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Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
Bantam Spectra, 389 pages

Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
Jaida Jones is a student at Barnard College, majoring across the street at Columbia University in East Asian Languages & Cultures. Basically, she's spending most of her time trying to learn Japanese and research her undergraduate thesis, roughly titled "Very Long Paper About Japanese Monsters." She lives in New York City with two overgrown kittens and two underappreciated parents.

Danielle Bennett escaped the thrilling, dangerous life of a Starbucks barista in Victoria, BC to write stories about magicians and enormous metal dragons instead. Nevertheless, she still knows how to make a mean cup of coffee -- or a nice one, depending on what you're in the mood for. Her other talents include unflagging politeness (after all, she is Canadian) and being able to spot a snake from a mile away.

Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett Website
ISFDB Bibliography
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Tammy Moore

Dragons, like elves, are so common in fantasy literature that the palate can get tired of them. They can be used in new, interesting ways -- The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick, the Temeraire books by Naomi Novik -- but often they aren't. Havemercy is one of the interesting ones.

Danielle Bennett and Jaida Jones have created an interesting and richly detailed world, complete with history, politics and magic that are alluded to but never totally explained. From the Mollyedge slums to the Cobalt mountains, the world they created was seamless and absolutely convincing. (The Ke-Han invaders were less developed, serving instead as a one-note villainous threat just over the horizon. Usually this would annoy me; in Havemercy it works since that is exactly what the Ke-Han were to the POV characters.)

Volstov has been at war with the Imperialistic Ke-Han for centuries; both sides have magic and both sides have armies, but Th'Esar's Dragon Corps, a fourteen strong crew of magic-powered, mechanical dragons and their bonded riders, have given Volstov the advantage. Ke-Han has no corresponding air-force and the sheer, destructive power of the dragons wreak havoc on the Ke-Han's armies. Unfortunately, the dragons do have their limitations: their range is limited by the amount of fuel they can take on, they can protect Volstov from invasion but not take the fight to the enemy. If the Ke-Han armies ever get their hands on a dragon they could reverse-engineer a flock of their own.

So it's a bloody stalemate on Volstov's borders.

This tenuous status-quo is threatened when Margrave Royston, a mage with a powerful Talent, has an affair with the crown prince of Arlemagne, one of Volstov's allies against the Ke-Han. Same-gender pairings are generally tolerated within Volstov -- never approved, merely overlooked -- but the same can't be said of Arlemagne. Faced with an alliance-threatening scandal, complicated by the fact the Prince has claimed he was magically seduced, th'Esar exiles Royston to the countryside. To th'Esar it's practical. In the country, Royston can't cause any trouble but he's still available if th'Esar uses his talent, but for Royston it's a fate worse than death.

Sent to stay with a stolid brother and his close-minded wife, far from the interests and entertainments of the city he loves, Royston finds solace in the company of the family tutor. Hal is a bright, intellectually curious young man starved of both knowledge and affection who blossoms under Royston's tutelage.

Meanwhile, back in the city, the Arlemagne have been offended again. This time by Rook, the brashest member of the elite Dragon Corps, seducing and then insulting the wife of the Arlemagne diplomat. Despite his embarrassment, there's no way th'Esar can send a member of the Dragon Corps to the country to cool his heels; the dragons are sentient and notoriously picky about their riders and not one of them can be spared. Instead he arranges for them to be given sensitivity training. It's a compromise that neither the Corps nor their new tutor, Thom, a young student from the 'Versity, is happy about. The Corps prides themselves on being apart from the rest of Volstov society, of being apart from humanity entirely. As for Thom, while he's brutally introduced to the crass, cruel world of the Corps, he sees the scholarship from th'Esar that he depended upon, slipping away from him. Although, if the offended and near-sociopathic Rook gets his way, the loss of the scholarship will be the least of Thom's worries.

Across the Cobalt Mountains, the Ke-Han mages plot to take advantage of the disorder, striking viciously at the very heart of Volstov. In the wake of the attack the four heroes, Hal, Royston, Thom and Rook, must find a work together in spite of their differences if they hope to save their city, and themselves.

Havemercy is a solid debut book from the two collaborators. The world they've created is one I want to know more about and their characters are interesting. Not always likeable, but interesting. The decision to tell the story using four first person narratives doesn't always work, particularly with regard to Rock and Thom's story arc. Here, in places, the narrative lags and we spend too much time in people's heads listening to them think instead of having them do things. It doesn't help that Rook's character, especially, sits uneasily with introspection, one of the touchstones of his character is that he acts instead of thinking. A reader who expects a more action-oriented book might also be disappointed since a good chunk of the early book is dedicated to exploring the relationships between Hal and Royston, Thom and the Dragon Corps. It's only in the last third of the book that the Ke-Han plot starts to make its presence felt. Despite these issues, however, I finished Havemercy with the desire to find out more about the world. Luckily Jones and Bennett are already starting work on the second book in the series.

Copyright © 2008 Tammy Moore

Tammy Moore is a speculative fiction writer based in Belfast. She writes reviews for Verbal Magazine, Crime Scene NI and Green Man Review. Her first book The Even -- written by Tammy Moore and illustrated by Stephanie Law -- is to be published by Morrigan Books September 2008.

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