Friday, October 09, 2009

[Lisa's Take] Havemercy (Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett)

Havemercy is the debut novel from Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennet, two newbies to the fantasy world. The first line of the Barnes & Noble synopsis characterizes it as a “stunning epic fantasy debut” – the back of the book also loudly exclaims the epic-fantasy-ness of the book, as well as harping upon it’s steam-punk roots.

…no. Sorry, but no and no. There is nothing “epic” about Havemercy. It follows 4 main characters (a magician in exile, a student, a tutor, and an airman) in first-person format through what is mostly a character-examination and romance. There’s a bit of action near the end, but overall the book is a relationship study – which is a fine sub-genre of fantasy, but is most certainly not “epic.” A more apt description would be that Havemercy is “a fantasy of manners,” much like Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint – in fact I’d go so far as to say that Havemercy wanted to BE Swordspoint, as it investigated a lot of the same themes and had a very similar overall feel… only without Kushner’s refined language and ability to build emotion and attachment.

Oof, I’m rambling and edging towards a rant… let me reign this back into something resembling a review.

Havemercy started off with a lot of promise. As is my habit, rather than reading the back of the book for an idea of what to expect I opened it up and read the first few pages. The first section was from the point of view of Royston, aforementioned magician in exile. The first person tone was interesting, refined, and a bit tongue-in-cheek, which always suits my fancy. The next view point was Rook, the whore-loving, foul-mouthed, hotshot dragon-rider. I laughed my way through his whole chapter, pretty much loving his dirty, jaded commentary, especially when taken next to Royston’s more courtly air. Thom and Hal, the other two POV characters, were a bit dull in comparison… but they were distinct and well-developed, which is more than I can say for many books.

Sadly other than solid and entertaining characterizations, there isn’t much good to say about the rest of the book. By half way through not even Rook’s internal monologue was keeping me interested. The story and the relationships started to fall victim to a lot of relationship clichés as well as standard fantasy clichés. There was one revelation in particular that actually caused me to say “seriously??” out loud – the woman on the plane next to me gave me quite a look of confusion.

Anyway, the bottom line is that Havemercy started strong and then just sort of did a slow, leisurely spiral into mediocrity and finally into outright poorness. It was a relief when the book ended (none of the big emotional hooks in the last 50 pages did so much as twinge at my heart, even though they were clearly meant to). Skip this one, unless it happens that Ellen Kushner is your favorite author and you don’t mind reading her inferior little sisters.

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