Summary; Four very different men become unexpected heroes in winning and ending the war between their kingdom, Volstov, and its enemy, the Ke-Han.
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 thecorps's mechanical, magic-fueled dragons are Volstov's greatest weapon. But now one of its members is at the centre of a scandal that may turn the tide of victory. To counter the threat, four ill-assorted heroes must converge to save the kingdom; an exiled magician, a naive country boy, a young student - and the unpredictable ace the flies the city's fiercest dragon, Havemercy.
I'd wanted to get hold of Havemercy ever since I finished Jaida Jones's co-authored fanfiction, The Shoebox Project, of which I have a lot of thoughts on (in a generalized rush; as much as I adore the humor, characterization and James/Lily romance, for some reason I can never warm to the Remus/Sirius pairing). I was curious to see whether published work she was involved in stood well on its own, seeing the work of the other famous fanfiction writer who went onto a published career isn't all that great. (One thing I was wondering was whether the characters - four males - would bear basic resemblance to the four Marauders, the lead characters in the fanfic, seeing that was the big problem with Cassie Clare's writing - Jace/Cassie!Draco/Will are all the same bloody character. I digress, a rant over Cassie Clare is something for another day).
I needn't have worried. Danielle Bennett and Jaida Jones (or, as they are sometimes called, JaiDani), are a terrific pairing, and it's clear that they are debut authors - occasionally the plotting feels a little clumsy - but the prose is wonderful, and each of the four narrators develop clear, defined, original personalities.
Like Shoebox, Havemercy is more character-based than plot-based, and the book unfolds at a leisurely pace, letting readers get to know each character; laddish Rook, studious but unworldly Thom, sophisticated and disgraced gay magician Margrave Royston and naive country boy Hal. The setting switches between the country - where Royston is suffering depression after his betrayal by his ex-lover, and Hal is slowly bringing him out of it - and the Dragon Corps barracks - where Thom is unsuccessfully trying to teach etiquette to the squaddie-like Corps. Myself, I preferred the Rook and Thom dynamic, as well as the ensuing HoYay. (Seriously, is there any project that Jaida Jones is involved in that doesn't involve copious amounts of homoerotic action? Not that I'm complaining). There's some subtle social commentary on the Dragon Corps and how institutionalized soldiers become during and after wartime, and Rook's character, which would've become just plain misogynistic in the hands of lesser writers, is well-handled; there's a moment between him and his dragon, Havemercy, that is one of the most touching in the whole book. Towards the climax of the book, a - fairly overused - reveal to the true nature of Thom and Rook's relationship comes to light, and to give credit to JaiDani, it's handled in a sensitive and relatively cliche-free way.
I loved the Hal/Royston romance. I'm picky with romances; it's all too easy to fall into common cliches and the like, but JaiDani handle it perfectly; Hal and Royston's descent from friendship, to hidden sexual tension, to fully-fledged romance was gorgeous.
There are some issues with the plotting - the reveal as to what will win the war and save the magicians is secondary to the effects this has on the relationships, and it's clear that the authors were more concerned with writing a character study than a fully-fledged high-fantasy warfare adventure. There's also a notable absence of prominent female characters, although I've heard this is rectified in the third novel. However, with its (mostly) lovable and unique characters, the story works very well, and I really enjoyed reading it. It's a well-crafted story, and for anyone who is sick of common dragon novel tropes and stereotypes, I will highly recommend this novel.
4/5. I had a couple of problems with the pacing, but it was a great story, and I'm looking forward to reading Shadow Magic and Dragon Soul.