“He’s the lord of a shattered land. The Dervans destroyed Volanus.”
Lord of a Shattered Land is a virtuosic sword and sorcery fantasy by Howard Andrew Jones inspired by the Punic Wars. The novel’s lead protagonist, Hanuvar, is a classic good-guy hero, a legendary general committed to freeing his people from slavery after the enemy Dervans overran and obliterated his beloved city of Volanus. Hanuvar is evidently inspired by Hannibal, the famed general and statesmen who led the North African empire of Carthage against the Roman Republic during the Second Punic War (218-204 BC).
Lord of a Shattered Land parallels the Punic Wars in both its basic exposition and worldbuilding: Derva is the stand-in for Rome, and across the sea, Volanus is the surrogate for Carthage. Just as the real Carthage was mercilessly destroyed by Rome during the Third Punic War, with all its inhabitants either killed or sold into slavery, Lord of a Shattered Land begins in the aftermath of utter defeat, with Volanus razed and its people killed or enslaved.
Howard Andrew Jones tells Hanuvar’s story in an episodic format. The fourteen chapters of Lord of a Shattered Land act as interconnected short stories that each provide a vignette of our hero’s adventures while working together to build the overarching narrative. The structure of Lord of a Shattered Land has a definite literary feel reminiscent of David Mitchell or Yoko Ogawa. Like Mitchell, Jones leverages this episodic format to flex his narrative style, including one chapter that is told like a folktale.
Howard Andrew Jones writes with precision and gravitas, giving Lord of a Shattered Land a classic historical feel. Jones makes effective use of three in-book narrators: the corpus of the novel is chronicled by Sasilos, with edits from a distant nephew and helpful footnotes by the renowned historian Silenus. Beyond the gravity of its prose, there are also plenty of touching moments:
“When his vision cleared the woman was gone. All that remained was her scarf, blowing free down the mountain side.”
Despite its roots in classical antiquity, Lord of a Shattered Land is an unabashed sword and sorcery novel, full of fantastical beasts. Our hero encounters terrible nocturnal avian predators known as gatzi and large dinosaur-like carnivores called tarifen. My favorite fauna are the winged serpents known as asalda. While normally humans and asalda are enemies or have a neutral relationship, the people of Volanus developed a healthy symbiotic relationship with the asalda.
Altogether, Howard Andrew Jones has created the next great classic fantasy hero with Hanuvar. I especially appreciated how the stories favored Hanuvar flexing his mind over his muscles, outwitting his opponents. Lord of a Shattered Land is sword and sorcery par excellence, leveraging a literary style to build a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The Chronicles of Hanuvar continues with The City of Marble and Blood, the second book of the series.