Book Report: Havemercy by Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett

December 28, 2008 at 8:37 am (Books Galore) (, )

I didn’t originally intend to buy this at all, but when I came across it in Barnes & Noble I was helpless, helpless I say, to stop myself. So I didn’t. Now, I know Jaida Jones from The Shoebox Project, which is a long and possibly terminally incomplete and rather good piece of Harry Potter fanfic, Sirius/Remus set during the Marauder Era. Jaida Jones is one of the authors. Havemercy is also co-authored, but not with the same person as The Shoebox Project.

The plot more or less runs in tandem until it doesn’t, and it’s about two different pairs of men. The setting is vaguely and generically European, until I realized that one side is based loosely off Russia (the Esar sounds like the Tsar; an important building is covered in, uh, colorful onions) while the other one is based off of…I don’t know, Mongolians? Something vaguely Oriental (there is a reference to smoking opium and having twelve wives). As for the plot…Royston, a court magician, is exiled to the countryside for nearly causing an international incident, and there he meets Hal, who is to be the tutor of his nephews but in whom Roy finds a surprising thirst for knowledge and learning. Rook is a member of the Dragon Corps, which are basically Volstov’s air force, and they fly atop giant metal dragons, and they are basically winning the war against the Ke-Han for them. Rook has nearly caused a diplomatic incident by slapping the ass of a diplomat’s wife and calling her a whore in front of the entire court; as a result, Thom is given the task of trying to educate the Dragon Corps in etiquette and proper manners. A mysterious illness arises, which starts targeting Volstov’s air force. Meanwhile, the giant metal dragons of the Dragon Corps seem to breaking down. These two events are what ultimately bring Roy and Hal, Rook and Thom, together.

The book itself wasn’t so much bad, exactly, as it wasn’t about what I wanted it to be about. It’s nowhere near as exciting as the book jacket would have you believe, or hell, even my little synopsis up there—even if the jacket and my synopsis is technically accurate. Havemercy is written in rotating first person POV (and where have I seen that before? Fair warning, reading Sarah Monette’s The Virtu and The Mirador shortly before Havemercy are probably affecting my review), switching between the four men more or less without any order. The first fifteen sections go Royston, Rook, Hal, Royston, Rook, Thom, Hal, Thom, Royston, Thom, Hal, Royston, Rook, Thom, Hal. Not a whole lot of consistency, not even flipping between the two plotlines (Royston-Hal, Rook-Thom). So—that kind of gives the whole story a…lack of coherence. It’s the fact that there are two converging plotlines that does it, I think. Seeing different plotlines from different points of view—points of view that aren’t even consistent between plotlines—makes it difficult to get a hold of everything that’s going at the same time. It’s even worse when the connection between the two plots isn’t all that obvious in the first place. And there was also the problem that, of the two plotlines, the Royston-Hal—or more accurately, the Royston/Hal—one was frankly kind of boring; Royston is exiled, he is recalled to the capital, he gets sick, Hal saves him, he goes to war. That’s it. Somewhere along the line they fall in love, but it’s frankly kind of vanilla and straightforward and, well, boring and unbelievable. Especially compared to the Rook-Thom plotline which isn’t even a pairing one. Theirs is more interesting, partly because it’s so combative, and partly because I was half-expecting them to end up together (they don’t, at least not as a couple). I was skipping the Royston and Hal sections for the Rook and Thom ones.

Of the four main characters, Rook was definitely the most interesting to me. Royston wasn’t so bad when he began, because he had his occasional moments of flippancy that I liked, but when he got all mopey and started fretting over falling for Hal I kind of lost interest, possibly because they’re fifteen years apart and I found it a little creepy, though I understand this kind of age difference is pretty typical in your average romance novel (which Havemercy doesn’t quite qualify as, but. Precedent and all that.) So, yeah, I found their romance pretty bland and more than a little overdone. Hal was okay, I didn’t dislike him but I didn’t like him overly much either; he was too bland. There wasn’t much to like or dislike. The theme of the countryside’s closed-mindedness vs. the relative open-mindedness of the city made me uncomfortable and seemed to me rather ham-handed in is application, so every time Royston brought it up, and especially when he brought it up in reference to Hal’s amazing thirst to learn, I just yawned and flipped past. Their side of the plot was largely unimportant until they were brought together and just wasn’t all that interesting until they got into the city and their plotline was tied in to Rook and Thom’s. And as for Rook and Thom…I found them more interesting, but mostly because Rook was a total bastard and I kind of liked watching him go at it because quite frankly he had the most distinct personality out of the four main characters. Possibly I was curious at how he’d end up with Thom given that Rook seems to be very firmly straight, what with his love for a fine pair of breasts, and that kind of ended up as a non-issue (which was a nice twist, at least).

Thom was sort of interesting too, but really only for his observations of the Dragon Corps and how their special status in society—an elite corps of airmen above most of society’s rules, trained and drilled to believe that they are more important than regular folks but still faced with the truth that once the war was over so were they, a fraternity trained to fight—made them act and react towards each other. I mean, that was what I wanted to read about. How the lulls in the fighting affected them, how their training and disparate backgrounds affected their relationships and how they interacted in and out of the air and how their strange status as the only fourteen men able to fly in their society gave them different perspectives on themselves and their relation to the world. I wanted to read about their dragons and how they felt about them and I wanted to read about how being forced to live and work in such close quarters for long made them gay for each other changed them. I wanted to read about how so many men raised for such a specific purpose and then forced into close quarters would affect their relationships, what hierarchical (read: bullying) structures arise and is their mentality more like a swarm or like a team or like a pack? I don’t know. I wanted to read about the Dragon Corps, their beginning, their end, and everything in between ugly or not. I didn’t want to flip impatiently past pages where nothing really interesting happened. I wanted to learn more about the other men, as opposed to just, you know, getting a vague sense for them out there behind Rook. I mean, naming them all was kind of unimportant; all we really needed to know was Adamo and Rook, and maybe Balfour and Ghislain and Ace. Most of them weren’t very remarkable or easy to keep straight and ultimately trying to proved to be a pretty fruitless exercise.

So when I say that this book wasn’t about what I wanted it to be about, that’s what I mean. It was about Royston and Hal who I didn’t care much at all for, and it was about Rook and Thom who were more interesting only because of the fact they can’t say a decent word to each other and their involvement with the Dragon Corps, which were the most interesting bit of the whole book and should’ve been explored in greater detail, damn it, because that’s where the action and the interesting twisty character bits and tasty speculations and explorations were all lying. So this book left me feeling pretty dissatisfied on that account; too much of what I didn’t want and too little of what I did and nothing to make what I didn’t want into what I did. There were a couple of other things I wanted out of this book, too. One of them was to see Thom go up to Rook and tell him that if the whole etiquette rehabilitation project falls through it’s his neck on the line, because Rook hates him for whatever reason despite it being Rook’s fucking fault Thom’s there in the first place and I dunno, I just wanted to see him really bite back instead of seeing Rook keep on coming out on top. It was kind of annoying because I liked Rook I guess, but god damn he needed someone to smack him down but good.

And that kind of leads into another way this book was kind of dissatisfying; it’s that it’s not really deep. By which I mean, the threats don’t always feel very palpable. Thom is afraid of what might happen to him if the rehab thing for the Dragon Corps falls through but we really never see any evidence of what the Esar might do to him, no examples or threats or…anything, just his fretting, without any real justification other than “the Esar is powerful, I’m expendable, they are not,” which doesn’t really do much to get across the full menace of what might be riding on the line for him. Is the Esar cruel enough to have him executed? Or will he just be disgraced and made an academic laughingstock? Will be he exiled? What? What kind of punishment might the Esar mete out if given the chance? That sort of…shallowness, call it, also shows through in the voices of the four protagonists which aren’t really all that distinct. Rook’s from the lower class part of the city, and aside from saying fuck a lot (sometimes in really awkward places) it doesn’t…really show. I mean, I don’t know, I’d expect it to be more obvious because while he’s glad to get away from that place he never explicitly mentions trying to eradicate hints of his background from his speech the way Thom does. All four of the men sort of…read kind of alike. They’re not really distinct from each other at all. I could distinguish them if I had to, but only through content, not so much through the cadence and differences of their speech and thoughts, not the way I could if given a sample of, say, Felix and a sample of Mildmay.

The world was shallow as well. I mentioned that it took me a moment to work out that it was meant to based on Russia and Mongolians/random warlike Asians? Well, aside from little things like the sound and cadence of names, this might as well have been set in your random European fantasy setting of choice. It wasn’t really immersive at all, it was pretty generic, in fact. The effect was particularly palpable since I’d just come straight from reading Doctrine of Labyrinths, where Monette is really good at that sort of immersive world-building, and it’s particularly disappointing once you’ve experienced what Tamora Pierce can do (Terrier had problems, yeah, but god damn that was worldbuilding I would die to be able to do.).

TL;DR: plot drags, 3/4 of characters not really interesting, world-building doesn’t feel real. Not really worth the twenty-two bucks the hardcover cost me; don’t know if it’s even worth the cost of the paperback; would I buy the sequel? Eh. Only to see what happens, and only if it’s about Rook and Thom, and maybe not even then, since the Dragon Corps are dissolved by the end of the war and hence, the part I found the most interesting. I hate to say it, but give it a pass.


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