I’ve been online friends with Howard Andrew Jones for a number of years now and have enjoyed his essays on various pulp-related subjects on his own blog and in various other places. He was one of the first people I came across who was also a fan of the Ki-Gor series from JUNGLE STORIES, for example. But I’d never read any of his fiction until now. I picked up LORD OF A SHATTERED LAND, the first book in his new series THE CHRONICLES OF HANUVAR, and tackled it, although it’s considerably longer than the books I normally read.
This series is loosely based on the wars between Rome and Carthage, with Derva
being Rome, Volanus being Carthage, and Hanuvar being Hannibal. But that’s just
a starting point as Jones creates a very different world from our own, one with
dragons and sorcerers and monsters and spirits, and the events in Hanuvar’s
life don’t play out the same way Hannibal’s did. Hanuvar is both the political
and military leader of Volanus, but as the book opens he’s believed to be dead
following the conclusion of the third war between Derva and Volanus. But
Hanuvar actually survived the death of the dragon he was riding and a plunge
into the sea, and now, alone and friendless, he sets out to rescue the
survivors of his people and take them to the colony of New Volanus, which he
started across the ocean several years earlier.
LORD OF A SHATTERED LAND is a fix-up novel comprised of fourteen novelettes and novellas, some of which were published previously in magazines and anthologies, and this episodic nature really works in its favor, allowing Jones to keep the story moving at a good pace as we follow Hanuvar on his quest. So many books like this are full of padding, but LORD OF A SHATTERED LAND really isn’t. Each section builds on the previous tales as Hanuvar gathers information, makes friends, battles both new threats and old, travels with a circus, and finally, at the end of the book, positions himself to launch the next step of his plan to free his people. This novel has an epic feel to it that works very well.
As for the stories—the characters, the writing, the action—I felt like I was reading Robert E. Howard in the Lancer editions, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories in the Ace editions, John Jake’s original Brak the Barbarian stories in the Avon paperback, and even good old Thongor in the first Ace edition of Lin Carter’s THE WIZARD OF LEMURIA. In other words, I was right back there in the Sixties, sitting on my parents’ front porch, having a spectacularly good time reading rousing sword and sorcery yarns. LORD OF A SHATTERED LAND is that good. Better than Jakes and Carter, for my money, and if it doesn’t quite rise to the level of Howard and Leiber . . . well, those guys have nostalgia going for them, too, while Jones’ novel is brand new. In time, as I continue reading the Hanuvar books (the second one will be out next month, and I already have it pre-ordered), he may give those giants a run for their money. I can’t wait to find out. If you’re a fan of sword and sorcery fiction, this one has my highest recommendation. It's available in ebook and hardcover editions.