It is 8th century Baghdad and, before he is killed, a stranger pleads with the Vizier to protect a strange and mysterious tablet. Dabir, the Vizier’s scholar, discovers that the tablet may lead to the lost city of Ubar, whose hidden gates house treasures beyond imagination. However, when the tablet is stolen by an evil Magi, it is up to Dabir and his loyal friend, Captain Asim of the Vizier’s household guard, to retrieve the tablet before it can be used to unleash a terrible fate upon all of Baghdad. Fresh, riveting and an absolute thrill, Howard Andrew Jones’ debut novel The Desert of Souls is nothing short of amazing.
Something for everyone
It’s been a while since I’ve seen any novels openly marketed as “sword and sorcery”. I may get in trouble for breaking down the genre any more than it is, but I feel there has been a significant decrease in them since the days of Conan and the like. However, if there were more sword and sorcery books like The Desert of Souls, I’d be all over them. Jones writes a tight, lean story with a little bit everything. Action, adventure, mystery, magic, romance, humor, mythology; this book has it all, and in just the right amount.
Best buddy cop movie ever
I found one of the greatest things about this book to be the relationship between Asim and Dabir. You have the grizzled warrior and the clever scholar, brains and brawn, coming together to get the job done and save their friends. While this could easily have had them always at odds, the two are actually good friends and work together instead of always bickering. Asim and Dabir belong in a buddy cop film from the eighties and I mean that in the best way possible: their friendship is pure, and no matter what happens, they always stick together. I really hope Jones has more of their adventures to write, because it’d be a shame not to explore their friendship further.
A tight narrative
Having just finished reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven, which I was less than thrilled with, it was a pleasure to trade in his meandering, drawn-out style for Jones’ lean, tight plot in The Desert of Souls. Weighing in at just over 300 pages, The Desert of Souls is a fast-paced novel from start to finish. Many of us are used to the 800 page epics in the speculative fiction industry, and as much as I enjoy the longer books, those authors could learn a thing or two from Jones. No page is wasted, and everything moves at a quick clip. Even moments of quiet still move along at a great pace.
So why should you read this book?
If you’re tired of authors who waste time with too much exposition or too many tangents, or if you’re looking for a book full of wonderful characters, great relationships and a rip-roaring adventure, then The Desert of Souls is for you. A quick read, but I was hooked from start to finish. Here’s hoping Jones has more stories of Dabir and Asim coming; I’ll be waiting for them patiently.
Marty received a review copy courtesy of St. Martin’s Press.