This stunning epic fantasy debut introduces two exciting new authors—and a world brimming with natural and man-made wonders, extraordinary events, and a crisis that will test the mettle of men, the boundaries of magic, and the heart and soul of a kingdom.
Thanks to its elite Dragon Corps, the capital city of Volstov has all but won the hundred years’ war with its neighboring enemy, the Ke-Han. The renegade airmen who fly the corps’s mechanical, magic-fueled dragons are Volstov’s greatest weapon. But now one of its members is at the center of a scandal that may turn the tide of victory. To counter the threat, four ill-assorted heroes must converge to save their kingdom: an exiled magician, a naive country boy, a young student—and the unpredictable ace who flies the city’s fiercest dragon, Havemercy. But on the eve of battle, these courageous men will face something that could make the most formidable of warriors hesitate, the most powerful of magicians weak, and the most unlikely of men allies in their quest to rise against it.
Jaida Jones is a graduate of Barnard College, where they wrote their thesis on monsters in Japanese literature and film. A poet and native New Yorker, they had their first collection of poetry, Cinquefoil published by New Babel Books in 2006. They also co-wrote the Shoebox Project - a Harry Potter fan website with more than five thousand subscribed members. They currently live in Brooklyn with their wife and co-author, Danielle Bennett.
I wanted to care for this book. I really did. But it turned out to be a big disappointment.
First of all, I could not stand "the society's" (Volstov's) view of women. Granted, I've read what Jaida and Danielle had to say about this and what they've said makes sense. The book is told from the perspective of four male characters. None of them have the need to comment on the role of women, but simply put, I just did not, could not, enjoy reading about a society where women were portrayed as cows, whores or shrill, overbearing mothers.
Although my biggest problem was that I never got the sense that the Ke-Han were actually a real threat. Sure, Volstov and their dragon riders were fighting the Ke-Han but...it never felt like anything was really at stake. The final battle was cool though. But that's the thing! There were no real action or tension anywhere. Not that a good book requires action scenes. Quite the contrary sometimes. But what was missing from this book was suspense. I just didn't care if Volstov lived or died. I never came to love the world that had been created in this book. That, with any fantasy book, is a big problem.
Now for the characters. I have to admit some of the Royston/Hal scenes... just get on with the story. please. Some of it, particularly when they were walking in the park, felt like badly written fan fiction. But their relationship was cute. Whatever. I still don't care about Volstov. Rook was badass. I liked him at times. Other times I wanted to punch him in the mouth. I liked all the characters, I guess...but never grew to love them.
That being said, the dragon riders were awesome but never used to their full potential. The metals dragons were what saved me from giving this book two stars. Their brotherhood and what they were capable could have been explored so much more. I think if we'd been given some quality time with the dragon riders as opposed to Thom's inner angst, I would have enjoyed this book a lot more. The problem there is that the narrative style of Havemercy doesn't facilitate that - unless Rook was the one narrating. The dragons and their riders were so cool but the main focus was on Thom.
Also, the title of the book is Havemercy. Havemercy herself was only in four scenes.
There were moments that got me to laugh out loud however. Rook screaming that they had to "haul ass" to the palace made me laugh.
I wanted to care about this book. But it feels like what could have potentially been great material was handled in the wrong way. I wish whoever edited this book had told these two brilliant young writers what was missing.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This is an unholy cross between Sorcery and Cecilia and The Mirador, with little of the charm of either. The metal dragons of Volstov are on the cusp of victory in the generations long battle against the Ke-Han. During a lull in the war, the magician Royston is exciled to his family's country estates, where he falls in love with the young tutor there. Their slow building romance was quite sweet, and I actually cared about it. Not so with the relationship between Rook, a dragon jockey, and Thom. Because I never bought Rook as anything but a loud-mouthed jackass, I didn't care about his reunion with
The other problem I had with this book was one of believability. It read like the authors *wanted* to write about sexy men in a baroquely steampunk society, but couldn't pull off the world-building or plot. Volstov is only faintly drawn, despite each of the characters going into rhapsodizes about the city, and Ke-Han is even vaguer. The plot itself is pretty flimsy, and the two sets of storylines (Royston and Hal; Rook and Thom) only come together for about three pages, and for no real reason. I was disappointed.
“Havemercy” (Bantam Spectra, $22, 388 pages) is puzzling from the title to the conclusion – so puzzling, in fact, that I had trouble deciding if I liked it. On reflection, I didn’t, because in the end co-authors Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett spent too much time on one problematic, improbable relationship that they resolve with a deus ex machina.
The setup is interesting: It’s an unnamed world populated by humans living along what is pretty recognizably the border between Russia and China. Russia is Volstov, and China is Ke-Han. The ruler of Volstov is called the Esar, or th’Esar, but after that, there’s not much more doppleganging going on.
Instead, we have magicians who have Talents, and dragons, which are actually constructs of machines and some magical essence. There are only 14 in Volstov, and none in Ke-Han, and the dragons are very particular about their riders – which makes the Dragon Corps (the 14 riders) a very cocky, and indeed powerful, group.
There two main relationships in “Havemercy” (which is the name of one of the dragons) are between a) an older homosexual magician who has been banished to the country and a young tutor he meets there, and b) a young university professor and the arrogant, cruel and entirely distasteful leader of the Dragon Corps.
There is a war between Volstov and Ke-Han, and a war between the professor and the man the Esar has charged him with controlling, and along with the homesexual love affair, these drive the book. Oddly, given the female authors, there are no strong female characters to speak of, and the lack is apparent. So is the gap between writing a book about men, and men at war, and emphasizing relationships, especially when one of the relationships is so unsatisfying.
I was so disappointed with this book. I wanted to love it. I've very much enjoyed the authors' previous work, and the concept of Havemercy was so interesting.
But not one female character. Not one. There's a woman who is either raped or wasn't, and is slut shamed and harassed either way - all offstage; it's just a plot point. There's a shrew mother-in-law who faints a lot. There's a little girl for a couple of paragraphs, who cries a lot. There's someone's ex girlfriend, who shows a little promise by having a name, being on the page, and speaking a few lines, but she dies in the next scene. There's the Mysterious Mindreader, who Mysteriously speaks a few lines in one scene and is never heard from again, either. There's the misnamed woman at a palace party who is there to be the 'sluts totally ask to get raped by the rapist character' stand-in, and that scene is all about the two men in it anyway. That's all.
Oh, and the three kindly prostitutes who raised one of the main characters. They don't have names, either.
The metal dragons are called 'girls'. But beast-machines, while cool, do not count as representations of women, and besides which none of them speak more than a few lines either. And then they all sacrifice themselves for their country.
All other references to women are derogatory. Sluts, whores, and shews, and when a male character wants to insult another it's by comparing him to a woman.
This from two women writers who I've liked in the past was incredibly disappointing. One of the protagonists that we're supposed to like is almost definitely a rapist, and is without question an out and out misogynist. That could have been forgivable if there was a foil to him. There wasn't. By having no female characters, and only the one ineffectual other character who's supposed to teach him to 'respect women' - why would he do that, in this imagined world where apparently there aren't any? - his attitudes stand unchallenged.
I really couldn't get past this. I would have liked to see more of the dragons, as well. And rather less of what looked like racial stereotyping of the enemy state.
Two stars because the characters were interesting, when they weren't awful.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
While it was not quite the book I was expecting, I enjoyed it a lot, maybe more than if it were a standard human/dragon book. Despite being a 400 page book, it's a very fast read and I almost did not put it down.
This book is much closer to Sarah Monette's Mirador series, though it's not as dark and explicit, and there are four main characters, rather than two, but there are similar kind of emotional undercurrents, and ultimately this is where the book succeeds very well - in the relationships between the characters rather than in the main action which is ok but nothing special, though the tension builds very nicely and the ending is fitting and excellent.
‘Havemercy’ is the first novel by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett. I had little idea of the story when I picked up the book, I’ll admit I was attracted by the mechanical dragon on the cover. Though the dragon depicted (the book’s namesake, Havemercy) features within, it’s not her story.
It’s hard to tell whose story it is, really, as it’s deftly told by four very different men. The first you meet is the Margrave, Royston. A Margrave is a magician and each has a specific talent they use in service of Volstok. He is caught having an illicit affair with the son of a neighbouring monarch and exiled to his brother’s country estate. There he meets Hal, a brilliant but naïve young man who is distantly related to the brother’s wife and kept on as a tutor for the young children. Royston and Hal are irresistibly drawn to one another and the romance that develops between them kept me turning the pages of this book long after I should have been sleeping or, in the case of yesterday afternoon, working.
Rook starts out as a stereotypical flying ace – crude, lewd and rude. His proclivities are very different from Royston’s, meaning he prefers women, but no less damaging to the fragile truce between nations. After he insults a foreign diplomat, Thom, a ‘Versity student, is assigned the task of providing etiquette lessons to the entire dragon corps. The first meeting between Rook and Thom, though typically painful, is still amusing to read in that it’s very well written, as is the entire book, in my opinion. Their relationship does not grow so much as escalate as Rook baits the younger man mercilessly until finally they reach an accord of sorts and Thom manages to break through to the airman. This process takes nearly the entire book and introduces a much deeper element to the friendship they embark upon. Though other reviewers have given it away, I will not, as I found the discovery touching.
Of these four men, my favourite would be Hal. I often found myself tempted to skim other narratives in order to catch up with his side of the story. As a young man, really just on the cusp of adulthood, his dialogue and sometimes painfully reserved view of himself and the world around him was so completely endearing. I found him (and all of them, really) an incredibly three dimensional and believable character and in some of the actions he took in the book, perhaps the most brave. He stepped outside of himself on so many occasions to take what he wanted. I would dearly love to read more of Hal as an older man, to see where his story goes. I hope the authors have plans to feature him in another novel at some point.
The plot of the book is relatively simple and serves merely as a backdrop to the world building and character development. I did not mind this. Though I did find myself wondering at about the half way point if there was in fact a plot, again, I didn’t mind? I was far too involved in the relationships between Royston and Hal and Rook and Thom to care. Things do move forward, and these four men are drawn together to solve a mystery that threatens both the magicians and the dragon corps as the war between Volstok and the neighbouring Ke-Han reignites. The climax of the book passes rather swiftly and with very little action, but the tension is still palpable as portrayed though the narratives of the four main characters.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. It’s not without fault and will lose some readers early on due to the male dominated point of view and homosexual relationships. Those looking for intricate battle sequences and typical dragon lore may be disappointed. But I think the majority of readers will be caught up, nonetheless, for two reasons which are closely related: the writing is superb. It flows. There are laugh out loud lines and descriptions that read like poetry. The dialogue is spot on. And because the book is so well written, you can almost pick it up and open it at any point, not knowing whose point of view you are reading and guess it strictly from the narrative and dialogue. These four personalities were that distinct. The story tells itself and besides the four main characters there is a cast of secondary characters that are far from flat.
I’m looking forward to reading the second and third books in this series which, happily, have both already been published.
I really enjoyed this book, and it really irritated me. I'm going to air my grievances first, as they are the sort of thing that may or may not apply to you, and you can decide weather or not to discount them.
First: The most important plot-role played by a woman in this book is when one is slapped on the ass and called a whore, and a diplomatic incident is instigated. The incident in question is related, and the woman does not appear. Other women do appear in order to be, variously, someone's harpy sister-in-law, a mysterious piece of background, a mysterious piece of foreground, and, in one (1) case, a neutral conversational partner. This is a book with an enormous cast of characters, which splits the POV four ways. (You can add another woman, if you count the titular dragon.)
Second: Where the fuck does this book take place!? They discuss Tycho Brahe, so obviously it occurs in a world related to our own, but the geography is unfamiliar. Is "the Esar" a Tsar? Are the Ke Han Mongols? Han Chinese? Given the derivation of place-names, am I meant to understand that the people in the book are speaking in English? I REQUIRE A COHERENT ETHNOCULTURAL PEDIGREE.
These things aside, the book is very enjoyable! Magical mechanical dragons! Man-pain! Queer romance! Man-pain! Woobies!
Did I mention the man-pain? Um. Right.
The POV switching allows the culture to be examined through various lenses, including that of a scholar (an anthropologist, even) and that of an outsider, which is rather interesting. I suspect Jones and Bennet of dividing the writing this way as well, but I couldn't guess who took what.
The book is quite imaginative, although the solution at the end seemed to me to be a cheat, since I cannot imagine, if that would work, that it would not be a common solution to similar problems, of which apparently there are more than a few.
This is a delighted 4.5 review. I was wholly sucked into this world of mechanical-magical dragons and the compelling madmen who ride them. Lovely characterisation and a slow, churning build-up to a climactic payoff. I can't wait for the next one. The small criticisms are so minor as to be overlookable. It's wonderful to discover that the authors of my Favourite Thing Ever are just as capable and brilliant in their own original world-building as they were with Shoebox Project.
Decent fantasy story with mecha dragons, which should have been a winning formula in my book, but the writing is sub-standard and there are too many characters with far too little characterization. I saw the twist at the end coming from a mile away, and the rest of the book lacked suspense. The gay characters seemed very seme/uke to me, and not engaging at all.
Furthermore I was incensed at the portrayal of female characters. Once again you get this bizarre apologist internalized misogyny from female writers who feel that men's stories are more important. Very odd, when they're creating this world and can make any sort of rules that would have an engaging plot with engaging females.
The one person who I complained to pointed out that there are queer characters in this story. Fair enough, queer men. As a queer woman, I don't entirely see how I'm supposed to connect with these characters. With that rationale, I suppose that means that every straight woman who's read The Great Gatsby should be able to sympathize with the title character straight away, or that straight boys can read Pride and Prejudice and extrapolate from Elizabeth Bennet's emotions. Despite being queer, gays and lesbians are still opposite genders, and there is a difference. Being queer doesn't make us all automatically uniform in terms of motivation and thought process.
TL:DR: I like to read stories with people who are like me. Havemercy featured no characters who are like me, and in fact tended to marginalize and villefy them, so I could not connect with them.
I love fantasy. I love queer fantasy even more and I really tried to like this book, but in the end it was a task destined to fail. I almost never leave books unfinished since it feels like giving up, but after slogging through 30% of this book and finding zero reasons to continue I'm just going to move on to bigger and better things.
I wish I had something nice to say about it yet all I have is complaints. The story isn't engaging, the characters are either boring or annoying, there is info dumping and clumsy exposition, the 4 different POVs aren't really working and the whole book simply feels soulless (but not in an exciting way).
And if all that wasn't enough to make me quit in the middle, the book is also riddled with so much sexism it soon goes from infuriating to tiresome. The women in this world do nothing but faint, nag, cry and scream false rape accusations. Now someone said this is because all of the POV characters are male, but I seriously have difficulty caring about or relating to misogynistic men, especially when it's not just one character but rather seems to be the prevalent attitude in this world. Sigh! I've read enough stories like this.
The action was absorbing, but there wasn't a single female character (however, there was plenty of misogynistic remarks and references to them. It didn't make for a comfortable or pleasant experience.)
Some of the characters were more fascinating than others. In particular, I found Thom and Rook to be a more interesting set than Royston and Hal. The tension between the characters was better played out, as well as their individual quirks and weaknesses; they were less saintly and felt more real.
I really had such high hopes for this book. I know so many people who really loved it. But after getting through more than a third of the book and finding no plot in particular and not even the foreshadowing of a plot on the way, my desire to read on has become equally evanescent. I liked the May-December romance that seemed to be budding, but it was given thin page space between all the stuff with the Dragon Corps, which was, frankly boring. How do you make dragons boring? Probably by not involving the dragons.
Well-written, unusual, and entertaining, with a really well-fleshed out world and some really neat POVs and writing styles. On occasion the writing style sort of ran away with itseld, but overall this was really well done.
I have an issue the lack of female characters, and I found the big gap between the two main storylines kind of perplexing. They just seemed really disconnected, and never quite meshed the way I thought they should.
Havemercy (one word) is the joint effort of debut authors Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett. Normally, this would be really cool, but the execution left something to be desired. The book opens with four different points of view: Royston, Rook, Hal, and Thom. Royston is a Margrave, a title never explained but presumed to have something to do with being a magician, and his scene opens on the eve of his banishment from the bustling city of Thremedon after a lukewarm scandal sends ripples of anger through the Volstov government. Royston, you see, is gay, and Volstov is a country moderately tolerant of his sexual preference, especially when it exerts itself on a member of the royal family.
Royston is sent to the country to live with his brother, a punishment that sends him reeling into a depression so deep, only the burgeoning relationship between himself and Hal, his nephew and niece’s tutor, can break him from further woes. Their relationship is a little disturbing and unbelievable; Hal is around 19 or 20 and Royston, we can imagine, is about twice that age. But it isn’t the age that bothers me so much at the dynamic between the two that develops as a result of their age and experience. Hal (physically weak, easy to blush, shy, and breathy) clings dreamily to anything Royston (tall, rough, foreign, experienced) says and, as a tutor and tentative scholar, is excitable about all things Royston has to offer in the way of war stories. The romantic tension (if it can be called that) is built extremely slowly over around 200 pages of bedtime stories read from some made-up Fantasy substitute for a book called a “roman.” The name is never explained and, to me, always felt awkward to read. In any event, the two somehow become inseparable and when Royston is called back to his civic duties, Hal accepts the invitation to join him.
Meanwhile, Thom, a graduate student, is sent to rehabilitate the Dragon Corps, a group of 14 men trained to ride metal dragons for the Volstov war effort into, well, it’s never explained really until well after the halfway point of the novel (rehabilitate them into proper society). Up until that point, I was very confused as to why it was Thom, a psychology student allowed to study the men in exchange for what?, was sent to “rehabilitate” a group of military misfits. I mean, rehabilitate them in what? He can’t fly, he’s never seen a dragon, and he doesn’t have any first-hand experience of combat. That was the second big structural problem with this book. I should have been clued in sooner that this was only the beginning, but I kept on reading anyway because I hoped I was just being picky and things did in fact get better.
The whole war was never explained until page 263 as a border dispute that somehow got out of hand and for some reason, has never been resolved. But again, until that point, I was very confused as the authors never explicitly stated that there was a war going on or if it was peacetime and the Dragon Corps were in downtime and maybe that’s why they needed rehabilitating? As if they’d somehow forgotten how to ride dragons or something like that.
Anyway, Thom is sent to the Airman, the facility housing both the metal dragons which we rarely see and the men of the Dragon Corps and is met with a lot of unexplained hostility. But I’m assuming they actually know what’s being rehabilitated here, unlike me, the reader, who has been left blissfully unaware. One man in particular, Rook, is particularly nasty to him for no real reason whatsoever. Thom never does anything to directly provoke him, Rook just doesn’t like the intrusion.
Of course, their relationship is supposed to set off red flags for the reader since it’s the only other one besides Hal and Royston that has any semblance of a spark behind it, albeit a vehement one. If I paid close enough attention, I may have figured out the twist sooner, but before then, it seemed as if Jones and Bennett were just writing in another relationship.
Both story lines go on for about 200 pages (the book is 388 pages long), the point of which the two groups meet and things finally start to happen. If I had one major complaint about this book, it’s that it’s too long for what it is. There’s far too much time spent on trying to build relationships that remain shallow and tentative at best. I didn’t believe Royston and Hal were as close as Jones and Bennett made out to be. Hal grabbing tightly and sobbing against Royston’s shirt at every meeting got so boring and annoying I began to hate coming to any scene which involved the both of them together. It’s a shame really. Royston had the makings of my favorite character, at least in the beginning. And it was the beginning that drew me in and made me want to keep reading the book. But the middle was pretty muddled and it seemed as if Jones and Bennett just needed excuses to get these two groups of men together and solve the big mystery of the novel which, as it turns out, despite my initial excitement, was anticlimactic:
The Dragon Corps, after weeks or years, maybe, of inactivity, are finally being called back into service nightly. Suddenly, their mechanical dragons (brought to life with a magic most mysterious in nature) start behaving like they’re in need of a tune up and the men become suspicious. It isn’t long after this that Rook becomes injured and the big twist between him and Thom is finally revealed: in a state of pain and delirium, Rook admits to Thom that he’s lost a brother to fire, a brother that Thom, withholding his strong reaction, believes to be himself. And it turns out, he is. This could have been a lot more earth-shattering a revelation if Jones and Bennett had played up the fact that both Thom and Rook are orphans, but instead, it’s a fact tacked on to the story that has no other impact on his psyche other than being the thing that propelled him into being raised by a house of whores. Whores, by the way, are the only real women in this novel aside from rich, spoiled, and snobby socialites and a city and dragons personified as women and mothers who are oftentimes referred to in such derogatory terms relatable to whores. Another disappointing revelation.
Back to the big twist revelation, Rook is none too happy when, a lot of pages later, Thom finally decides to test his theory out and suddenly, but unsurprisingly, wants nothing to do with Thom who he thinks is playing a cruel trick on him.
In the city, Royston has finally been called to act on his civic duties as a magician (or Margrave..whatever that means) and is sent to the front lines where he and every other magician fall deathly ill.
Thom finds Hal (the two groups met at a party--the point at which things finally started coming together) outside the Basquiat where Royston and all other sick magicians are being held to ward off a city-wide panic and the two go to the Airman to discuss matters with the Dragon Corps. It turns out their brain-storming and suspicions are correct: the ill magicians and malfunctioning dragon are related and the novel ties itself up with heavy casualties and a completely out of character decision for Rook, one of the lucky surviving members of the Dragon Corps.
I was disappointed with this novel. There was so much more I was expecting, especially with the concept of metal dragons--only one of which we really saw in action and of her, Havemercy, only a handful of times that then left me baffled as to why her name is printed prominently as the title of the novel.
It was clear to me, if I hadn’t already known beforehand, that this was a first for Jones and Bennett. There were pacing errors, structural problems, and an interesting yet failed attempt at creating real conviction between characters and events. One glaring mistake I found between Hal and Royston really bothered me, but was probably exacerbated by my intense dislike of the very weak, bumbling, shy, ineffectual Hal. On page 182, Hal professes his admiration of the poetic phrasing of Royston’s speech in an inner commentary that contradicts his later criticism on page 200 of Royston’s inability to manage his words properly. I thought a mistake like that would have been obvious in characterization of both Royston and Hal, but it fell by the wayside and went unchecked by both the authors and the editor.
Another odd characterization was the effort to make Rook into a sneaky, manipulative plotter attempting to pull the strings and keep Thom where he wants him when he suspects The Esar (ruler) has planted the scholar as a spy in the Corps. The effort falls flat because it’s never believable, even on a remote level, where Thom’s loyalties lie. He is clearly a scholar, but also clearly invested in the Dragon Corps from the start. Rook’s insecurities at the threat are understandable, but his attempt to play chess with who he thinks is The Esar’s man are bogus and turn into filler, shallow drama.
While I sound negative about the book, there were parts I enjoyed and what kept me reading. The role playing Thom set up between the Dragon Corps men was hilarious--Jones and Bennett hit their stride in the snappy dialogue that helped more than description to give life to these clearly individual characters. I really liked Royston in the beginning of the novel, even though he fell into a depression--his anger and cynicism were marvelous, but unfortunately, rarely seen throughout the rest of the novel. The idea of the Dragon Corps was intriguing, even if I didn’t get to see the men or their dragons in too much of any action.
I also wished the map at the front of the book focused more on the layout so intrinsic to the identity and social maneuvering of the men. Instead, Thremedon is a dot on the map, with no indication of where Molly, or any of the other female-named districts are. The map focuses on the Ke-Han/Volstov border that should have been a prominent issue in the book but because of its absence for ⅔ of the novel, stayed in the backdrop and became irrelevant by the time the war comes full bloom.
This was an interesting first novel and I hear there’s a sequel which I will be reading because I do see potential in the joint effort of Jones and Bennett. I’m really curious as to who wrote what, but even if I never find out, they did create an intriguing world, albeit one with unexplained magic and obscure politics. I hope the second book is better.
I should mention, shortly after posting this review elsewhere, someone did inform me of the origins of the word "roman" and why it is quite appropriate for the context used here! :)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I thought this was going to be yet another book I loved that the majority on goodreads were eh about. I was a quarter way through, absolutely loving it, and wondering what the malfunction was with all those people who gave it like two stars. Turns out Havemercy was the real malfunction all along.
It started out so well though! The richly descriptive prose grabbed me immediately, and I like that there was four first person POVs, not something you see often and I really enjoyed the approach. Each was distinct and interesting with the promise of some cool plot stuff in the future of each. The four men were so compelling in fact that when the book was approaching the half way point and nothing had really happened I wasn't even too bothered.
But. Seventy two percent. That's how far into this book I was before the plot really kicked off. I know because I actually opened my kindle settings and checked. Which mean I feel like I can't even really talk about the plot, because surely describing stuff that happens in the last thirty percent of a book is too spoilery? What I can tell you is that a magician, Royston, gets exiled to the country and promptly falls in love with a young tutor named Hal. Their love is never quite believable, but both characters are written so well that I enjoyed it anyway. When Royston gets recalled to the city he brings Hal with him. Meanwhile, a university student named Thom is sent to live with the dragon corps; a group of wild men, maverick pilot Rook being the wildest, who fly the mechanical dragons that keep the city safe. I think he was supposed to give them etiquette lessons but the book kept acting like it was this big project that only he had the knowledge to do because of his research and I'm like surely teaching some ill-behaved men how to say thank you isn't that specialised? But anyway, that's pretty much it until you hit 72%..
You know what happens when all the big stuff in your book has to happen in the last 30%? One hell of a rushed ending, that's what. It also fucks with the relationships between the characters. By about the halfway point there was nowhere for the romance between Royston and Hal to go, and likewise the twisted love/hate thing going on with Rook and Thom gets stagnant. Both dynamics needed more plot events to evolve, but because things start to happen so late there's no room for the plot and relationship drama. It means we get hundreds of pages of Rook and Thom shoving each other and having basically the same interaction again and again and only a few paragraphs showing how their feelings change.
Nevermind that the two pairing barely interact - I think in the whole book you can count the scenes where the two plots intersect - and the plot hinges on a lot of people not realising really obvious stuff just so the main characters can.
It was a frustrating book, that much is certain. Well written and stuffed full of genuinely interesting characters but absolutely destroyed by some of the worst pacing I have ever seen.
In the early '00s, Jaida Jones was well known in the online fandom community for writing an extensive Harry Potter fanfiction, as well as a collaborative illustration/book series Pie-IX. While I did not read the former, I was a big fan of her latter work until it stopped being made, and I had high hopes for this novel. Steampunk? Metal dragons? Queer romance? I was sold.
As I started to read, I was initially thrown by the four viewpoint characters. I'm not much of a fan of head-jumping during a novel, as I find it rather jarring (and many authors end up just repeating plot points through each character's perspective, which is maddening). But I think Jones and Bennett do a decent job of making each viewpoint character stand out while pushing the story along at a brisk pace. Three out of the four characters very quickly had my interest. Royston, Rook and Thom were engaging and intriguing, with unique voices and personalities that I wanted to learn more about. Though a disclaimer about Rook: while he is introduced with a bit of a flourish, and his snappy dialogue and inner thoughts are well-written, his narrative voice started to grate on me over the course of the book. I had a real issue with the way he treated women in particular, which then spread to almost everyone around him. He's selfish, crude, and rude, at the expense of everyone but himself. He's a difficult character to like, and reading his parts were exhausting after a while. But as the story trudged forward, I started to understand what the authors were going for. Still, I'm not sure he earned or deserved redemption. He's a difficult character to pull off, and I'm not quite sure they got there.
Hal, on the other hand, was clearly the weakest of the characters. He felt a lot less engaging, twee in an obnoxious, overly naive kind of way. He's much more passive, and was very clearly introduced almost entirely as a "love interest" counterpoint to Roy. As someone who adores queer romance but is usually not as the focal point of a story, I had a difficult time understanding what the point of Hal was. His and Roy's growing relationship at Castle Nevers started out sweet, but ended up feeling syrupy and overwrought in a way that reeked of Stilton-level cheesy romance novels. It was too much. And over time, thinking back on the dynamic of the very experienced and heartbroken older man agonizing over pursuing a young, naive country boy... it didn't really sit right with me.
The supporting characters--especially the dragon riders--are honestly far more interesting than Roy or Hal could ever be, and I desperately wished they had more page-time.
The major issue in this book is the pacing. We get pages upon pages of agonizing "will they or won't they?" romance scenes with Hal and Roy, and then the actual plot--the impending war that is building in the background and later, urgent foreground--barely gets explained by the characters in the aftermath of at all. To quote Seinfeld, they "yadda yadda'd over the best part!" The book itself probably should've been about 100 pages longer for the third act alone to resolve things satisfactorily. As it is, it was massively rushed and jarring.
I also didn't find much of the book surprising. For example, I knew that the story Hal read in the beginning would become important later, and it was maddening to see the characters stumble around it. I wasn't shocked to read that Rook and Thom were siblings. That's not to say I found the book incredibly predictable and boring, however. On the contrary, the worldbuilding--while almost wholesale ripped from various historical periods of Russia and countries in Europe--was quite immersive, and some of those details were fantastic; the characters were three-dimensional and interesting; and the story itself, while simple, is fairly effective. So while none of it felt necessarily revolutionary, it was... satisfactory? Yeah.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
What impressed me the most was Jaida and Danielle's ability to move flawlessly between characters. Each personality was beautifully developed. Watching the subtle similarities between the character pairs develop added so much to the plot and story development. I will forever be in love with Royston and Hal, and wishing for more of their relationship. Thom's anguish over the situation with Rook broke my heart every time.
My one criticism is that I was about halfway through the book before I felt like I was able to describe the plot to others. Before that it was a book about magicians and dragons. I kept turning back to the previous chapters to see if I had missed something. At the time, it was very confusing for me. Once the plot was evident, though, all the seemingly insignificant comments made more sense.
I didn't want to let these characters go, thus it took me an extraordinarily long time to finish!
In case someone of a more conservative nature reads this, I feel like I should give a disclaimer that there is a homosexual relationship in the book. It's not erotic in nature and I didn't find it off-putting in any way.
The latest I've read in The Series I've Been Reading Mostly Backwards, for Unknown Reasons. After reading #4, and then #3, I suspected that I really should have read #1 first, in order to be properly introduced to the characters. After reading it, I was correct. Many vaguenesses are now explained. I do feel much more familiar with the characters. However, while the book was entertaining and fun, it still wasn't great. Perhaps as a result of having two separate authors, I felt this was really two separate stories: one about Thom, who is assigned to give the rude, crude Dragon Squad Sensitivity Training, and one a gay love story between a young country boy and a jaded aristocrat. Yes, the stories eventually come together, and all the characters meet, but for most of the book, they feel very separate. And, while both of them were adequate entertainment, I also felt that both of them could have been done better. I still didn't get a vivid sense of the world around the characters, especially that of the enemy (the Ke-Han). I felt like too much of the story depended on references to our society, rather than truly creating another world.
3.5 *possibly spoilerish* Magical clockwork dragons, ya'll! Magical clockwork dragons. There was no way I could pass this up once I'd discovered its existence and on the whole I really quite enjoyed it. I liked the writing style. I liked the characters...mostly. I liked the dragons. I actually liked that it had a rather slow start. On the surface, I even liked the ending.
What I didn't like was the ambiguity around aspects of the book that I would have really liked if I had just been sure of them. Was Balfour really trans or just a man teased as effeminate because he had better manners than the rest? Was Rook and Thom's love platonic or heading for romance? Did Hal and Royston ever consummate their relationship? Considering the book starts with a man in bed with his lover, I don't see why we aren't given any sort of closure on this point. When it comes to romance I feel like the book set us up for two great loves and fails to deliver either as promised.
As an aside, though not uncommon in fantasy, I have to ask, where are all the women? There are a few minor mentions of female characters, but nothing more. But for all my remaining questions, I finished the book happy.
This is an exceptional book, if in a very boring sort of way. It stands out among its peers for the quality of its writing and the creativity of its conception. In an age when plot twists and narrative blindsides have become de rigueur, the novel's plot reads as particularly linear. Nevertheless, it is peopled with fantastically rich characters, each articulated in superb prose.
By rights, I really think two stars or less would be more accurate for this book. As it stands, I really wanted to like it and the aspects I enjoyed were almost great but never really got there.
The plot took a back burner in Havemercy. If there hadn't been a reveal in the second half of the book, I would have thought this was just a romance novel with a fantasy backdrop. The plot finds itself in the last 100 pages or so of a 400 page book. The first part establishes the cast of characters, only four of them being in anyway actually established with personalities of their own.
We're introduced to 20+ characters very briefly and boy I could barely remember any of them. By the time shit hits the fan, there wasn't enough time to actually know enough about the characters to care what happened to them or their dragons or their magic (yes, in a book that took 300 pages to establish relationships and characters, no less). The ending itself felt super rushed as if it was merely an afterthought as opposed to the labor of love of the romantic pairing.
The book comes across soulless in almost every way. Nothing is really expanded upon in such a way that you can learn about the characters and grow to care for them, nor is there any care given to worldbuilding. And Havemercy does suffer for it immensely.
The POV switches were seemingly at random in that I always questioned why the POV was being changed at all. A few times I felt the shift broke tension. There were plenty of times the narrarive would benefit from one character, but instead we had endless pages of angst or filler from a character whose POV was completely unnecessary and boring. By the time we actually got a chance to see how that character was feeling, it had been days in between in the book and was written off in a sentence or maybe a paragraph.
Finally, the relationship between Rook and Thom was horrible. Mostly because Rook is shown as an irredeemable sociopath who delights in gutting men for fun. He tortures Thom for the majority of the book and only has a small feeling that could be construed as positive after the reveal of their relationship to each other. Even then it comes off weak and unbelievable to the extreme. There are few, if any humanizing moments for him. So while he is probably the most interesting character in terms of voice and his scenes, I found it hard to enjoy reading his POV scenes because he's such a disgusting person from the narrative.
Though Thom is certainly less hateable, he's also boring as a sack of bricks. He makes no connections with the other dragon riders and has very little characteristics of his own. His only human moments are ruined by Rook's POV and only helps to seal Rook as a cruel and hateful person with no morals or humanity left in him. I wondered why Thom saw anything at all in him even after the reveal. It certainly wasn't something I have any desire to see more of.
Finally, the best part of the story and the one that the authors seemed the most happy to build up and develop into something healthy and enjoyable: the relationship between Royston and Hal is absolutely adorable. It was both believable and touching. It was one of the more healthy gay relationships I've seen in any form of entertainment anyways. There was still much left to be desired with the whole of it, but I can say that especially in the beginning it was very sweet and enjoyable. Even the unnecessary angst was cute and added something to it. While a lot of the themes fell flat, it was enjoyable and I had very little problems in that regard. For the most part, it was the only thing that kept me reading at all.