Vetch was still alive because he was simply too stubborn to die. He refused to show any emotion to his master, Khefti-the-Fat, even when he was beaten and starved. As an Altan serf, Vetch had no rights among the conquerers, the Tians. He had watched the Tian army murder his father and then his whole family enslaved and separated.
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Vetch had little or no hope that his life would improve, but he felt that it was unfair that one of the famed Jousters, warriors who rode dragons, had to make his life a little more miserable. After hauling a heavy bucket of water for a long distance, the Jouster had taken the bucket and dumped the water over his head before Vetch could stop him. Of course, Khefti blamed Vetch for not watering the tala plants and started to beat him, as usual.
But the Jouster was not a typical Tian and felt pity for Vetch. The Jouster, Ari, needed a dragon boy to tend to his dragon, Kashet. And so Vetch's whole life was changed in an instant as he was taken to the dragon compound and taught how to tend to the great dragons of the Tian army. Vetch found, to his surprise, that he liked the dragons and the dragons seemed to respond to his care. If Vetch had to be a serf, this was the best place to be, but Vetch still dreamed of freedom and hatched a daring plan to escape from his captors...
I simply loved this book. Vetch was such an engaging and wonderful character that I was really rooting for him the whole time. The secondary characters were also wonderful and I suffered along with Ari as he tried to reconcile his honor with his orders, the great overseer Haraket, the falconer Baken and so many others. I thought that the world this book was set in was quite fascinating and was reminiscent of ancient Babylonia and Egypt. The dragons were different than other dragons in that they were definitely animals and incapable of thinking for themselves, but they could learn some affection for their masters if shown kindness and love. My only complaint with the book is that it was not edited very well and there are quite a few grammatical errors, nothing that detracts from the story, but the editor did not do a good job. Still, I am eagerly awaiting the next book in this series to see what happened to all of these new friends I have found!
The kingdoms of Tia and Alta are at war while at the present time the Tians are winning because they have better Jousters who know how to use their dragons as a tool of war. Much of Altan has become part of the Tian empire and Vetch, who was once a farmer's son, is now a serf, lower than a slave, belonging to a master who treats him very badly. When the Jouster Ari sees Vetch's owner whip him, he takes him away to the Jouster compound and makes him his dragon boy.
Vetch now cares for Ari's dragon Kashet who he comes to love. He has plenty of food and a fair workload but he never forgets for one moment that he is a serf with no rights. Although he comes to care Ari and a few other people in the compound, he can't stomach what the Tians are doing to his people. He wants his freedom and embarks on a course of action that will achieve that goal if he doesn't get caught.
Mercedes Lackey always writes a terrific story and this first installment in her new series is absolutely mesmerizing. Readers will feel for the protagonist who is only a ten-year-old child yet wise beyond his years. Once he sets a goal for himself, he sees it through no matter the risks. JOUST is a fantasy tale that will appeal to Anne McCaffrey's Pern fans as well as anyone who loves an adorable dragon.