With just two novels under their belts, young writers Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett have established themselves as two of the hottest new stars in fantasy. Havemercy introduced readers to a brilliantly realized world riven by an intractable war between the kingdoms of Volstov and Ke-Han—a war in which the great dragons of Volstov—deadly hybrids of machine and magic—and their equally fierce human riders were all that kept the dark sorcery of Ke-Han at bay. In Shadow Magic, Jones and Bennett brought the common humanity of the opposing sides to life in an adventure that showcased once again their talent for creating not only fantastic settings but vivid characters to inhabit them.
Now Jones and Bennett are back with their most accomplished novel yet, featuring the return of two beloved characters, the brothers Rook and Thom. When the war was at its height, there was no fighter on either side who could match Rook for sheer arrogance and skill. Only Rook could ride the great dragon Havemercy, whose savagery and bloodlust matched his own. Thom could not be more different. Bookish, diffident, reserved, he yearns for his brother’s approval—yet fears he can never earn it.
With the war over, and an uneasy truce holding between Volstov and Ke-Han, it seems the perfect opportunity for the long-lost brothers to forge a bond by taking a trip together. At least, that’s how it seems to Thom. Rook hasn’t given a rat’s ass about anything since the end of the war, his brother included, and he’s not about to start now. Not when the one thing he loved in the world—Havemercy—lies scattered in pieces across Ke-Han.
Then Rook and Thom discover that someone is buying up bits of the fallen dragons, including Havemercy. Though the dragons are dead, the magic that powered them is not—and if that magic and the technology created to harness it should fall into the wrong hands, the fragile peace could shatter. An agent from Ke-Han, a sorceress from Volstov, and a group of desert tribesmen are all in the race, and the future rests on whoever gets there first. But all that matters to Rook is that someone is desecrating his girl, so he vows to leave no stone unturned in laying her to rest—and taking his revenge.
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Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett wrote their first novel together, Havemercy, over the Internet—Jones in New York and Bennett in British Columbia. They now shuttle between apartments in Brooklyn and Victoria, B. C., and which makes their collaboration much easier.
On the day Rook became my brother again, I turned into a liar.
Balfour was the first to ask, once we started up a correspondence, whether or not I had any memories of my older brother. Our time together had been so distant, and to fondly remember a brother only to be confronted years later with the reality of Rook was bound to be a nasty shock.
The question surprised me, but I’d found myself writing an answer nonetheless.
Of course I remember John, I’d said, clutching at the few specifics that I knew to be true. They were enough to make these memories convincing to others and—after a time—I too became convinced.
After that, it was too late. When others asked me whether or not I remembered my older brother, I always said “Of course,” as though it was a foolish question, and didn’t bear thinking about. I’d always prided myself on my honesty—a rare virtue, since it was always the first thing a Mollyrat cast aside—and that I’d stifled it so quickly was a notion that troubled me.
“So you two are brothers?” the innkeeper asked. He was a short, provincial man, with one of those recognizably provincial accents: blurring his h’s and his e’s together, and rounding off his r’s, as though his tongue couldn’t quite shape them in time to get them out. I wondered if I could ascertain his place of birth and whether or not he had been raised there. To me, it seemed clear that he had been born in Hacian, just on the border between New Volstov land and the Old Ramanthe, but I never offered a theory on birthplaces unless I was a hundred percent sure. You never knew whom you’d offend, and among this man’s properties I noted a certain strength of arm, if not of character, that I myself did not possess.
I would let the matter go, though I would make note of it in my travel log.
We were far enough into the countryside that no one knew Rook by sight. We were anonymous travelers, with the mystery of the open road before us—though when I’d shared this sentiment with Rook he’d threatened to take my logbook and stick it somewhere where I need make no further entries. There was nothing to intimate that my brother was one of the greatest heroes of our time—the famed pilot of the dragon Havemercy, who had saved this country.
Not single-handedly, but for some reason Rook had a way of sticking in people’s minds like an irritating burr.
“Yes,” I told the innkeeper. “We are brothers.”
“Don’t look anything alike,” said the innkeeper’s daughter. She wasn’t looking at me. She was staring straight at the window, out toward whatever place Rook had disappeared to earlier. The excuse was that he intended to stretch his legs, but we’d been walking for half the day, and personally I would have found it more relaxing to take a hot bath, have a hot meal, and compile notes about what we’d seen.
“Ah,” I agreed, not trying to offend her either way. Searching for some other topic, I happened upon the only matter on which I was an expert. “I notice that you have an accent of peculiarly—”
“I’d best be seeing to the horses,” she said, hurriedly fixing a strand of her hair before disappearing out the door.
“Now, you listen here,” the innkeeper said, reaching across the desk and grabbing me by the collar. “I don’t want any funny business in my establishment.”
“She’s just gone to see—”
“The horses?” the innkeeper said. “Horses my left nut. She doesn’t need to fix herself up for any horses. You find that brother of yours and you make sure nothing happens.”
“I will do my utmost,” I promised. It was the liar in me reassert- ing himself—though it wasn’t a true lie, since I did intend to try my hardest.
I just wasn’t particularly optimistic about our chances—mine or the innkeeper’s.
But what was most shocking to me was that anyone seemed to think that I’d have any influence on the situation. Despite what had changed since the time of our meeting in Thremedon—a time I preferred to examine in private, like poking at a bad tooth—it was fair to say that I still had very little influence upon what my brother chose to say and do.
To his credit, thus far Rook had managed to avoid any behavior that would have gotten us thrown out of a night’s accommodation, but this was hardly the first time I’d been threatened in this manner. And it seemed that all the innkeepers we’d encountered were under the misapprehension that I had some control over my brother.
This was far from the truth, but I found myself marching off to avert disaster as best I could—a lone sandbag against the coming flood.
The horses were liable to grow spoiled, with three people heading out to see to their needs. Except that it was only Rook who’d set out to look—myself and the innkeeper’s daughter were there for another beast entirely, and one that didn’t go about on all fours.
I had barely reached the stables before I heard his voice. Whether he’d lost the best of his hearing during his time with the Dragon Corps, or whether he just didn’t care who heard him, I had never been able to ascertain, but Rook was loud and it carried. He had no reason to quiet himself since, for Rook, reason was akin to desire. If he didn’t desire something, he found it completely unreasonable.
“We can do this easy or you can be difficult about it, but it’s gonna happen, so you might as well be a good girl and keep your mouth shut, all right?”
A sinking feeling settled into my stomach. Visions of being thrown bodily from the establishment, of sleeping on the hard ground in the cold with no respite for either my tired muscles or my grumbling stomach, flitted through my mind. I hoped the innkeeper was still inside, or at least tending to matters that would keep him there for a while, for I was in no mood to consider giving up the bath I’d been fantasizing about all day. I picked up the pace.
Fortunately, it was a short enough distance across the courtyard that I didn’t have time to call up anything too lurid in my mind. Perhaps it was because the circumstances under which I’d been reunited with my brother had been so particular, but I found myself consistently expecting the worst.
As Rook had kindly suggested, offering his opinion on my “nerves,” I was a grim little fucker when I set my mind to it.
When I reached the stables, he was bent double, digging a stone out of one of the horses’ hooves with his pocketknife. The innkeeper’s daughter was standing as close as she could without chancing a stray kick. She held her hands clasped nervously in front of her. It was as innocent a scene as I could have hoped, and I couldn’t help feeling some perverse disappointment, as though I’d somehow been tricked.
“Picked up a stone, did he?” the innkeeper’s daughter asked.
“She,” Rook grunted, his attention on the horse, who didn’t seem bothered in the slightest, though I knew that if I’d attempted the same trick, I’d have received a good kick to the chest for my efforts. Rook’s hands had that effect on animals—and women too, I sometimes thought in my less charitable moments, but I prized myself on being too much of a gentleman to voice the comparison. “Not her fault. Some people have a hard time followin’ the trail.”
He’d added that last part just for my benefit; he must have, since Rook was of the opinion that it wasn’t any fun listing my shortcomings unless I was in the room to hear them. I thought I’d been rather quiet in entering—not knowing what I was about to walk in on—but apparently my best was still not enough to catch Rook off guard.
I should’ve known, but that didn’t stop me from trying every now and then.
“That wasn’t a trail, it was the side of a mountain,” I sniffed, crossing my arms. “And if I’d known you were going to declare your own shortcuts every ten miles, I’d have prepared myself better.”
The innkeeper’s daughter spooked like a startled horse. She hadn’t heard my approach, nor did she know enough of Rook to know when he was needling someone in the shadows, and she proceeded to glare at me as though I’d interrupted the most intimate of encounters.
Fortunately, I’d survived glares more withering than hers.
She was a strapping sort, and it was obvious that, despite her father’s precautions, she could take care of herself. Only Rook wasn’t the sort of man you could take care of yourself against, no matter who you were. The countryside had never been prepared for him. He was like a walking natural disaster—one for which the Esar provided no compensation or monetary relief. In fact, since the dissolution of the Dragon Corps, I was sure he wanted nothing to do with Rook, and the sentiment was entirely mutual.
“Hungry,” Rook said, more like a grunt than a word.
The innkeeper’s daughter didn’t miss a beat. “I’ll bring in some supper,” she supplied, moving past me as though I weren’t even there. I could hear her feet crunching the hay, and the whinnies of the horses as she hurried off.
“Amazing, isn’t it,” Rook said. He whistled, a low sound to soothe our horse, then dug the pocketknife in deep and, with one fluid motion, eased the stone out.
“That is one word I’d use to describe it,” I admitted. “I wonder if she’ll bring two plates.”
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