The Desert of Souls
Howard Andrew Jones
Thomas Dunne Books
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.