Friday, August 4, 2023

6 Books with Howard Andrew Jones

Howard Andrew Jones lives in a lonely tower by the Sea of Monsters with a wicked and beautiful enchantress. He’s the author of the Hanuvar novels through Baen Books, and the Ring-Sworn trilogy and historical Arabian fantasy novels from St. Martin's. He has also authored four Pathfinder novels and dozens of published short stories. He was the driving force behind the rebirth of interest in Harold Lamb’s historical fiction, and assembled and edited 8 collections of Lamb’s work for the University of Nebraska Press. He is the editor for the sword-and-sorcery magazine Tales From the Magician’s Skull and served as Managing Editor of Black Gate magazine.

Today he tells us about his Six Books.

 1. What book are you currently reading?

I’m finally reading The Count of Monte Cristo. I usually prefer physical books, but I had a flight to and from Europe and didn’t want to haul a text this size around with me. It’s a good thing I had a kindle app on my phone as well, for once on the plane my wife suddenly decided she wanted to re-read Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga and requested the Kindle!

I’m about a third of the way in and am rather enjoying it. Apart from certain scenes I won’t spoil in the first quarter of the book, I’m unaware of how it will all unfold, so I’m curious to see what will happen next. I’d be further along, but I’m in the midst of a big book revision and that’s eaten into my evening reading time. Plus I’ve been watching my wife play the new Zelda game…

2. What upcoming book are you really excited about?

Does Martha Wells’ Witch King still count? It’s pretty recent, and I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m a fan of Wells from way back. I’m especially curious about this one, because the thumbnail description sounds an awful lot like a series idea I’d scribbled down a few notes about. It sounds like she beat me there, and I’m curious to see what she’s done with the concept. 

Of course I must confess I’m even more excited to read the next Murderbot, and since that’s not out yet, maybe that’s the proper answer.

3. Is there a book you’re currently itching to read again?

I’ve been thinking for a while about Vance’s Demon Princes books. I recall especially enjoying the first three, and I drank them down so quickly the details are a little vague now. I’d like to slow down and savor them a bit more.

4. How about a book you’ve changed your mind about – either positively or negatively?

Richard Stark (really Donald Westlake) wrote a series of novels about a master criminal, Parker. My friend Chris Hocking sent me the first of these, The Hunter, while I was laid up in pain after a knee surgery, and it was so very different from anything I’d been reading that I didn’t know what to make of it. The lead character wasn’t a nice guy, the prose was lean and spare, and there were no fantastic elements nor was there any swashbuckling. 

I wasn’t sure I much cared for it, but had recognized that there was something interesting happening because I couldn’t put it down. Being tired and in pain and with more time than usual, I tried some more of the Parker books and soon came to understand that under the deceptively simple package was a whole lot of masterful prose. These short books look like simple vehicles but they’re fantastically well tuned, like an ordinary car that’s had its engine replaced with one from a sports car. I soon revised my opinion and realized I actually loved that book and this series. I’ve returned to read most of the Parker books twice and some of them three times. I revisit the openings, and even use them when I teach creative writing courses. Talk about hooks. How about this for an opening couple of paragraphs, from Backflash:

When the car stopped rolling, Parker kicked out the rest of the windshield and crawled through onto the wrinkled hood, Glock first. He slid to the left, around the tree that had made the Seville finally jolt to a stop, and listened. The siren receded, far upslope. These woods held a shocked silence, after the crash; every animal ear in a hundred yards was as alert as Parker’s.

Nobody came down the hill, following the scar through the trees. There was just the one car in pursuit up there, federal agents of some kind, probably trying right now to make radio contact with the rest of their crew, and still chasing the truck with the rockets, figuring they’d come back to the wrecked car later.

It would be hard to stop reading after that. If that didn’t work for you, try this single opening sentence, from Firebreak: “When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.”

Reading Stark is always entertaining and if you’re a writer yourself it’s like taking a master class. I keep finding new things to marvel over no matter how many times I read the text.

5. What’s one book, which you read as a child or a young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

Paul, you especially might think that would be Nine Princes in Amber, and that’s certainly up there as a huge influence, but I think Harold Lamb’s biography of Hannibal of Carthage (it was titled, wait for it, Hannibal) was even more important. I checked it out from the public library when I was 15 or 16 and it simply thrilled me. I read and re-read the story of this brilliant man doomed to failure, revisiting it the way a lot of fantasy fans re-read The Lord of the Rings. I loved it so much I tried reading some more books by Lamb and discovered his wonderful interlinked swashbuckling historicals of heroic 16th century Cossacks that it turned out were hugely influential upon the foundation of sword-and-sorcery. Later I discovered a bunch of those tales had never been reprinted. Worse, the series had never been fully collected in proper order. I thought that was such a travesty that after I tracked them down I approached a publisher about getting them into print and the next thing I knew I was editing a line of Lamb’s Cossack books for The University of Nebraska Press. 

I’ve continued reading about Hannibal and the Second Punic War and have a small library of books on him and related subjects. My fascination with him and with the sequential storytelling of Lamb’s Cossack saga fed directly into my newest series. All of this dates back to me pulling that one book down from the shelf in high school. Was I actively looking for a book on Hannibal, or was I just wandering through the ancient history section and thought it looked cool? I don’t have a clear recollection now.

6. And speaking of that, what’s your latest book, and why is it awesome? 

The newest arrived in hardback from Baen on August 1st, it’s titled Lord of a Shattered Land, and the main character is inspired by the aforementioned Hannibal while the story structure is inspired by those interlinked Cossack adventures stories, so I owe Lamb doubly. 

The elevator pitch is James Bond or Captain America versus the Roman Empire, OR the adventures of Aragorn if Sauron had won. Or, if you’re a history nerd, what Hannibal might have done if Carthage was destroyed in his lifetime while he was away from the city. 

Hanuvar’s world has an ancient Mediterranean sword-and-sandal vibe. That’s not that different from the bronze-age feel of a lot of traditional sword-and-sorcery, but is less common in heroic fantasy now than it used to be. Think Spartacus and Gladiator, but with dark magic and terrifying monsters.

Hanuvar’s not on the hero’s journey that Hollywood seems stuck on. You know -- a young, untried guy who’s forced to leave the ordinary world, learns about his powers from a wise man, comes into his own, and stops the bad guys while winning true love. That’s not Hanuvar. He’s seasoned and experienced and while you get to know his backstory, there’s no slow origin to wait through before things get interesting. You start with him at the height of his abilities.

He’s no brash youngster, he’s middle-aged. He’s not out to prove anything and he doesn’t need to find himself. He knows who he is. And he’s not interested in self advancement or riches, because he’s essentially selfless. For him, the only thing that matters is his people. He’s the last surviving general of the city of Volanus, which was destroyed by the Dervan Empire. His people fought block by block, house by house, until most fell with their swords in hand. Only a thousand or so survived to be led away in chains. 

That may sound like the setup for a tale of vengeance, but bleak as that back story is, revenge isn’t what Hanuvar’s about, either. No matter where his people have been taken, from the empire’s festering capital to its most remote outpost, he means to find them. Every last one of them. And he will set them free. 

This character’s adventures are a set of episodes that build one upon the other, like a modern television series. There’s an overall arc, there are returning characters and ongoing threats, but each tale stands alone. 

I wanted to look forward and back via this episodic structure, which has sometimes been tricky to pull off but also an awful lot of fun to craft. The chapters can be enjoyed separately, but they are almost certainly more rewarding if consumed in order. And like those TV series, each season (or book, in this case) ends with a climactic conclusion that resolves the immediate problems, although some challenges linger on for the next season/book.  

Additionally, each book builds upon the one before, creating a larger connected sequence. Book two  is more tightly integrated than book one, but that’s by design. Book one, Lord of a Shattered Land, gets you familiar with Hanuvar, his world, and his challenges, before additional complications and details get added to the mix in book two, The City of Marble and Blood (available October of this year).

Thank you, Howard! 

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.