I would recommend to anyone who likes dragons, fantasy series, or Mercedes Lackey. I would also recommend not paying much attention to the book descriptions that come on the book jackets because whoever wrote them did a terrible job and did not accurately portray what happens in the books.