Sunday, December 16, 2012

One Day in the Arabian Nights...

The Desert of Souls
Howard Andrew Jones
Thomas Dunne Books
tpb $14.95
ebook $9.99  Kindle Epub

So there's this guy, Howard Andrew Jones, see?  He's done a lot of things in the field.  He's held some editorial positions, most recently with Black Gate.  In addition to publishing some well received S&S short fiction (often in the aforementioned BG), he's the author of a novel in the Pathfinder Tales.  Mr. Jones has also edited an 8 volume series collecting much of the short fiction of Harold Lamb.  These are accomplishments which should make any man proud.

But Nooo.  This isn't enough.  The guy has to go an be an overachiever.  What do I mean by that?

Allow me to enter into evidence as exhibit A the novel The Desert of Souls.

This is a novel that gathered a great deal of attention when it was published last year.  If you've read it, you know why.  If you haven't, get thee hence and obtain a copy.  (Use the handy link at the top of the page if you like.)

To set the tale, Asim is the captain of the guard for Jaffar, a high ranking official in the Caliphate of Baghdad.  (He's also a real historical personage, as is the caliph.)  In order to take Jaffar's mind off the death of his favorite parrot, Asim and his friend, the scholar Dabir, accompany Jaffar on an anonymous outing into the city.  Or to put it another way, they go slumming.  Jaffar decides to visit a fortune teller, but the fortune the old woman tells isn't one he wants to hear.  As they leave her house, a man fleeing a group of thugs collides with them.  Asim and Dabir fight off the thugs, and discover he's carrying an unusual door pull. 

It's not just any door pull.  Between the fortunes given to them by the old woman and the number of people seeking this door pull, Asim and Dabir will find themselves on a dangerous quest across more than one world.  This was grand adventure in the old style.  Lots of action, chases, thrills, humor, and excitement.  In short, it was a heck of a lot of fun.

I've already mentioned that Howard Andrew Jones edited a set of Harold Lamb books.  If you're familiar with Lamb, you'll know what I mean when I say this book is very much in that vein.  If you're not (and why not?), then get thee hence and obtain copies.  Lamb was one of the greatest adventure writers of the 20th century.  He was also a major influence on a guy from Cross Plains who was also named Howard.  I haven't read all of the Lamb volumes yet, but I saw echoes of them here.  I mean that as high praise, not to imply that The Desert of Souls is in any way derivative.  It's not. 

There are other influences here as well.  The Arabian Nights, obviously.  There's also a strong element of Sherlock Holmes running through the book.  Dabir is the Holmes figure, observing and using reason, whereas Asim plays the role of Watson.  The book is narrated by Asim many years after the events he transcribes. 

Jones takes these influences, and others I probably missed, and combines them into something that's greater than the sum of its parts.  I know that phrase has been overused to the point of cliche, but in this case I think it applies.  This is a rich novel, full of wit and heart, that treats its source material with respect.  It carries on the tradition of fantasy adventure and takes that tradition into new territory.  Jones writes like an old pro, not a relatively new author.  You care what happens to the characters; you hurt with them when they hurt; and you want to know more about what comes after you close the last page.  Jones gives enough hints that you now there are other stories yet to be told.

The sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, came out this past Tuesday (December 11).  My copy is on order.  Look for a review soon.  There are also some short stories starring Dabir and Asim collected in the ebook The Waters of Eternity.  My original intention was to review Desert a couple of months ago, Waters last month, and Bones sometime this month.  I was foolish enough to mention this plan in an email to Howard, and I apologize for not keeping with my schedule.

So I rest my case.  The evidence shows that Howard Andrew Jones is an overachiever.  Pretty shameless one, at that.  And that's fine by me.

The Desert of Souls and The Bones of the Old Ones are featured books at Adventures Fantastic Books.


  1. This is near the top of my to-read list. Now, if only I could find time to read for pleasure...

  2. And, the series just got optioned by a major Hollywood studio, so add that to the over achieving list ;)

  3. I'm looking forward to getting into this series.

  4. Tom, when you figure out how to find time to read for pleasure, please let me know. (BTW, giving up sleep doesn't work; I've tried.)

    Paul, I meant to mention that, but that bit of data fell out of a hole in my fatigued head. Let's hope the script makes it through development hell and what gets filmed resembles what's in the book. It would be great to see this series really take off.

    Charles, as a Robert E. Howard fan, I think this one will really appeal to you.

  5. Heh, heh.
    I just finished reading The Bones of the Old Ones and I can pretty much guarantee that if you enjoyed The Desert of Souls that you are going to enjoy The Bones of the Old Ones even more.

    Jones ramps everything up-- the pace, the stakes, the emotion, the action, the sorcery, the swordplay, the arcane Weird Tales-style sense of wonder & discovery...
    Extremely savory stuff and, grumpy, backward-looking old goofball that I am, I'm semi-astonished that something like this could be written and published today.

    John Hocking

    1. My copy arrived at the local B&N tonight. The stupid store isn't currently stocking Bones, nor did it stock the hardcover of Desert. Which is why I didn't read Desert before now. I had to order it, and by the time it arrived, I had a mountain of things I'd committed to read. I hope to read it around New Year's. I've got a couple of things I have to finish first.

      I'd also consider myself a grumpy, backward-looking goofball, John, and I'm glad this is being written and published today.