Learning Love and Mercy: Merciless Saviors by H.E. Edgmon

Posted 13th April 2024 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

Merciless Saviors (The Ouroboros #2) by H.E. Edgmon
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Trans nonbinary Seminole demiromantic pansexual MC, polyamory, brown trans love interest, plus-sized Indigenous trans love interest, polyamory, QBIPOC cast
PoV: First-person, present-tense
Published on: 16th April 2024
ISBN: 1250853648

That day at the First Church of Gracie changed everything for Gem Echols, and not just because Marian and Poppy betrayed them. Forced to use the Ouroboros knife on Zephyr, who had kidnapped their parents, Gem now has the power of the God of Air.

While for any other god things might work out okay, the Magician—whose role within the pantheon is to keep the balance—having the power of another god has thrown everything into chaos. The Goddess of Death can now reanimate corpses; the God of Art’s powers are now corrupted and twisted, giving life to his macabre creations; and, while the God of Land has always been able to communicate with creatures of the Earth, now everyone can hear their cries.

As Gem, Rory, and Enzo search for a way to restore the balance without sacrificing themselves, new horrors make them question how far they're willing to go. In the end, Gem may be forced to fully embrace their merciless nature and kill off their own humanity—if it ever really existed in the first place.

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


~Everything Gets Worse
~hearts slay monsters
~never trust a Magician
~my OT3 is the best OT3
~surprise!Chosen One (not how you think)

:this review contains spoilers for Godly Heathens!:

The first book in this duology, Godly Heathens, blew me away and scored a spot on my Best of 2023 list. Unfortunately I can’t say that I enjoyed Merciless Saviors as much, even if I thought the messaging was powerful and beautiful.

Gem fucked up in the climax of the previous book, making the wrong call out of pain and betrayal and fury. It was a truly glorious moment, though; I had no difficulty understanding and even sympathising with Gem’s choice, and there’s something toxically exhilarating in seeing a character Choose Wrong – not least because they so rarely do, in the kind of fantasy I read. There’s always a last-second Morality Moment, where the hero completely fails to behave like a real person and somehow rises above things like mere human emotion to be the Bigger Person.

So I loved that Gem didn’t do that.

I did not love that we didn’t get to experience the fallout. The blurb mentions how the goddess of death (aka Poppy) can reanimate corpses now, etc…but we barely get a glimpse of all that, because Gem gets zapped into a magic coma (or so I will call it, for ease of writing about it) and wakes up two weeks later to discover how everyone’s powers have now gone haywire.

So we don’t actually see everyone discovering the new ‘balance’ and coming to terms with it. We just…timeskip past all of that.


I’m not a fan of timeskips at the best of times, and this was not that. In fact, Edgmon employs multiple timeskips over the course of Merciless Saviors, and while most of them allow us to gloss over things like travel time – which I get is difficult to write without boring the reader to tears – they all felt really graceless, clunky and handwavey in a way I vehemently disliked. If you need your characters to get from Point A to Point B, it’s your job to figure out how to keep it interesting.

It’s really difficult to talk about Merciless Saviors because most of the things that happen are massive spoilers. So forgive me for being vague, but I kind of have to be.

The last thing I see is Christ on the cross above me.

My last thought is that this god did not die for my sins. But others have. And more will yet.

Gem’s self-loathing spirals fully out of control under the stress and pressure of the unbalanced Balance, what it’s done to Rory and Enzo, and the mundane consequences of murdering Zephyr (who did, after all, have both a human identity and far too many witnesses/hostages for everyone to pretend he just conveniently disappeared). Between all of that, and all the awfulness stirred up in their head during their coma, they implode.

But, uh. What happens as a result of that implosion does not make sense, and never gets explained. The effect it has on the rest of the pantheon – not just Gem themself – also does not make obvious sense, and that’s not explained either. In fact, I’m not even sure if Gem’s actions affected the whole pantheon, or if the rest of the pantheon replicated Gem’s actions after somehow (how?) seeing what it did to Gem and therefore did it to themselves.


I’ve gotta be honest: I was not impressed. Not just re the lack of explanations for how The Thing happened/worked, but The Thing itself was…I don’t think predictable is the right word, but…kinda? It was a turn in the story I didn’t like – I might have enjoyed it if it had happened differently, under other circumstances, but I just didn’t like it going down this way. Especially with the damn statues.

But I think I can be objective enough to say that it wasn’t bad writing, just not how I personally would have liked the story to go.

“You might be the devil. But even Lucifer was carved by the hand of god, and we both know I could cut your wings if I wanted to.”

We learn a lot more about the Ether – the pantheon’s homeworld/world of origin – in this book, and I’ve gotta say, I was massively disappointed by it. In Godly Heathens, the worldbuilding – specifically re the gods – looked simplistic at first glance, but was actually very deep and thoughtful, with some very cool and interesting interpretations of various concepts and their connections to each other (the romance between Battle and Death, for instance, and the complicated and messy dynamics between the gods of the different aspects of Nature). The worldbuilding for the Ether itself…I mean, there barely is any worldbuilding. It’s our world with a few tweaks; there was no sense of it being alien and other, nothing to make it unique, nothing that even created a real sense of place. It doesn’t feel like another world at all, and although Edgmon floats the very meta idea that maybe the Ether doesn’t exist at all, but is just a creation of traumatised-Gem’s mind – uh, no. I mean, that would explain why it’s so much like our world, but if the Ether is only Gem’s invention, then Rory and Enzo wouldn’t exist except as hallucinations, which they most definitely are not.

Rory has blood on her hands. Just like Enzo. Just like me. It doesn’t mean any of us are undeserving of another chance. But maybe it means we don’t get to demand that chance from the same people whose blood it is.

And the decision Gem, Rory and Enzo make regarding the Ether and their connection to it… I still don’t understand their reasoning, but at the same time, wow, saw that decision coming from a mile away. Is it bad writing? I’m not sure, but I know it felt too simple and easy to me, especially after how unabashedly complex Godly Heathens was.

Hey. Hey, self?

What the fuck are you doing?

We also finally discover what the deal is with the Heartkeeper – the deity who seemingly remained in the Ether while the rest of the pantheon was dragged to Earth, and whom Gem couldn’t seem to remember or think about for more than a second or two at a time in the previous book. Again: major disappointment. I didn’t like the reveal, the attempt at drama was entirely predictable and pointless, and after setting the groundwork for something Deeply Mysterious to be going on in book one, the actual Heartkeeper (and their story) was really boring.

Merciless Saviors does a pretty hard 180 from Godly Heathens when it comes to monstrousness and being (or not being) a good person. Although I think Gem’s growth in this book is really important, and the intrinsic message – that you can fight tooth and nail to become a good person even if you aren’t one – was powerful and beautifully conveyed, I was a) not completely clear as to how exactly Gem reached this conclusion, and b) disappointed again. I loved Gem’s ‘dark side’ in Godly Heathens, how they were drawn to the Shade’s monstrousness, how they did terrible things unrepentantly. It was interesting. But Merciless walks that all the way back, and again, I’m not saying this was the wrong choice for the story, but it was one that I personally felt let down by. I want to read about monstrous characters, okay? I want to read about unrepentant monsters. Instead, Merciless became very much about declawing one’s monstrousness and investing in being a good person, and yes I understand that that’s the ethically correct choice in real life, but it is very boring to read, no different to a thousand other books I’ve read.

And yet, I can’t deny that the character work was wonderful. Even if I’d prefer my monsters stay monsters, I still deeply appreciated Gem’s arc, and even more so the deepening and enriching of the love story tying them, Rory, and Enzo together. I may not have cared much for what was going on around these characters, but what was going on inside them? Beautiful, perfect, flawless in every way. Edgmon still had my heart wrapped around their finger, and they still hit me with gut punch after gut punch in the Feels. My e-arc of Merciless Saviors is covered in highlights, lines that spoke to me, passages so gorgeous they hurt, and just plain brilliant ways of phrasing vitally human emotions and experiences. To quote Simon Jimenez a moment, ‘this is a love story to its blade-dented bone’, both in the sense of the obvious, breathlessly compelling romance, and also in the sense that Gem really, desperately has to figure out how to love themself. And every bit of that, both those entwined storylines, made me ache in the very best way.

Plus, the epilogue was epic. I hated that we got yet another timeskip, but nothing can make that ending not utterly fabulous.

That’s all I’ll say about that!

So…did I like Merciless Saviors? I…really don’t know. From an objective, writerly perspective, I think there were some not-great choices made, and a lot of deus ex machina-type reveals that didn’t land the way I think they were supposed to. At the same time, I think the messaging, Gem’s arc and growth, were really beautiful, really important, and very powerfully written; as was the love story between Gem, Rory, and Enzo. (There’s one passage where Gem describes what the three of them are to each other that I’m seriously considering getting tattooed.)


From a completely subjective, personal perspective, the story took turns I found dull but that were not objectively bad – probably lots of other readers will enjoy them immensely. And there were some turns I liked very much indeed! (HANK.)

So I’m pretty torn.

If you loved Godly Heathens, then you ought to read this one too, because honestly, how could you not? This may not be exactly the book I wanted, but the love poured into and shining out of it is more than worth the clunkier bits.

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