'THE DESERT OF SOULS' BY HOWARD ANDREW JONES - A LYRICAL TALE OF HEROISM AND ADVENTURE!
'Desert of Souls' is a beautiful book - a tale of romance, action, and adventure. Imagine Fritz Leiber meets Arthur Conan Doyle in the world of the Arabian Nights! Two heroes - Asim and Dabir - begin a mission for their master Jaffar, one of the lords of a swashbuckling, larger-than-life 9th century Baghdad, which leads them deep into perilous intrigue and death-defying conflicts, and a quest far beyond their wildest imaginings.
In this his first novel author Howard Jones is already an accomplished writer, weaving a story with beautiful language and an apparently effortless mastery of the background of the Caliphate of Haroun el-Rashid. His prose is smooth, and sometimes deeply lyrical; his love of the desert, his evocation of ancient Basra and Baghdad, are a real pleasure to read. But it's his characters where he really shines: Jones has artfully managed to portray true heroes. Asim and Dabir, and their comrades, feel like real people, yet are also cast in an honest Golden Age mould - a perfect antidote to our cynical and divisive age. These aren't weak anti-heroes or tortured souls filled with self-doubt; they are people like you and I, thrust into extraordinary situations, and they rise to the occasion with a courage and humour which is as satisfying as it is stirring.
What struck me most about 'The Desert of Souls' was that Jones has succeeded in 'reclaiming' the world of the Arabian Nights for modern story-telling. Too often these days is the Middle East portrayed as a hostile, alien culture; in his novel Jones harks back to the love and respectful treatment of his source material shown by writers and adventurers such as Sir Richard Burton. It becomes a real place, a world we can understand, a people we can like and sympathize with as they face peril and ripping, action-packed adventure. It's a world of magic, mystery, and intrigue, but also one which touches on the themes of love, duty, loyalty and friendship which unite us all.
I thought of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser a lot during the Desert of Souls, but there's an optimism and light in Jones' characters and story-telling which is absent in Leiber's. His affection for his characters is clear, and we share his excitement that we are seeing two people at the very start of their path to greatness. I hope Howard Jones pens another novel quickly, and that we can follow Asim and Dabir's adventures as they grow!