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.
I can hear you groaning: Oh, good, another fantasy novel about dragons, just what we all need.
To tell you the truth, I’ve walked past this book and left it untouched about a hundred times at the library because of the mechanical dragon on the cover. I would kind of moan internally and think something along the lines of “Really? We’re reduced to reading books not just about dragons anymore but mechanical dragons?” Then I read this interview with the authors and this review of Havemercy and I figured I had to give it a shot, and I’m glad I did. Whatever you expect this book to be, it’s not that.
This book is very reminiscent to Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of the Labyrinth series, in the way that it is told from the first person perspective of more than one individual (four, to be exact). However, while I consider Monette a master of voice (read her series to see what I mean), the authors of Havemercy didn’t quite attain her level. Writing from the perspective of four individuals is a daunting task, and at times the voices weren’t quite as distinctive as I would have liked. Three of the characters were incredibly similar sounding and occasionally their voices would blend together until they sounded nearly the same.
I was rather impressed with the world building at the beginning of the book, as the authors really focused on describing the city of Volstov making it come to life. Once the city had been properly described, the world building falters. That being said, Jaida and Danielle do a nice job at introducing the reader to the world as it would be seen and perceived through the perspective of the character you are reading about at the moment. Though I will say that the city seemed far more real and fleshed out than the countryside ever did.
Most of this book is a character study focusing on development and relationships making the actual war and the mechanical dragons seem almost like a subplot that fills the last third of the book. There are two major plotlines that are followed during most of this book; one of which is a falling-in-love story and another is set to show the reader how the Dragon Corps are different than basically anyone else in the city. Both of these plots are kept interesting and moving forward at a nice clip. It isn’t until the last chunk of the book that the actual dragons and the war become important, well after the relationships have been established. There are some plot twists involving family secrets and other things of that nature which serves to keep the overall plot of these two major storylines invigorated.
One point I would like to make which some readers may either enjoy (or not) is that, in Havemercy, there is no real waiting point to see how the four storylines come together and influence each other. While it’s not clear right away, it becomes very clear in the first part of the book how the characters relate to each other leaving the reader to pretty much assume how all four characters are important in each other’s storylines. I’ll use this as a counterpoint (for example) to Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man (or The Painted Man depending on what side of the pond you are on) where his main plotlines have almost no relation to each other until well after half of the book is read.
This is a very character driven work, and readers should be made aware of that (though it probably seems obvious by this point in my review). For much of the Havemercy there really isn’t much going on besides character and overall relationship development, but the authors do a great job at keeping this interesting and almost refreshing. While the overall world building might falter at times, the well fleshed out characters make up for it. While this book does remind me a bit of Sarah Monette’s work, it’s not as graphic as her stuff, which could also appeal to some readers.
This is Jones and Bennett’s debut work, which really did surprise me because the writing is more in line with a time-tested author than what I would expect to read from two newbie’s. The idea is fresh and some steampunk ideas serve to keep things unique and interesting, which is no small feat in a genre where you can throw a rock and hit a dragon book.
All in all, this is definitely worth picking up. Havemercy resolves nicely but leaves enough room for several other healthy installments to this series. I highly recommend it to fans of Sarah Monette and/or character driven books, or any reader who’s in the mood for something a bit lighter and a bit different.