1/12/2010. Contributed by Kelly Jensen
pub: Bantam Spectra. 448 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US) GBP4.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-055359-137-8.
check out websites: www.bantamdell.com, www.jonesandbennett.comand http://sf-fantasy.suvudu.com
When I first heard about this book, I wanted to read it. I did not, simply because my library did not have a copy and I have not the funds to run out and buy every book that captures my interest. Who does? I have learned that patience has its own rewards, however, as often a copy of what I want will find its way into my hands by one means or another, eventually.
I picked up a copy of this one at the New York Comic Convention this year, along with quite a few others I’d been patiently waiting for. I also got a chance to meet the authors, briefly, and have my copy signed. Patience does indeed have its rewards!
‘Havemercy’ is the first novel by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett. I had little idea of the story when I first heard of the book, in fact, I’ll cheerfully 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 is 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 their nation, 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 one afternoon, working.
Rook starts out as a stereotypical flying ace – crude, lewd and rude. He flies Havemercy and the dragon corps are an integral part of the country’s military power. 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 by flirting (and more?) with his wife, a ‘Versity student, Thom, is assigned the task of providing etiquette lessons to the entire dragon corps. The first meeting between Rook and Thom, though typically painful, is very 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 nation of Ke-Han re-ignites. 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 and was happy to discover some of them feature more prominently in the sequels.
‘Havemercy’ ranked number eight in a list of the top twenty books of 2009, as put together by Deborah J Miller, the award administrator for the The David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy, from votes received on the long-list, http://www.sfcrowsnest.com/articles/news/2009/Top-twenty-fantasy-books-for-2009-14080.php . The follow up novel, ‘Shadow Magic’ is on the current list, according to the Legend website. I’m looking forward to reading the second and third books in this series which, happily, have both already been published.
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