REVIEW: Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
Dear Ms. Jones and Ms. Bennett,
Like my fellow Dear Author bloggers, Jane and Janine, I’m participating in Keishon’s 2009 TBR Challenge. Unfortunately, I seem unable to follow directions and completely failed to meet this month’s theme. Again. That sound you hear in the distance is probably Jane laughing at me. Again. In my defense, your book does meet the barest requirement: it was in my TBR pile. I was in the mood for a traditional fantasy, so I dug it out and dove right in.
For over a hundred years, the country of Volstov has been fighting a war against the Ke-han Empire. As might be expected from an extended conflict that spans multiple generations, it has periods of active conflict interspersed with lulls. It’s against the backdrop of one of these quiet periods that Havemercy opens, introducing us to the lives of four men.
First, we meet Royston, a magician who gets exiled from the capital of Thremedon for a scandalous homosexual affair with a foreign prince. It’s not so much that he engaged in the affair; Volstov is generally more accepting of such relationships. The problem is that his lover comes from a country that isn’t. And when their relationship is exposed, the prince chooses to accuse Royston of using his magic to coerce him. Never mind the fact that Volstov’s brand of magic doesn’t work that way, and that Royston’s magical ability is solely dedicated to making things explode. But Volstov needs the alliance with the prince’s home country, so they have no choice but to make an example of Royston.
For his exile, Royston is sent to his brother’s country estate. It’s here that we meet Hal, a young tutor who takes care of the children. Though Hal is a naÃ¯ve country bumpkin, he’s extremely bright. He immediately becomes fascinated with Royston, who — as a result of being burned by his former lover — holds him at arms’ length, not wanting to take advantage of the much younger man.
Then we’re introduced to the Dragon Corps, Volstov’s elite fighting force who’ve been instrumental in the war against the Ke-han. Rook, a Dragon Corps pilot, is accused of raping a diplomat’s wife. While he didn’t rape her, he did indeed sleep with her. Unfortunately, he also mistook her for a whore and tried to pay her afterwards, which she took as an egregious insult. Wanting to avoid yet another international incident, Volstov decides that the Dragon Corps needs to be taught the manners necessary to function in proper society. The poor person assigned this horrendous task is Thom, a university student. Needless to say, Rook and Thom don’t get along.
Of course, the stalemate doesn’t last for long and the war starts up again in earnest. Rumor has it that Volstov is on the verge of winning, once and for all. Except, as our protagonists discover, that might not actually be the case and in fact, may be as far away from the reality as possible.
So let’s get to the main reason why I chose this book over the others in my TBR pile: metal dragons. Yes, the Dragon Corps pilot metal dragons. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t get too excited about dragons these days. In fact, I tend to avoid books featuring dragons, if at all possible. Too much exposure to Dragonlance and Pern growing up, I suppose. But metal dragons? Sign me up.
And it’s for that reason I wish we’d seen more of them — in action during attacks on the Ke-han, in downtime in their hangers, or just interacted with their pilots. I find the idea of metal dragons animated by magic very interesting, particularly when they seem to develop their own personalities. We got to see Havemercy through her interactions with Rook and while what glimpses we caught were great, I would have liked to see the other dragons’ too. Especially when you take into account what happens to them later in the book, as the Ke-han plot becomes clearer — I think there would have been a great opportunity to see the dragons break down and start acting not like themselves at all.
Something that might be of interest to other readers is that the narrative rotates through the first-person point of views of each protagonist. I don’t mind this stylistic choice, but I know other readers do so I thought it fair to mention. I will say I was strongly reminded of Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinth series, which put this book at a slight disadvantage. When rotating first person narrations are done well, the different voices can be very striking. But while I thought Rook had a strong, angry voice, the other characters’ voices weren’t very distinct from one another.
On the other hand, that perception might also stem from the fact that while I found Rook and Thom’s storyline compelling, I didn’t find Roy and Hal’s storyline that interesting. Don’t get me wrong. I definitely believe their storyline was necessary for the plot. I just found it rather bland. Whenever I reached a Roy or Hal section, I found myself thinking, “When’s the next Rook or Thom?” I’m sure other readers will feel differently since I think the Roy and Hal storyline is the more romantic of the two, but to be honest, Hal bored me and I thought Royston was at his best when he was maneuvering through the Volstov court.
Rook and Thom, however, I could have read an entire book about. Their character dynamics, respective backgrounds, and interactions hit all my favorite narrative tropes. I suppose you could say the revelations that occur later in the book are cliché, but the antagonistic push and pull between them kept me reading.
And speaking of Rook and Thom’s storyline, can I just say I loved the antics of the Dragon Corps? Make no mistake, I think Rook is an asshole and that the Dragon Corps act like glorified frat boys but I understand where that entitled attitude comes from. They are Volstov’s elite fighting force and they know it, so Thremedon has become their playground. After all, who’s going to tell them to stop? If they get punished the way they deserve, there’d be no more Dragon Corps and then where would Volstov be?
That’s another reason why that storyline was the more interesting to me. It illustrated how war affected people, both in terms of power and mentally. For me, the most striking thing was Thom’s observation that the Dragon Corps are like their own contained culture. This is why they had such a hard time functioning in proper society. The problem with that? Once the war is over, rendering the Dragon Corps obsolete, what’s going to happen to them?
For the most part, the war does take place in the background, which will bother some readers. I did wish the Ke-han plot had been introduced a little earlier. I liked the first half of the book, but I thought that conspiracy brought an immediacy to the story that wasn’t there before. On the other hand, I absolutely loved the idea of Thom using the Dragon Corps for his thesis and getting funding for future studies and papers. How often do we see academia portrayed in traditional fantasy? Now if we could get some female characters in future books, I’d be all set. B-
This book can be purchased in hardcover from Amazon (a mass market is not available until July 2009) or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.
This sounds interesting. I haven’t heard of the title or the authors before. Rotating first-person point of view can be a bit of a challenge for me to read though. I like first person, but when it switches, it’s like a reminder that I’m reading a book and throws me out of the story a little.
It also reminds me that I need to catch up on the Temeraire series!
Ok, you sold me. I just ordered it from Amazon– and I plumped for the hardcover instead of the Kindle version because I liked the dust jacket.
Shades of Temeraire, I think. It does sound really interesting — metal dragons are cool!
Now, I don’t pay a ton of attention to straight fantasy, but is m/m a growing sub-genre there? I mean, I know Mercedes Lackey did it, but I’ve never heard of any other gay fantasies. (Ok, ‘gay fantasies’ looks weird, but I’ve only had the one cup of coffee. You know what I mean.)
This books sounds awesome. Definitley going on the to-buy list, but I *might* wait for the paperback since the ebook price is still a little steep.
Sela, Sarah Monette has a series of fantasy novels with m/m relationships. The Virtu, Melusine, and The Mirador (I think there’s one more in the series). I’ve only Melusine so far but it’s really good. You might want to check Keishon’s blog (Avidreader) I think she’s read the whole series and loved it.
Lynn flewelling has a series. Then my all time favorite by Ellen Kushner: Swordspoint. I like it best when the author is fluid with sexuality– not making a big to do about whether a character is gay or not.
Lynn Flewelling and Ellen Kushner also write fantasy with gay romance. Swordspoint (Kushner) is one of my favorite books. They’ve been around for a while so I don’t know about growing, or not.
Heh, I didn’t see your comment, DS, until after I posted.
So apparently, I’m just desperately out of the loop. *gg* Looks like I have some catching up to do in my reading!
I really enjoyed Havemercy, and actually found it really interesting that the authors used a lot of traditional themes in romance for Hal’s and Roy’s story — the naive governess, world-weary older aristocrat, social constraints (class, propriety, and protecting Hal’s reputation.) Because it was two men in the romance, it gave these tropes a freshness.
I agree with you that more of the dragons would have better served the story. It was the “magic fueled metal dragons” in the book description that made me pick it up in the first place.
On the publisher’s site, the author’s have said that a sequel is in the works, focusing on the Ke-Han. I can’t wait!
Thanks for the review.
The authors have cited Ellen Kushner as a major influence on them, actually. If I recall correctly, they might have dedicated this book to her. At the very least, she’s named in the acknowledgments. (Yes, I’m one of those people who reads everything.)
@Renee: I was thinking about how Hal & Roy’s storyline really does follow a traditional romance arc. The main reason it probably didn’t work for me is because the arc chosen (naive, young thing heals world-weary, disillusioned soldier) is one that very, very rarely works for me at all.
I saw that there is a sequel in the works! I think I might have seen mention in an interview somewhere that one of the narrators is going to be the half-crazy magician who can make illusions.
@vanessa jaye: I absolutely love Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinth series. For me, that’s one of the best examples of how two different first person narratives can sound completely different from one another. Mildmay’s voice is amazing.
Exactly. Love Mildmay. I still have The Mirador to read but yes, I love this series. Can’t wait for Corambis.
Ooooh I read this last year, and I really enjoyed it – tho I did struggle to identify which person was which from the first person POV. Once I got that sorted I was all good. Yes more of the dragons would have been nice.
I didnt note the Kushner comment, but having heard it and read Swordspoint, Fall of the Kings and Priviledge of the Sword, the influence these had on Havemercy become completely obvious.
I liked it. It was a completely new take on dragons, which is unusual these days. The first person POV is fairly unusual as well esp split between 4 diff people. The magic was reasonably believable and what little we saw of the worldbuilding was interesting. I was intrigued by the references to the previous race of people from whom the magic had come, that looked like a storyline with potential.
And yet the Sarah Monette stuff I loathed :)
Was it Felix? Because, to be fair, Felix can be very, very off-putting to many people. I believe Jane couldn’t finish Melusine because of him.