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This review first appeared on subverting the text in July 2010.




cover of Havemercy featuring a fire breathing metal dragon


The blurb for this story may bend the truth of this narrative, but the authors knew exactly what they were doing.

Havemercy is not about metal dragons. Havemercy features metal dragons, but it is more about the culture that has the need for them than the dragons themselves. Their presence drives the plot, but they are not the plot. This is the part of the book that surprised me, because I expected it to be more adventure, metal dragons, aerial battles! But it was actually a political mystery with a romance all up in your face, a psychology experiment with more romance on the side (regardless of what anyone out there says, there is UST all up in this! UST!!! THEY ARE FANGIRLS THEY DID IT ON PURPOSE). However, there are downsides, like one of the most important characters being an unrepentant, unlikable cockrocket (unless you are like me and like characters like this for how screwed up they are).

This is a dude book. It is a book where the story is about dudes and how they screw up, where those screw-ups lead them, how they are knowledgeable yet clueless, how they all both love and refuse love, and how complicated it can be to accept it.

Okay, and there is also making out, featuring: dudes! Let's not split hairs. I am pretty sure my underwear caught on fire it was so ridiculously hot in some of these scenes.

Royston is an exiled magician, Hal is a clever tutor being wasted in the countryside where Royston comes to live with his estranged brother. Thom is a university student being asked to do the impossible and Rook is...well, Rook is Rook, the pilot of Havemercy, one of the prizes of the Dragon Corps. He has an ego to match the size of his dragon. Also, he is a flaming asshole at all times.

I enjoyed all these men, for their strengths, their weaknesses, and their complete and utter fail, sigh.

Lady business: Misygony soup. It is terrible up in here. I have struggled with liking this book because of the fact that's the ladies featured are either whores, stereotypical nags, background characters, or dead. The men are insanely misogynistic, because the culture is a testosterone fueled fantasy culture where men have most of the power. There are some female magicians, who have their own agency, but no other ladies speak to each other, or even have a role in the story beyond decoration/catalysts for the men to show off. The book doesn't pretend, and the authors make it fairly clear what's happening but—!. I would like to have my awesome gay romance that doesn't also feature many of the male characters verbally abusing woman and equating gay sex with femininity, as if being female is a terrible, terrible thing. If it is obvious something is problematic, does that make it okay to enjoy it? The best advice I have is don't read this for the ladies and be prepared either way for epic amounts of casual sexism. By "casual", I mean it is going to hammer you in the face with a bag of bricks. Vigilance!

Minority report: It is pretty white, too, exampled by author-approved fanart, although gay relationships! There is a depth to them, cross-cultural opinions on the validity, and that was really nice to see (cue depressed-homo stereotype in full effect, unfortunately, but at least there are nice plot reasons).

....I am still sad about the ladies. *weeps*

There are hints at more diversity in the Ke-Han, the enemies pitted against the Dragon Corps and magicians, who act as part of the army, but we don't see them for any length of time for it to matter.

Ink notes: The first person narratives skipped around to each character to provide perspective. It was always clear who was who, except Royston and Rook had the strongest personalities, and therefore the strongest voices. Hal could almost disappear from the narrative he was so quiet and shy, yet I liked his sections very much. The only one I could never decide on was Thom. I still don't know whether I was interested in his parts. Considering I kept sneaking ahead to the bits with Royston and Hal...probably not. The parts where I wanted Thom's perspective, it was denied. I am bitter.

Shelf impact: It's very striking and catchy! I assume it's meant to be Havemercy herself on the cover, but it's very strange because it suggests she's a large feature of the book, when she's not. Also, this isn't steampunk as much as it is fantasy in steampunk underwear. It takes it off for us, but there's not much there to begin with which makes it all very anti-climatic. The cover is awesome, it just misrepresents what's in the book, which is unfortunate. Everyone knows how I feel about Expectations Developed Based on Cover Art. Publishers everywhere are lying to me! STOP LYING TO ME, PUBLISHERS.

I do not know how much of a spoiler it is to discuss the romance! Royston and Hal are awesome. There's a May/December vibe, for sure, but Royston is just so damn dense and Hal so determined to please him that it is like a comedy of errors and aborted makeouts and me going "JUST TAKE OFF HIS PANTS ALREADY, DAMMIT!!!" I came away shipping them harder than anything else in the book, because, damn! How often do books give me canonical, happy endings for queer couples? IF YOU SAID HARDLY EVER YOU WIN A PRIZE. *awards*

This book makes me ridiculously happy on tons of levels but leaves me with a weird feeling for enjoying it when it is so problematic in its handling of female characters, on purpose or not. I do think that authors did a lot of things in this book deliberately, such as the relationships between characters and the structure of the society. However! How many more fantasy books do we need where the society is all about the men and women are second in every way, insults to be lobbed, objects to be used and discarded? I have to say I think the number is -9999999. We have reached our quota, world! We can now move forward with more diverse representation and queer sexy times.

I assume there's a point, because this is not the first book, and they get to expand their world in Shadow Magic and Dragon Soul, both of which I want to read because I am curious. I hope for better times and more ladies in the future, but am not really holding my breath. >.>

Date: 2011-08-07 10:30 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
So much to say!!! First hahahaha as if I could question your taste when I have the same damn issues as you. 'Look,' I am always saying in my head 'it is a great dude story, which doesn't put out the typical dude relationship - dude friendships, dude relationships agh this is so good.' Then I sit down after the haze has passed and realise there were either no good parts for women, or no women at all at my lip starts to tremble. The Eagle is case in point, but it's actually worse because it's adapted from a book featuring a female main character. So they took out the lady in the film...and I still really liked it.

It's like...it's like a whole lot of people don't know how to write stories any differently. If there are ladies there has to be heterosexual romance because that's how things are done and the romance almost has to become the focus (so these kind of storywriters seem to think). So the best way to shift the focus onto the dudes and create totally different ways for them to have relationships with other dudes is...? Oh right, remove the ladies. And then somewhere tangled up in there is that if there are women the dudes have to fall back into these mysognistic stereotypes/live in mysognistic worlds. We can't have it all apparently, that would be an afront to realism or something. Ugh David Levithan where are you with your smart commentary?

But at the same time my brain totally buys into the idea that to have the awesome dudes with feelings for dudes stories we need an absence of ladies. It is broken Renay, society broke my brain and now it is weird! But as soon as I see the lady walk on, I know how conventional plotting goes, I know she's going to become a romance object and I just so want gay male characters upfront, or just dudes who aren't hard and unbending in their relationships with other men that I almost groan when a girl shows up in any kind of male buddy movie. Argh do not like about myself! Idk how I feel about all that in relation to female buddy movies and the male love object (well I do, but it would take ages to talk about).

I want to rec you 'Walk to the End of the World' because queer society, ladies enslaved, but HUGE COMMENTARY not just default worlding...but there are no happy endings for our gay male characters, because they are dudes and this is second wave feminist sci-fi and it was time for the dudes to die. So I cautiously wave it at you, but y'know fully aware it doesn't fulfill all your criteria.

Date: 2011-08-07 12:31 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
What Jodie said! I'm seriously queen of Enjoying Questionable Things. It's what we talked about in our LB opening discussion: if we didn't learn to compartmentalise, we'd enjoy three books/films/TB shows/CDs a year and that would be it. Which isn't to say we should stop worrying about all the problematic aspects of these stories, of course. Just... complicated feelings: we can haz them. For as long as the world forces us to.

Date: 2011-08-07 12:33 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
Also, this - "...features metal dragons, but it is more about the culture that has the need for them than the dragons themselves" - sounds TOTALLY AWESOME to me.

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