ALTA is about a slave who escapes to his homeland with a stolen dragon. Kiron was a slave in his enemy's Jousters (dragon-riders) compound. There he learned about dragons then hid and raised his own egg. (JOUST is about how he raises the dragon.) He travels to his homeland of Alta, full of hopes that he can revive Alta's beleagured Jouster ranks by teaching the technique of hand-raising and therefore taming dragons--as opposed to capturing them wild and constantly drugging them into submission.
While Kiron could have easily been looked at as a spy and enemy warrior, he lucks out when he rescues a Lord's daughter from a crocodile; he's given powerful protection and accepted into Altan society and their Jousters. He goes about introducing his techniques and has some success, but the more he becomes aware of Altan society and power structure, the more he realizes how corrupt it is and how ultimately his country is as much to blame for the constant war as his enemy's.
ALTA is SFR--there is a nice teenage romance with a HEA ending. It can be read without having read JOUST, though there are a few relationships that won't make as much sense without it.
I liked the book, I'd recommend it, especially to someone who likes well-done dragons, but ALTA has the same problem as JOUST--it lacks narrative pull. The story just goes along with no real goal or endpoint in sight, merely telling the story of a boy's life. About page 150 something shows up that might be a goal or purpose, but the story still veers this way and that.
Luckily, the main character is likeable and the world and secondary characters are interesting. It is set in a land similar to ancient Egypt, with a fairly complex culture. I didn't expect where the story did end up, so I guess some of that meandering helps it be less predictable.--Rebekah (24 Mar 04)