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  • Writer's pictureL. D. Whitney

Review: "Lord of a Shattered Land" by Howard Andrew Jones

Updated: Jul 3

The genre of Sword & Sorcery is in kind of a weird place right now. There is a relatively sudden bloom of new publications and outlets that support and produce genre material. There are conscious efforts from numerous directions to make something happen with this strange melding of heroic fantasy and weird horror. The caveat is that they all remain small; independent, if you will. Print-on-Demand has also done wonders for the passionate author or publisher, giving access to tools and a platform that wasn't available even a decade ago. However, since before I was born, there has been a glaring gap in the market, that is: Sword & Sorcery being almost completely ignored by mainstream publishers. No one is arguing that it didn't exist, but that it didn't exist MUCH. Speaking from experience, after having devoured most of what I consider "Classic S&S" in the early 2000's, there was very little NEW Sword & Sorcery for me to pick up from the bookstore. In fact, I can't think of a single S&S book that wasn't mined from the moldering shelves of a used bookstore until about 2011, when I discovered "Desert of Souls" by Howard Andrew Jones.

Howard was my first foray into a Sword & Sorcery author that was still alive and still writing. The lead characters of his historical fantasy adventure, Dabir and Asim, quickly rose to prominence in both heart and mind. They were quick, witty, and endearing, robed in a world cut from the cloth of Sinbad and Aladdin.

There is still very little in the way of Sword & Sorcery sitting on the bookshelf of Barnes & Noble. A crying shame, of course.

But I think that is about to change. Whether it be but a fleeting moment or lasting impression, only time will tell.

Regardless, who is at the center of this momentous occasion?

Howard Andrew Jones.

Howard is a vocal Sword and Sorcery Community member, having been preaching from his modest pulpit for decades. He's been on the podcast several times and we have conversed through email even more than that. Jones has a distinctive voice and outlook that sets his fiction apart from many other authors. His prose is evocative, yet brief. Descriptive, but never lingers too long. His characters are fully realized, charming, and realistic. However, the quality that most attracted me to Howard's writing is that he creates heroes.

I said it.

Real, honest to Crom, heroes.

Sword and Sorcery as a niche subgenre often includes morally grey characters, even melding into villains at times. Mercenaries, thieves, and red-handed barbarians abound. That is not so with Howard or the lead character of his newest book "Lord of a Shattered Land". Hanuvar, a fantastical depiction of the legendary Hannibal of Carthage, is a good, earnest man who is a breath of fresh air to me. That is not to say that Hanuvar doesn't have his moments. He is, after all, a haggard general with greying hair and a city in ruins. It is not revenge that drives him though, but a desire, nay duty, to reunite his scattered people beneath a sundered banner. Hanuvar is not necessarily a white knight, something so often invoked when hearing the word "hero", but seems to always choose the right, good, honest thing to do.

The book itself toes the line between anthology and novel in perhaps an innovative new formula. A quick look at the table of contents will show a collection of short stories, something that Sword & Sorcery revels in. The catch is, at about the halfway mark, the stories become interwoven, creating a novel-length narrative. Howard himself has likened this approach to a serial television show, each story representing an episode of a season that wraps up a large arc by the climactic finale. Philosophically speaking, this novel (heh heh) approach to storytelling should appeal to a wide variety of people, including those with shorter attention spans, more than one reading interest, and even fans of epic doorstop fantasies. In a world where authors are cutting page counts due to high printing costs and brains have become one with the TikTok hive-mind, this style may strike a chord. In addition, each story has what are essentially footnotes that go into more depth on the lore and history of Hanuvar's world. These fit well with the framing device at the beginning of the book.

Howard has no qualms about wearing his influences on his sleeve, even going so far as to dedicate this book to Harold Lamb. While the stories themselves progress in a very Lamb-like fashion, I think that the influence is most apparent in the use of historical references. This is not to say the novel takes place in a pseudo-history of Earth like Conan's Hyborian Age or even a historical setting with sorcerous inclusions like the works of Scott Oden. Hanuvar's world is very much secondary but is written and described in such a way that evokes a sense of time and research. It is an ancient world that eschew the many well-tread trappings of the vaguely medieval. Howard's use of setting and language evokes a colorful age of Roman expansion across a wine-dark sea. The weight of history is again bolstered by the framing device and footnotes. I am vocal about my desire to see and feel history in my Sword & Sorcery, which is why I prefer the likes of Conan and Imaro to Elric and Fafhrd. While Howard doesn't go as hard as the aforementioned Oden, the implications are still felt.

As I mentioned before, Howard has a distinctive writing style that feels more modern than classic examples of Sword & Sorcery. It is brisk and trim. I have heard it described as YA adjacent in conversation, which I don't necessarily think is a bad thing. It is worth noting that I believe this particular style, alongside Hanuvar's personality, makes his novel feel more PG-13 than almost any other S&S fair. There is definitely violence within the narrative, but it is not as graphic or detailed as one might encounter in other fiction. It is also light on the horror element that thrives within the link between Conan and Cthulhu. The tales of Hanuvar feel more like reading an authors interpretation of a Greek myth than the adventures of a barbarian thief, pirate, or king. Again, that is not to say there isn't a multitude of weird monsters and interesting creatures, or that magic doesn't have its consequences. That is all true. But you won't find as much of the mind-blasting bizarre that exists throughout the genre. As a caveat, I will readily admit these things might be colored by my own reading history, so mileage may vary.

Ultimately, this volume is packed with adventure and heart set within the confines of a colorful ancient world. While Howard himself has expressed disdain for re-hashed definitions, If I had to put a label on it, this leans more toward Heroic Fantasy than Sword & Sorcery in its most classic of definitions. Regardless of titles and niches, I thoroughly enjoyed this particular adventure and look forward to the upcoming releases. Hanuvar and "Lord of a Shattered Land" may not hit every fan the same way, but it hit me just right.


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Wrecking Ball Media .Riccardo
Wrecking Ball Media .Riccardo

Love that Logan is involved here, been on board the podcast since close to the beginning and man a lot has changed. Appreciate schedules don't always align so great that original Rogues are still with us - hopefully Alex can contribute too - maybe a short story about a Ranger and his bow?!

L. D. Whitney
L. D. Whitney

Hey there! I appreciate the shoutout. I assure you, I'm still here. I've been behind the scenes a lot lately, but I've been on a few episodes lately. I'll be sure to tell Alex that he is missed! Thanks for the love!


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