When I finally picked up Havemercy to read last month, I only knew two things about it. The book contained metal dragons, and one of the co-authors had co-authored a legendary Harry Potter fanfic that I adored (the Shoebox Project, if you’re interested).
What I now know about this book is that its authors have built a whole new fantasy playground in which their characters can play, and these characters include a maverick pilot of one of the aforementioned metal dragons, a timid University student, and a gay wizard who found love in the countryside. Though there are some problems with the writing style, I think it’s a fun read for fantasy fans.
Havemercy is set in the fictional land of Volstov, which is meant to have corollaries to the Roman Empire. Volstov has been at war with the Ke-Han Empire, which is a bit like shogun Japan, for many years and their main asset in the war is the Dragon Corps. The corps consists of fourteen men who pilot fourteen magical metal dragons that were constructed by Volstov’s wizards. Volstov appears to be winning the war at last, but something is wrong. The Dragon Corps notice that their dragons are behaving oddly and this is only the beginning of the trouble.
Our four main characters are Thom, a University student sent to help clean up the rough and tumble Dragon Corps; Rook, the most unruly member of the Dragon Corps and the rider of the dragon Havemercy, for whom the book is named; Royston, a wizard who has been banished to the country for an illicit homosexual affair with a prince; and Hal, a tutor living in the country who eventually becomes Royston’s companion.
The narrative of the novel switches between these four characters, and the story is told in first-person from each of their perspectives. I’m not really a fan of first-person point of view, but I got used to it after a while. Although there is a homosexual character in this novel – a minority that is often underrepresented, even today – I was surprised to find that there were no strong, female characters in this book. With two female co-authors, I thought that surely there would be some kickass lady in these pages, but that’s not what I found.
There are good points and some bad points about this book, as with any book, and it really comes down to whether you think its bad points outweigh its good points. For instance, the geography of this world is very unique and I enjoyed their descriptions of Thremedon, the largest city in Volstov. But there wasn’t enough background on the Ke-Han for my liking. The Dragon Corps were a compelling bunch and I enjoyed their interplay. But the dragons were not as steampunk-y as I had expected.
In addition, the synopsis of the novel made it sound as though these four characters would somehow join together on a quest to help Volstov win the war. Thom and Rook came together, and Hal and Royston came together, but the four of them never met the way I was hoping for. At times, the dialogue spoken by these characters felt very over-the-top and unbelievable. I know that the language in high fantasy can sometimes be over-the-top, but I didn’t think this was a high fantasy novel. Although my opinion on this book is overall a positive one, I have to say the dialogue really did annoy me at times.
As I began to notice the novel’s shortcomings, I resigned myself to the fact that I just wasn’t going to like the book. I really wanted to like it because of who the authors are and the fact that I had sort of followed the development of this book through their online journals.
However, about halfway through, I found myself engrossed in the world and in the story that was taking place. Once the characters had been set up and the main plot began to unfold, I felt very invested in the story. And by the end, I was feeling ready for more. I’ve already ordered the sequel to Havemercy, Shadow Magic, and the book that comes after that, Dragon Soul.
Does this novel have some problems? Yes, it absolutely does. But I think you have to remember that it’s a debut novel. Personally, I was willing to forgive them a bit of beginner’s stumbling because I know they’re good writers and I think this world has promise.
Overall, the main plot did hold up and I think the characters are interesting enough to carry on into the subsequent books. Who knows? Perhaps the writing and dialogue issues will resolve themselves as these new writers get more practice. In any case, it’s a fun bit of fantasy that makes for a quick, entertaining read and I’m looking forward to more of it.