Book 2 in Chronicles of Hanuvar, The City of Marble and Blood picks up shortly after the conclusion of Lord of a Shattered Land. Defeated general and master strategist Hanuvar continues his undercover efforts to free his enslaved Volani countrymen from the genocidal Dervan Empire. He reconnects with old allies and gains new ones, including some surprising friends highly placed within the Dervan Empire. Early in the book a sorcerous mishap inflicts upon Hanuvar a startling transformation, however. The magical disaster provides renewed physical vigor and makes disguising his identity easier, but he also finds himself unrecognizable to longtime friends and aging at an accelerating pace. Freeing his people remains his utmost priority, but even more than before Hanuvar is confronted with his own mortality.
Like Lord of a Shattered Land before it, The City of Marble and Blood is another cycle of 14 linked stories (the final 15th chapter is more of an epilogue). Each chapter is largely episodic, making this an ideal book for short reading sessions. Compared to the first volume, however, The City of Marble and Blood holds together better as a cohesive novel. Where the installments in Lord of a Shattered Land tended to be scattered both geographically and thematically, with few members of the supporting cast returning after their original appearance, the stories here share more recurring characters and the plots more connections between them.
While Hanuvar remains as clever and driven as ever, the type of stories being told in The City of Marble and Blood have shifted slightly compared to the preceding book. Where Lord of a Shattered Land took place in the outlying provinces, The City of Marble and Blood is largely set deep behind enemy lines, either in the Empire’s central territories or the capital of Derva itself. This change in locale raises the stakes, as Hanuvar is surrounded at all times by the imperial war machine and the Gestapo-like Revenants. The capture and interrogation of Hanuvar or one of his key allies has the potential to scuttle his entire plan to liberate the enslaved Volani. And while they don’t disappear entirely, the “man versus monster” stories from the first volume mostly give way to a greater focus on mystery and political intrigue. Hanuvar finds himself in the uncomfortable position of working to foil assassination attempts on Dervans responsible for the destruction of his homeland, simply to prevent the ascension of even worse figures.
Fewer supernatural monsters appear in The City of Marble and Blood than the first book, but there is a greater emphasis on humanocentric evil. While there are a number of likable Dervan characters, it remains an empire built on slavery and Jones doesn’t shy away from depicting the brutality of human bondage. Entitled “In a Family Way,” the eleventh story in the book is an incredibly bleak look at a Dervan lordling who surrounds himself with beautiful slaves. Not only are the women mistreated and forced to share his bed, those unfortunates who fall pregnant end up being subjected to an even more sadistic fate. Hanuvar is an unambiguously heroic figure and many of his adventures have bright conclusions, but when a story wanders into grim territory Jones seems happy to rip the gloves off and bolt deeper into the darkness.
Lord of a Shattered Land marked a strong start to Chronicles of Hanuvar and The City of Marble and Blood makes for a compelling follow-up. The nature of Hanuvar’s exploits have changed slightly, but he remains the same cunning and cerebral character introduced in the first book. He also now benefits from an expanded roster of interesting and engaging allies and foes. The Roman-inspired Dervan setting continues to intrigue. Jones provides enough detail to paint a vivid picture of the society while simultaneously avoiding the dreaded “info-dump.” The City of Marble and Blood delivers a definite sense of forward momentum that I found incredibly satisfying. Formidable obstacles remain, but it feels like Hanuvar is making significant progress towards liberating his people. He’s winning. This makes me suspect that readers are being set up for a devastating reversal of fortune in the third book.
While The City of Marble and Blood appeared merely two months after Lord of a Shattered Land, readers will have to wait notably longer for the third volume in the series. Shadow of the Smoking Mountain is scheduled for an October 2024 release.