Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A review of The Desert of Souls

The Desert of Souls

(Full disclosure- Howard is one of my many Online friends and as such I was sent a hardback copy from the publisher, but I enjoyed the story so much that I purchased my own Kindle Edition to have with me on hand)

Howard Andrew Jones, best known for his editorial work at Blackgate Magazine and the Harold Lamb collection from Bison Books has released his first novel featuring the adventuring duo Dabir and Asim, it is titled, The Desert of Souls.

The Desert of Souls gives us the origin of the partnership of these two characters, and lays the foundation for their long and adventure filled career. Dabir and Asim have adventured through a series of short stories written by Jones over several years now. Their adventures have graced the pages of historical fiction and sword & sorcery collections as well as those of Blackgate magazine. Dabir is a Scholar and Asim a swordsman and officer. The pair resides in the middle east of legend where they are often called upon, by their Caliph and others, to investigate mysterious happenings and solve the impossible.

At first glance it would be easy to pin the label of “Holmes and Watson meet the Arabian Nights” upon them, but that would be a gross injustice to the richness of the characters and the level of craftsmanship Jones has given these stories.

The Desert of Souls tells of a mission to solve a riddle and then to save an empire. Throughout the tale the duo faces wizards, assassins, necromancers, and demons amongst their many foes.
Despite these numerous foes, I never felt that Jones went too far in the use of the fantastic. He never loses the sword & Sorcery feel, where magic is rare and inherently a tool that corrupts.

I enjoyed Asim’s first person account of the story. There were several places where his characterization is so deep that I felt I was reading an actual recollection. Jones cites Robert E. Howard as one of his influences, Howard is famous for bringing his readers so deep into the story that we forget the characters, much less the setting, was a figment of his imagination. Jones it seems has learned these lessons well, as I found myself more and more invested in the character of Captain Asim.

While Desert of Souls is a full-fledged adventure story with plenty of action, swordfights, and nefarious sorcery, it is also the tale of two friends. The chemistry between the duo is readily apparent and the dialogue truly enjoyable. I was especially pleased at the wit and humor of their conversations, something lost in this genre since the early stories of Leiber’s Fafhrd and Grey Mouser.

The Villains and supporting characters are also well thought out, each with virtues, vices and depth lacking in many other tales found in this genre.

It’s apparent that Jones loves not only the genre but the rich setting of the Orient as well. The tale is well researched and presents an enchanting glimpse into lands that are rarely visited by other writers of Sword & Sorcery fiction.

Messrs. Howard and Lamb would be proud of their student.