Vetch is an Altan serf, conscripted by the invading Tia army to work his family's land while a Tia merchant (who is lower than a slave) owns it without hope of freedom. His fortunes change when the dragonrider Ari steals the water Vetch carries to wet his master's garden.

Beaten by his brutal owner in front of Ari, Vetch is summarily rescued by Ari and becomes the first serf dragonboy at the Tia stronghold. Vetch is the only dragonboy not afraid of the dragons; he even trains the untrainable with kindness and compassion, but he wants freedom.

When an unauthorized dragon mating occurs and personnel are injured, Vetch snatches an opportunity. By caring for the female dragon while a new rider and dragonboy are selected, he might be able to steal one of her eggs. Maybe he'll be able to hand-raise a partner as loyal as Ari's dragon Kashet. Maybe he'll be able to escape to his native land, Alta. Maybe—if he survives discovery.

As always, the incomparable Mercedes Lackey offers readers memorable characters, both human and animal, in exotic settings. She's created a new fantasy world that begs to be explored and savored. (Mar., 448 pp., $24.95)

Reviewed by: 
Kelly Rae Cooper