The City of Marble and Bone
Written by Howard Andrew Jones
Published by Baen
October 17, 2023
Hardcover, 528 pages
In my review of the first entry in The Chronicles of Hanuvar, Lord of a Shattered Land, I made the observation that General Hanuvar Cabera of Volanus was akin to an “intellectual Conan” because of his strategist way of thinking, being a soldier and all, but I’ve since revised that estimation. Hanuvar is more “Conan the Cimmerian in the Roman Empire” with this new story, and while it feels just slightly less like Robert E. Howard, it still fits nicely within the sword-and-sandal milieu that was Howard’s stomping ground.
Marble and Bone picks up with Hanuvar and Antires working to acquire a piece of land on which to build a port village from which they can transport the Volani citizens they recover from enslavement. In the process, they encounter a sorcerer with less than noble motivations, leading to a rather unique situation for Hanuvar, one that sets up an interesting scenario and resolution toward the end of the book — and for any of you who have been complaining about a certain story trope being used over and over and over and over…. Well, let’s just say this is woven into the story in a way that is justified in the story logic, and it’s just long enough to do what needs to be done and we’re out.
That early encounter is also the source for the cover art, again as with the first book. So you’re not getting much in the way of spoilers with Dave Seely’s work — but it does lean more heavily into the Roman Empire aspects of Hanuvar’s world, something Jones confirmed was a deliberate part of the world-building during his appearance on Live From The Bunker.
This book spends a lot more time with Hanuvar maneuvering within the imperial capital city of Derva, where no one recognizes him because of that said early encounter with the sorcerer. And Hanuvar takes the opportunity to re-establish contact with his network of spies, those who delivered intelligence to him when he was a general in the Volani military. Now, for some reason, I picture Carthalo played Robbie Coltrane, which is unfortunate since he’s no longer with us. There’s a character that would have been perfect for Andre the Giant, too… Perhaps the next Hanuvar book needs to include a few nods to Morgenstern….
Meanwhile, Hanuvar also picks up some unexpected allies, some for whom he had more than a little animosity for their actions prior to the final war with Derva, and some for whom he finds he has more respect than he thought he might. These allies prove key to uncovering information about various Volani citizens who were captured and sold into slavery, and along the way Hanuvar gets caught up in a murder investigation when it seems that just maybe his daughter is killing Dervan children.
Like the first book, the second is structured in episodic chapters, also a deliberate choice by Jones, as he sees these books as akin to seasons of a television series, with each chapter playing out as an episode of the show. This also plays into the structure of many Conan stories, as does the inclusion of the infrequent appearance of magic and dark arts woven into the story.
Again, as I’ve said before, I appreciate how Jones has given us a protagonist who’s not on the typical “hero’s journey” with the usual tropes that come therewith. Hanuvar is a seasoned soldier who lost the one war he couldn’t afford to lose, and that colors his perception of everything he encounters. It also informs his plans for rescuing his people, as he frequently has to disabuse others of the notion that he’s out for revenge. Although despite this, he still gets into plenty of scrapes where blood must be spilled, but even then it’s something that’s necessary for that particular circumstance, not something that displays Hanuvar as a bloodthirsty wanna-be warlord with plans for world domination. He just wants to free his people and take them away to a new home. Nothing more than that, and as he convinces more people of his motivations, he’s starting to assemble a team of … let’s say “non-avengers” who have skills that can be combined together as they work toward Hanuvar’s end goal. Even if he ultimately doesn’t survive the effort — remember, blood gets spilled quite frequently — Hanuvar is setting things up so that the rescue effort can continue without him.
Overall, it’s another excellent work. And I only found two misspelled words.
Seriously, though, it will draw you in, and you’ll lose a few hours as you pass the time with Hanuvar and his allies (and enemies) during The City of Marble and Bone, which I recommend you add to your collection post haste and read it before David Weber’s next Honor Harrington book comes out from Baen, because you’ll have to read that, too.