Alta by Mercedes Lackey
Series: Dragon Jousters #2
Published by DAW on March 1st 2004
National best-selling fantasy legend, Mercedes Lackey created a vivid, dynamic fusion of the Upper and Lower Kingdoms of ancient Egypt with the most exciting, authentic and believable portrayal of dragons ever imagined.
In the second novel in Mercedes Lackey's richly-conceived Dragon Jousters series, the dragonrider Vetch escapes to Alta, the subjugated land of his birth. There, he hopes to teach his people to raise and train dragons-and build an army that will liberate his homeland.
NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for the first book in this series, Joust. If you haven’t read Joust, please do not read this review unless you are ok with spoilers.
This one is cute. I enjoy this book but not as much as Joust.
Alta continues the story of the serf Vetch from Joust. In Alta, Vetch is no longer known as the serf “Vetch.” He is “Kiron, son of Kiron,” a displaced but well-born son of Alta and a dragon rider. Kiron arrives in Alta, gets settled and becomes a jouster-in-training almost immediately. He is also given lessons: reading, writing, philosophy and history. Throughout the book the reader can see Kiron’s change from unlettered serf to educated noble by the way he speaks and carries himself. I felt Lackey did a good job showing Kiron’s maturation.
Kiron has achieved his goal: he is no longer a serf – he is a free Altan and dragon rider. But in Alta all is not what he expected: there’s something rotten at the core of Alta and Kiron seems to get into the midst of things very quickly.
Kiron, as a jouster-in-training, helps the Altan jousters with retraining their dragons and he becomes the leader of what will be a “new” kind of jouster: an entire squad of jousters with tame dragons. As leader of this illustrious new group, Kiron is drawn into Altan politics. He quickly learns that his enemies, the Magi of Alta, have both magical power and political power greater than he could have guessed.
Soon Kiron – and his team – turn from learning how to best beat the Tian jousters to how to save Alta from itself and the Magi. I feel that Alta is much more “grey” than Joust. In Joust the lines are quite clear: the Tians were the enemies and Alta represented freedom. Once Kiron reaches Alta, the insidious interplay of power and politics are brought to the forefront and the lines are no longer so clear: The Magi are enemies but they fight for Alta against Tia; the people of Alta are harmed by the Magi’s actions but the leaders of Alta allow the Magi free reign.
I enjoy reading this book BUT I read it only for the continuation of the story versus enjoyment of the book in its own light. Alta doesn’t have the same magical quality for me that Joust had. I did enjoy learning about Alta as a country – and how it differed from Tia – as well as the different focus that Alta had. The characters in Alta are mostly all rich nobles (including the heirs to the Altan throne) where Joust was full of mostly the working class. There’s also a greater range of people in Alta – I’m assuming this happens because Kiron rose in station and therefore was exposed to a higher class.
There is a primary female character in Alta! Aket-ten is a young priestess-in-training who is saved by Kiron at the beginning of the book. Aket-ten served as Kiron’s introduction to Alta as well as his access to patronage. Aket-ten’s father volunteers to educate, feed and clothe Kiron in thanks for Kiron saving Aket-ten’s life. Throughout Alta Aket-ten plays a large (and strong) role of her own as well as romantic lead for Kiron. There is no insta-love/insta-lust here but the relationship is set up. I kinda sorta enjoyed Aket-ten: I enjoy her because she has great agency, intelligence, courage and gumption. I dislike her somewhat due to her rather prickly nature and attitude.
Watching Vetch become Kiron and gain friends is one of the highlights for this book for me – as well as the simple fun of reading about a tame clutch of dragons being raised as a group. The ending of Alta is good but not quite as satisfying as I would like: most of the strings are tied up well and it is a series with two more books. But I did want a little more that I can’t mention since it would be a horrible spoiler.
All in all, a good follow-up to Joust!