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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! I will cut it just in case! )

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. >.>

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