Volume 22, Number 2 (Spring-Summer 2004)


by Mercedes Lackey

(Daw Books, 2004)
Reviewed by Charlie Morrison

I have been a semi-fan of Mercedes Lackey (Misty) since a dear friend of mine forced "Arrows of the Queen" into my hands many years ago. It was easy to see how my friend Kim was attracted to Misty's work. Kim is a very independent woman who also happens to be a lesbian, and many of Misty's books have strong independent lesbian women in them that are lovingly developed in a manner that makes the character's sexuality important, but not central to any of the themes.

I can't really tell you why I enjoy her books. There never seems to be much of a plot to them and when there is one, it is still sideline to the character development. Page after page seems to simply define the daily lives of her characters. You can sum up the plot to many of her books in a sentence or two, but I have often found myself glancing up at the clock and wondering how it was that I was still up at 2 AM on a work night.

Alta is her newest book. It is the second book in a series about dragon jousters from two warring countries, Alta and Tia. The main character is Vetch. He is Altan by birth, but a slave of the war between the two countries. The first book (Joust) details his life as a slave and how he becomes a dragon boy, caring for one of the jouster's dragons. By the end of Joust, he has raised his own dragon in secret, and the story ends when he manages to fly his young dragon off towards his homeland. See, plot in a couple of sentences. :)

Alta details Vetch's experiences and discoveries about his homeland. Vetch, or rather Kiron (for he renames himself), is readily accepted into Alta's society since he is one of only two people to ever raise a dragon from an egg. Both societies habitually force the dragons to cooperate using drugs and coercion where he relates to his dragon as a companion.

One of the things that Kiron finds in his homeland is that the mages in Alta are controlling the society. These mages keep the war going for personal gain and oppress the citizenry to keep the war going. By the end of Alta he and his newly trained jousters with dragon companions flee the country.

One thing of note is that like many of Misty's books, one of the main characters is gay. And as usual, the reader is not aware of the character's sexuality until long after the common reader is in tune with the character being a "good guy". Misty crafts the story to include the main characters poking fun at a "bad guy" that isn't comfortable with this.

I started this book shortly after I finished up the last of the Prometheus nominees. I wasn't reading it expecting liberty minded themes, but about half way through it I started finding passages that struck a note with me and I started earmarking pages. By the time I was done I had about a dozen passages marked for further review.

At one point in the book, after hearing dissent from Kiron's "wing" of jousters, the head of Alta's jousters said,

...And truth and trust are the means by which civilization holds off barbarism. When those in power intend to abuse that power, they look to an outside enemy in order to trick their people into pressing the means to their own abuse into the hands of the abusers. If an enemy does not exist, it will be manufactured, and all manner of horrors attributed to it, so that anyone who demands truth and accountability is set upon as being unpatriotic. And so that, when someone said to be an enemy is found, there will be few questions asked about guilt or innocence, and many faces averted when he is taken away."

While I do not believe that Alta should be nominated for the Prometheus Award, I do think that it is a novel to note. Mercedes Lackey put in many passages that indicate that she has taken a step towards promoting freedom in this series.

One of the last quotes in the book is by Kiron's former master from Tia, "And I-I would like to show you what the world looks like from above. It is strange. There are no borders, you see-"

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