Joust - jousting while riding a dragon, nuff said!
Vetch is a Altan serf and the favorite whipping boy of Khefti the fat, his Tian master. Tia and Alta have been at war for generations and a captured serf like Vetch is lower than a slave in Tian society, with less rights to boot. Vetch was born on the land that is now owned by Khefti and that means he has no hope of ever leaving it. He lives his life fueled by hatred of Khefti and his only dreams involve bad things happening to his overweight master. Then one day a Dragon Jouster named Ari comes out of the sky and stops at Khefti's well for a drink of water. This prevents Vetch from fetching the water that Khefti ordered him to get, so of course he receives a beating as punishment. When Ari witnesses this treatment he decides to take Vetch with him and turn him into a dragon-boy as is his right as a member of the King's army. Vetch knows nothing of dragons but he is accustomed to hard work and he intends to do his best even for his new master. Life as the dragon-boy assigned to Kashet, Ari's dragon, is definitely an improvement for Vetch. However, he still feels very alone as the only dragon-boy in the compound who is a serf, and he still harbors a deep resentment of all Tians for killing his father.
It is a joy to learn about the desert dragons alongside Vetch as he is brought up to speed on his new duties as a dragon-boy ,and to also learn about Ari, who is unique amongst the jousters. Since Ari stole a dragon egg when he was young and managed to raise the hatchling from day one, he shares a bond with his mount that is unique amongst the jousters. The rest of the dragons in the compound were caught in the wild and tamed as fledglings, so they must all be drugged on a daily basis to keep them from rebelling against their riders. Kashet has no need of being drugged so Ari has a reputation as the most successful jouster in all of Tia. The results in conflicted feelings for Vetch who is torn between wanting Ari to stay safe so he doesn't lose his position as dragon-boy but also wanting Ari to fall in battle because Ari is one of the main reasons that his people are losing the war.
This book, published in 2003, does a lot of world building and character development for its size and offers a strong start to the four book Dragon Jousters series. Mercedes Lackey is a prolific writer who has published over 140 books, so she is a well know veteran of the fantasy genre. Ryan Burke does a decent job on the narration of the audiobook but he sticks to accents that are familiar to him instead of trying to match the cultural tone of an Egyptian society, which didn't bother me at all but ymmv.