Havemercy is a young adult fantasy novel, the first in a series of four (so far, I don’t know if the series is finished), co-written by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett. For those of you who don’t know, Jaida Jones is one half of the duo responsible for creating The Shoebox Project, which I would rate as the greatest series of Harry Potter fanfiction ever. Don’t roll your eyes at the word fanfiction though, because The Shoebox Project is completely unlike any pre-conceived ideas you may have of fanfiction. For a start, it’s absolutely bloody brilliant. It’s based around the Marauders during their time at Hogwarts (my favourite characters), and waiting for the next weekly instalment became quite a large feature of my teenage years. I think it’s still lurking on the internet somewhere, and I’d highly recommend checking it out. It’s completely hilarious and rather sweet at times, and the character studies are really excellent. I think even J.K. Rowling knew of and praised its existence! But back on track, The Shoebox Project is also the sole reason that I picked up Havemercy when it first came out many years ago now, as I probably wouldn’t have ever have heard about it or Jaida Jones (and Danielle Bennett) otherwise.
The narrative of Havemercy is divided between four characters: Margrave Royston, a magician who is banished to his brother’s house in the country after having an affair with the Prince of Arlemagne; Hal, a young man in the household who takes it upon himself to look after Royston alongside his master’s children; Rook, a member of the Dragon Corps who is forever getting into trouble and causing diplomatic incidents by not keeping his trousers on; and Thom, a student from the ‘Versity who is tasked with ‘rehabilitating’ the Dragon Corps to prevent further scandal.
The story is set in the country of Volstov, which has been at war with the Ke-Han for as long as anyone can remember. The Dragon Corps play a vital part in the war, as the airmen fly metal dragons (yes, metal dragons – not quite alive, but not just machinery) to attack the Ke-Han defences. The magicians are also called upon to use their various ‘talents’, or powers, to fight alongside the common soldiers. But when something starts tampering with the magic of the magicians and the dragons, their fighting capabilities are affected, leaving Volstov vulnerable to a potential Ke-Han victory. The source of the magic contamination must be found and resolved before the magicians and dragons are destroyed completely.
Now I did have some issues with this book, as I always do. For a start, I could tell that it was a first novel (which isn’t an issue, but an observation). That’s not to say that the writing was bad by any means, because it wasn’t. I just occasionally felt that it wasn’t quite as polished as it could be, and I did spot a few inconsistencies – for example, we’re told that no dragon could match Havemercy for speed, but then later in the same paragraph we’re told that the fastest dragon is Anastasia. There were a few other examples as well, but it’s these little niggles that could have been ironed out which suggest a level of inexperience to me. However, considering this book was co-authored I felt the writing style was very consistent, which I found quite impressive. From my understanding of their writing process, either Jaida or Danielle would start writing until they wanted to stop, and then the other would carry on where they left off. The joins were never visible though, so I thought that was very well done and clearly shows how in tune with each other they must be.
I wasn’t too keen on some of the relationship developments, I must admit. I wasn’t at all surprised by Hal and Royston’s relationship it had been so damn obvious from the very beginning. I would perhaps have liked it to have been less obvious, but it worked as it was. The big reveal about Thom and Rook’s relationship bothered me though, because I didn’t feel like it was necessary. It rounded everything off too neatly, but sometimes we don’t need to have all the loose ends tied, and I felt this was one of those times.
Rook’s character perspective was by far my favourite to read from, even if he was completely over the top and a bit more foul-mouthed than was necessary. I liked all of the other characters too, but I sort of wanted to give them all a shake and tell them to man up a bit, especially Hal who seemed to be forever flushing and crying. I felt Rook’s was the strongest character, and I just adored all of the Dragon Corps. In a way it’s kind of a shame because there are so many airmen and dragons that we never get to learn much about them as individuals, other than their names and the very occasional titbit of information. It was even a bit overwhelming at first, with too many characters being introduced too quickly. I did really enjoy the scenes where we get to know the airmen a bit more though, I couldn’t read the role-playing scene without guffawing to myself. This is the third time I’ve read Havemercy since it came out about seven years ago, and that scene gets me chuckling every time. I love everything about the Dragon Corps. I love how protective they are of their dragons and how they treat them; I love the individual characters of the dragons themselves (although Havemercy’s the only one we ever really get to hear about in detail); I love the banter (for lack of a better word because I hate the modern connotations) and the general ways in which they interact with each other, how they’re always fighting and arguing on the ground but work so well as a team in the air, how Compagnon’s always giggling and Balfour’s still always seen as the new kid. I wish I could have know more about all of them, but I really enjoyed seeing their interactions as a collective and the workings of the Dragon Corps as its own little society. I also have quite a fondness for Ghislain, although I’m not sure why he stood out for me over all the others. (If I’m perfectly honest, I think I’m a little bit smitten with all of them). I especially loved the final sacrifice of the airmen and their dragons, knowing that they wouldn’t have enough fuel to make it back from their last attack. It was a bittersweet and heroic last hurrah, and I found it incredibly emotional the first time I read it, although it doesn’t affect me so much now that I know what to expect.
I also thought it was a shame that we never actually saw how the war was won. We see the airmen and their dragons destroying the Ke-Han’s source of magic, but then the soldiers and remaining magicians were sent in for the final push, and I would have liked to have read about that. We read about the aftermath, but I would have liked to see how Royston fared in the final battle.
In terms of the creation of a fantasy world, I think it was actually done rather well. The magic system is explained, there are laws and politics affecting the characters’ actions, and it seemed like every aspect of the land and society had been thought through. We were also given a lot of background information into the history of Volstov and the layout of the city Thremedon, although occasionally it felt like a bit of an info-dump with too much detail to take in. Although some of this detail could perhaps have been worked into the narrative a bit more cleverly, and perhaps we didn’t even need to know all of it after all, but I really appreciated the thoroughness with which the authors presented their world. I had a fuller picture because of it, even if the picture was sometimes confusing.
I would actually really love to see a film or TV adaptation of this book, especially centred around the airmen and their dragons. I don’t know specifically what it is about them, but they’ve given me the biggest book hangover. I just can’t stop thinking about metal dragons! Something about the idea of them really struck me, and I’d love to see a visual representation of the relationship between the airmen and their dragons, and between the airmen in general. I think it’d be very popular – fourteen striking airmen in dapper uniforms risking their lives on shiny metal dragons, it has HBO written all over it! I think the main reason I can’t stop thinking about it is because I feel like I need to know more about them all, but considering the ending of the book I think that’s pretty unlikely to happen, unless the authors write prequels. I’ve read the second book in the series before, Shadow Magic, but I’ve no idea what Dragon Soul and Steel Hands are about, so I might get lucky on that point. The titles are promising at least, and I’d be disappointed if there weren’t any dragons in Dragon Soul. Steel Hands suggests it’ll be about Balfour, which would be a treat, but I think I’d like to see a lot more of the Dragon Corps in general please.
See previous Book Review featuring Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus.