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Literature / Dragon Jousters

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Dragon Jousters is a four-book series by Mercedes Lackey that could be described as "Ancient Egypt with Dragons".

The countries Tia and Alta (Fantasy Counterpart Cultures for Upper and Lower Egypt, respectively) have been at war for centuries. The elite soldiers on both sides are the Jousters; men who ride trained dragons into battle.

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 than slaving away in the fields, but Vetch's relationship with all the dragon jousters is tenuous 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.

Vetch eventually 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.

The second novel, 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...

The third novel, 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 novel follows Kiron as he tries to find his place the societal structure of Sanctuary, and his relationship with Aket-ten (and her family)...

The final novel, Aerie, follows the inhabitants of the combined Altan and Tian nation. After moving to the newly found city, re-named 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...

The novels in the series are:

  • Joust
  • Alta
  • Sanctuary
  • Aerie

This series contains examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: Ari, and Kiron later.
  • Action Girl: The Queen's Wing, but especially Aket-ten
  • Arranged Marriage: Played straight in Alta, with their custom of rulership by married twins. Averted in Sanctuary, where Ari refuses to go through an arranged marriage with Nofret (despite his feelings toward her) because he doesn't want a wife who is only going through the wedding out of duty.
  • Barefoot Captives: Serfs such as Vetch aren't even allowed the cheap straw sandals given to slaves.
  • Becoming the Mask: Early in Alta, a Bedu points out to Kiron that he's still acting like the serf Vetch, and recommends this trope as a solution.
  • Camp Gay: Heklatis takes a great deal of pleasure in pretending to be this, to chase off a Magus.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Midway through Joust, Ari and Kashet catch a Jouster before a training accident turns fatal. The trick then shows up for real three other times.
  • Chilly Reception: Vetch got a lot of this when he first arrived at the Tian Jousters Compound. It got a little better over time.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Seth, according to Rakaten-te.
  • Dragon Rider: Well, what else would you expect from a series titled "Dragon Jousters"?
  • Egyptian Mythology: All the deities of the Tians and Altans are renamed Egyptian deities.
  • Evil Sorcerer: The Magi. While there are magic-users who are good, none of the Magi seem to have any redeeming qualities whatsoever.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Several Winged Ones are "burned out" by the Magi feeding on them. Kiron is assured that those former-Winged are suffering this. (For additional evidence, none of them try to escape before the Magi burn down the Temple of the Twins.)
  • Foreshadowing: In Joust, Haraket comments that Ari treats the awards, including the Gold of Honor, which he received from the Great King of Tia, as though they were "unsuitable presents from an inconvenient relative." In Sanctuary, it turns out that the Great King is, in fact, a relative of Ari's, as Ari is the bastard son of the King's brother.
  • Giant Flyer: Dragons are large enough to carry humans.
  • Guile Hero: Vetch had lots of guile for a little kid. Of course guile was pretty much all he had to work with.
  • Healing Hands: "Healers by touch" have this ability.
  • Hypocrite: Kirion's mother believes that it's wrong for people to rise above their birth station. She's willing to defy royal commands to try to enforce this.
  • Illegal Religion: Averted. The Tians allow Altans in captured territory to continue to worship their own deities, to avoid the problems that would result from underground worship. The fact that the Tian and Altan pantheons are almost identical doesn't hurt, either.
  • Imprinting: Implied to be invoked by Ari and later Kiron, in Kashet. He's raised the dragon straight from the egg. As a result, Kashet is much more docile and friendly than other dragons, and doesn't require restraining tools or drugs to keep him in control.
  • Legend Fades to Myth: Ari once said that in "ancient times" the Tians and Atlans may have been good friends. The Magi managed to put a stop to that for a few centuries.
  • Life Energy: The Magi have learned how to extend their own lives and "fuel" their spells with the lives of other humans. The Winged, those with magical abilities, and Healers-by-touch are the most Supernaturally Delicious and Nutritious, but anyone's death will provide some energy.
  • Meaningful Rename: Kiron goes back to his birth name at the end of Joust. As a serf, he was on the Tian records as "Vetch".
  • My Beloved Smother: Kiron's mother becomes this after he finds her in Aerie.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: There are two different types of dragons, desert dragons and swamp dragons (named after their home environments). Both are simply apex predators; big and tough, but no flame-breathing, and their human partners/riders are definitely the brains of the pairing. They are explicitly compared to large cats — intelligent for animals but not on a human's level. Swamp dragons are very much like crocodiles in nature, if crocodiles could fly.
  • Physical God: Tamat the Render, the Heyksin goddess. Arguably, Seth once he fully moves into Rakaten-te's body to waste Tamat.
  • Psychic Powers: Altan "Winged Ones" and Tian "god-touched" can mindspeak (with humans or animals), see events far away, and (rarely) see into the future.
  • Rebellious Priestess: Aket-ten thinks women can do just about anything men can, and she means to prove it!
  • Series Continuity Error: In Joust, Vetch's sister, who suffered brain damage at the hands of Tian soldiers, is referred to as both Deshara and Dershela. In Aerie, when she finally appears in person, her name is Iris. (Either that, or he has three brain-damaged sisters!)
    • In Joust, Vetch only looks after Coresan for a moon, until after her eggs are laid, and Heraket finds a new jouster and dragon boy for her. And Avatre doesn’t hatch until after he stops caring for her. However in Alta he thinks and states that he has to care for and feed 3 dragons at once, which isn’t true, although he does have to turn the egg twice a day while caring for Coresan. He never has to feed all three at the same time.
    • Kiron's wing of experimental Jousters are each established as having a few distinguishing traits. Oset-re's beauty and popularity with women are rapidly transferred to Gan and he becomes just part of the list.
  • Shoulder-Sized Dragon: The Flappers, there only mentioned in one book. Of course, considering Baken once said "There's no room in those heads but killing and meanness." That may be for the best.
  • Stronger with Age: Dragons appear to get bigger and stronger as they age, even after they're fully matured.
  • Third Party Stops Attack: Khefti-the-Fat is whipping Vetch and Ari grabs his wrist to prevent him from continuing.
  • Water Wake-up: Kiron has to rouse Aket-ten this way once. She's not happy about it.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In the first book, the commander of the Tian jousters is a younger son of the high king and competent, honorable and charismatic. In the third, it's a plot point that Ari is the only person who could take the throne.