I Came for the Dragons and Stayed for the Madman: HAVEMERCY and SHADOW MAGIC

 
Charming rogues, tough woman warriors, and puny wizards are just some of the stock tropes in fantasy that have become clichés over the years. Finding fresh characters can be a challenge, so discovering Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett’s series has been a real gift.
The first book, HAVEMERCY, was recommended by my friend Alex Harrow when I asked for a fantasy with a gay character that had a more positive viewpoint than what I found in Richard K. Morgan’s books. I didn’t know what to make of HAVEMERCY. I liked the political tensions, and I loved the clockwork dragons that may or may not be alive. The romance however, dragged for me. Still, the book tried to draw me in with a few cunning plot twists. Despite a potent conclusion, I wasn’t completely hooked. Yet I was intrigued enough to pick up the second book, SHADOW MAGIC, and then they had me.
Jones and Bennett build their novels around four points of view, which are paired and usually opposing. In HAVEMERCY, the mage Royston is paired with a humble scholar, Hal while a foul-mouthed brute of an airman of the dragon corps, Rook is foiled against Thom, the beleaguered scholar sent to give the men of the corps what amounts to sensitivity training. Where SHADOW MAGIC really engaged me was in one of its two pairs: General Alcibiades and Caius Greylace. The conflict/friendship between these two made the entire book for me. Young, with a creepy Talent for fear-based mental magic, Caius delights in causing chaos (proving that he might not be the best member of the diplomatic envoy of which they’re part). Alcibiades is far more straight-laced, far more the stern soldier. He’s no fan of magic, even though he has it, and considers Caius a complete annoyance. The interaction between Caius and Alcibiades, and how they view one another, made the book for me.

 If you want a fantasy with multiple points of view that does a great job of contrasting characters, then I recommend this series. It’s unconventional and very different: just what I was looking for. I’ve picked up the next two, DRAGON SOUL and STEEL HANDS, and I’m hoping to see more of Caius and Al.

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