REVIEW: Lord of a Shattered Land by Howard Andrew Jones

Cover for Lord of a Shattered Land

Lord of a Shattered Land opens immediately after the decisive conclusion of a brutal, genocidal war. After two previous conflicts were fought to stalemate, the expansionist Dervan Empire has finally succeeded in crushing Volanus. Not just content to dominate the rival city-state militarily, the Dervans exterminated nearly all the populace, razed Volanus’ iconic silver towers, and salted its fields. The handful of survivors were shipped back to the Empire in chains. Leading troops in the field, Hanuvar—Volanus’ greatest general—was absent for the obliteration of his homeland. Having witnessed him plummet into the ocean from a great height, the Dervan legions rejoiced at the death of their hated foe. But reports of Hanuvar’s demise have proved premature. After washing up on an island, Hanuvar immediately pits his formidable military mind against the Dervans anew. He vows not to rest until every Volani survivor has been freed from slavery.

Cover for Lord of a Shattered Land by Howard Andrew JonesFirst volume in a planned five-book saga entitled The Chronicles of Hanuvar, Lord of a Shattered Land has an unusual structure. Rather than a conventional novel, it’s a cycle of 14 linked short stories. Each chapter is a self-contained story but taken together they tell a greater narrative. Unlike the fix-up novels of classic science fiction and fantasy, where disparate short stories are tied together post facto, the individual component stories that make up The Chronicles of Hanuvar were intended from conception to contribute to a planned, overarching plot. This structure feels a bit like a market-driven compromise between the typical short story format of Sword & Sorcery fiction (Jones is a vocal proponent of Sword & Sorcery and also serves as editor of the subgenre’s premiere magazine, Tales From The Magician’s Skull) and major publishers’ preference for multi-volume epic fare, but in the end it works surprisingly well. Each chapter satisfies as a bite-sized piece of entertainment while still providing a sense of overall progression and forward momentum.

While many of the stories collected in Lord of a Shattered Land involve Hanuvar traveling to a new locale, encountering Volani survivors, and attempting to free them from the yoke of Dervan slavery, there is significant variation in tone throughout the book. Straightforward man vs. monster Sword & Sorcery tales are included alongside heist and espionage stories. There’s even a fairytale: “Shroud of Feathers.” While Hanuvar himself displays too much integrity to be considered a grimdark hero, his mission and the setting are decidedly grim, with the oppressive cruelty of the Dervan Empire on constant display. Depictions of violence are generally brief—Hanuvar tends to eliminate threats with cold efficiency—but graphic, and chapters like “The Eyes of the Reaper,” “The Missing Man,” and “The Light of the Lovely Ones” emphasize horrific elements, venturing deep into dark territory.

Given the nature of the book, whether Lord of a Shattered Land will be successful for a given reader or not depends greatly on how they react to Hanuvar as a character. Jones makes no secret that his hero is inspired by the great general Hannibal of Carthage, known for his strategic genius in the Punic Wars against Rome. While historically the destruction of Carthage took place decades after Hannibal’s death, Jones has Hanuvar survive the razing of his Carthage analogue, rising again as a sort of avenging angel for his people. Fiftyish and hindered by chronic war injuries, Hanuvar relies on clever tactics, decades of hard-earned experience, and steely determination. Despite all the historical flavoring, however, Hanuvar’s preternatural competence and tendency to be several steps ahead of the opposition reminded me of cinematic spy heroes like James Bond, or Ethan Hunt from the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series. Some of the quieter moments in the book reveal that Hanuvar carries a great deal of survivor’s guilt for not being present at the destruction of Volanus, but he never allows himself to wallow in self-pity or indulge himself in “extracurricular” revenge. The mission to free his enslaved countrymen is always first and foremost in his mind, and deep within enemy territory he frequently finds himself left with no choice but to work alongside citizens of the very Empire that destroyed his homeland.

While readers who prefer significantly flawed or morally ambiguous protagonists may be left cold by Hanuvar’s righteous certitude, Lord of a Shattered Land is ideal for fans of intensely driven, hyper-competent heroes. The episodic nature of the storytelling makes it an ideal book for brief reading sessions, and the individual chapters span a wide range of story types. The pseudo-Mediterranean setting and Roman trappings are also a nice change of pace from Northern European-inspired fantasy.

Readers who enjoy Lord of a Shattered Land will not have long to wait for a sequel. The City of Marble and Blood is set to arrive this October, with two further volumes in THE CHRONICLES OF HANUVAR scheduled for release in 2024.

Read Lord of a Shattered Land by Howard Andrew Jones

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Robin Marx

Robin Marx

Born in Spain and raised in the United States, Robin Marx has lived in Japan for more than two decades. He works in the video game industry, handling localization and international licensing. In addition to over a dozen video games, his writing has appeared in a number of role-playing game supplements. He lives with his wife and their two daughters. You can link up with Robin over at: https://mastodon.social/@RobinMarx