The Dragon Jousters trilogy consists of Joust, Alta, and Sanctuary.
The story begins in Tia, a desert land with extreme climates that has been at war with the neighboring kingdom of Alta for generations. Our hero, named Vetch, is an Altan serf under the heel of a cruel Tian master. Serfs are even lower than slaves – slaves must be treated with some care, as they cost money to obtain. They even have a chance to win their freedom someday, even if it is a small one. Serfs, on the other hand, are tied to caputred land. When the Tians take Altan land, whoever wishes to own that land must take a member of the Altan family that previously owned it as a serf. You only have the land as long as you have the serf. Serfs are free, cannot be traded, and must simply be kept alive, not necessarily intact.
Vetch is saved by another Tian – one of the famous Jousters. Both Tia and Alta uses dragons as an airforce, and the Jousters are literally that – they joust with the opposing side, trying to knock the rider out, or off their dragon. Vetch goes to the Jouster compounds, and becomes a “dragon boy” to Ari, who is the only person to raise a dragon from an egg, rather than catching a fledgling in the wild. Because of this, he has the only truly “tame” dragon, since the dragon imprinted on Ari at birth. As a dragon boy, Vetch's duties are to clean up after both dragon and jouster, feed the dragon, repair harnesses, and other necessary jobs. Vetch cares for the dragon, Kashet, and thrives under the kind hand of Ari. Soon, he desperately wants a dragon of his own, even though he could never joust for the Tians…
If this sounds a bit like Pern meets Valdemar, you’re not alone. Though there are vast differences between McCaffrey’s dragons and Lackey’s, the similarities (at least for someone who grew up with the early Pern books) overshadow them, at least at the start. You’ll eventually shed that association, but in the beginning, you may just find yourself waiting for the Thread to show up…
If you are familiar with Lackey, you could pick up this book at any page and recognize her voice. Some of Lackey’s favorite archetypes show up here: a young boy, strong of heart and quick of mind, born to a lowly station, dares to right what’s wrong with his world. He’s aided by kind, open-minded adult mentors, and eventually a coterie of other teens. They fight against those who corrupt magic to get what they want.
And the heroes are aided by intelligent animal companions – though the dragons are not as intelligent as Companions or bondbirds, they are much like really helpful cats. Like the Valdemar books, the Dragon Jouster books showcase Lackey's love of, and familiarity with falconry. Her wild dragons are much like raptors in their behavior. Indeed, one of the dragon boys (an ex-falconer) uses this to train the wild ones.
Strong themes are also apparent – and familiar. open-mindedness regardless of boundaries or faith; personal determination and responsibility; stewardship of the land; righting the misuse of power; and the proper care of animals.
In fact, this is a typical offering from Lackey all the way through. They’re pleasant reads and good fun. If you’re looking for a lot of substance, or a more ambiguous view of good and evil, you probably want to look elsewhere. But if what you want is a good, entertaining, somewhat fluffy read, this is a good place to look. And because of Lackey’s deft touch with the few romances in the book, and the small amount of violence, this would also be a great trilogy to give to preteens or teens that are looking for fantasy to read.