Joust by Mercedes Lackey – Review

Book Jacket:

For the first time ever, national best-selling legend Mercedes Lackey draws from her extensive knowlege of animals—and her professional background as an avian expert—to create something truly special…

The most exciting, authentic and believable portrayal of dragons ever imagined.

It is a richly conceived, fully realized vision, inspired by the culture of ancient Egypt, the legends of Atlantis, and the science of animal behavior and biology. This is how dragons would live, breed, hatch, hunt, and bond.

The first book in this thrilling new series introduces readers to a young slave who dreams of becoming a Jouster – one of the few warriors who can actually ride a flying dragon. And so, in secret, he begins to raise his own dragon.


Long a deft hand at an orphan story (Talia, Nan, Mags…), Lackey at last spins dragons into her wheelhouse and delivers one lovely story of a boy and his dragon.

Lackey has this to say about the dragons of Joust:

Most of the current dragon literature treats dragons as on a par with humans insofar as intelligence goes. I decided to treat them instead as really big “birds” of prey—featherless raptors the size of small airplanes, if you will. Now, as a raptor rehabber, I know a fair bit about raptors, and I’m using that knowledge in handling the behavior, the bonding, and the training of the dragons in the Joust series.

Which is why I absolutely love the dragons of this series. Lackey nails their behaviors and personalities, and manages to wrap the fascination with taming a wild animal, the adorable nature of the newly born, and the potent bonding between man and creature into one clean narrative. It makes for dragons that are downright impossible to resist.

The introduction of Vetch does hit on some standard fantasy tropes – the abused orphan serf, laboring from dusk to dawn – but it also makes him instantly sympathetic, and works well as an introduction to the conflict between Alta and Tia. The story then quickly whisks Vetch into the world of dragons and all they entail, and Lackey’s knowledge of raptors imbues Vetch’s new life in the dragon pens with a satisfying level of intelligent detail. And I have to say, it’s nice to see a fantasy character that doesn’t have magical powers, was ordained by prophecy, or is a mythical warrior – Vetch is a smart, tough kid who keeps his head down, works his tail off, and is utterly besotted with dragons.

In terms of the larger setting, Lackey explains how she came up with Vetch’s world:

I’m also fascinated with ancient history, in particular, the history of Egypt, and I’d wanted to do something in the nature of a fantasy in that setting, but there’s a bit of a problem with that. Egyptian scholars are some of the nit-pickiest people on the planet, and as Barbara Mertz (aka mystery writer Elizabeth Peters) has pointed out, endlessly argumentative. They wouldn’t like an Egypt with fantasy elements; anything I got “wrong” would generate nuisance-letters. Any book with a lot of fantasy-elements in it would open the floodgates. And I had always wanted to do something with the Atlantis myth too; alas, Atlantis doesn’t do well commercially… But, if I took pre-dynastic Egypt and the conflict between Upper and Lower Egypt, used Atlantis as Lower Egypt, turned the whole thing into a fantasy setting and added raptor-dragons…Ah, now there was a plan!

I enjoyed Lackey’s riff on Egyptian culture – with deft touches of class and race, and plenty of sun and sand, she gives the story a nice flavor – but she keeps things on the light side. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty going on – two countries are at war, and the story touches on Vetch’s divided loyalties (his personal loyalty to Ari versus his loyalty to his country, and his uncomfortable position supporting the military of the country that conquered his people), but the narrative never really delves that deeply into history, politics or intrigue. I think it’s a valid creative choice, given that our narrator is a teenager, and as I said before, this is very much a boy and his dragon story – more a coming of age tale than an epic fantasy – so the world building is on the simple side, but I think there’s enough to be satisfying.

So while I can’t say this story is ground-breakingly original, it is an absolutely lovely mix of classic fantasy elements and makes for an eminently satisfying read. For me, Joust is the literary equivalent of comfort food.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Booklist says:

In Vetch’s world, Lackey gives us a wonderfully visualized society, similar in terrain, climate, religion, and the differing circumstances of slave, serf, and free person to ancient Egypt. Moreover, she fills the book with well-limned characterizations and convincing, detailed dragon lore to make up a whole in which Vetch’s coming-of-age becomes an integral part. Fans of McCaffrey’s Pern will love it, but they won’t be the only ones who do.

Publishers Weekly says:

In this elegant, compelling fantasy from the prolific author of the Valdemar series (Arrows Fall, etc.), Lackey combines meticulously detailed dragon lore with emotionally intense, realistic human character…This uplifting tale, which contains a valuable lesson or two on the virtues of hard work, is a must-read for dragon lovers in particular and for fantasy fans in general.

Dawn from Goodreads says:

I am almost embarrassed to admit how much I enjoy Mercedes Lackey’s books. The plots are usually rather simple, and the stories aren’t terribly layered, but still I love her writing. No one does character development the way she does.