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The Desert of Souls Hardcover – February 15, 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
The Desert of Souls is a welcome correction to this. It's the first modern fantasy book I've read for a long time that I've really enjoyed. I read it over three days, and when I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it. The prose is economical but lyrical, the characters engaging, the story fast-paced. There are heros, beautiful women, sorcerers, djinn, flashing swords, love, despair, horror . . . all the things that made the Sinbad movies so great.
If you like adventure fantasy, then buy this book. I really enjoyed it. The only disappointment was that this is Jones' first, and I can't go and buy another one from him yet.
Asim, captain of Jafar's guard, was fond of Jafar's parrot, a talented bird who "could mimic the master and his chief eunuch, and even sometimes answered the call to prayer by bowing thrice. He did this only when it pleased him to do so, which, as my nephew Mahmoud once noted, was far too much like many men he knew."
But Pago the parrot turns up dead one day, and so Asim, in an effort to distract Jafar from his grief, suggests an outing into the market.
Thus it is that Asim, his master Jafar, and Dabir, the scholar engaged as tutor to Jafar's intellectually precocious niece, Sabirah, set out for a little harmless fun in the noisy, perilous environs of eighth-century Baghdad. There they encounter a fortune teller, a band of thieves, and, of course, that moment of destiny when life takes a decidedly strange and treacherous turn.
The Desert of Souls is an elegantly written, deftly plotted, scimitar-and-sorcery tale, as colorful and romantic as a Persian carpet, woven with bright, daring exploits, frequent glints of humor, and the darker threads of heartbreak, pathos, and knotty moral quandries. It is a buddy story dressed in turbans and wearing daggers, exploring a burgeoning but sorely tested friendship between the narrator, Asim, a pious, loyal warrior with an unexpected flair for story-telling, and Dabir, the clever problem-solver who cannot resist a puzzle--or the flashing eyes and fine mind of a certain young woman.
Toss in some undead monkeys, a jaded djinn, a feathered serpent who hoards treasure of a most unusual kind, a fortune teller who may (or may not) have mixed up her clients' fortunes, an evil sorcerer corrupted by a lust for revenge, a lost city, a stowaway virgin, magical artifacts, forbidden love, and enough sword-play and suspense to satisfy the most ardent lover of action....drop it into the harsh, fantastical landscape of old Arabia... and you have the critically acclaimed, thoroughly delightful and moving debut novel of Howard Andrew Jones.
Check it out.
If you like Fritz Lieber, or Robert Howard, or Harold Lamb, or early Michael Moorcock, I think you would really like this book.
The characters are well developed, in a mature literary way. Jones doesn't dumb down his character, which is what many authors do in many first-person fantasy novels today. The narrator is deceptively complex, has layers, and grows as a person throughout the story. In some ways, the narrator and the main protagonists of the story share and almost Sherlock Holmes and Watson like relationship. They are in the middle of a mystery. And that mystery has layers.
The action scenes are great, and the fantastical themes like magic and sorcery are handled very well actually. And the plot moves quickly, except for a mid novel desert interlude that is laden with philosophical implications. Some critics didn't like this part of the novel, I liked it, it's integral to the growth of the protagonists and strangely enough echos Lovecraft and his Cthulu mythos for perceptive readers.
In other words, this isn't your typical poorly written modern fantasy doorstop. The author is thoughtful and very good at his literary craft. Will this challenge some readers who are used to poorer material? I hope not, I think that anyone who has read good fantasy for a while would find this book at his or her level.
This fast-paced, sword and magic filled adventure, is set in an ancient Middle Eastern backdrop drawn with a good deal of verisimilitude. And I say that as a lifelong student of classical Arabic and Aramaic, and Middle Eastern lore.
How does that play out in an age of issues like cultural conflict, terrorism, and cultural appropriation? Well, I'm not sure how relevant that question is. The fact is that Jones manages to write a very readable, entertaining, well-paced, and thrilling fantasy, that is in a well researched cultural world. He doesn't shy away from aspects of Middle Eastern cultures that are different from our Western cultures. But he succeeds at respectfully and empathetically staging his novel in a very different culture than modern Anglo-American ones.
Which is the culture and world of Arabia a thousand years ago. Layered with intrigue. What's a shame, to me, is that this world electrified and inspired many generations of fantasy writers. HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, even Lord Byron (who in some ways was a fantasy or speculative fiction writer, for his age ). But because of modern political anxieties and tensions many people shy from fiction themed and set in that world.
Read it, it's a quick and entertaining and immersion of a read. You will feel like you are on distant shores, at a distant time, in the bazaars palaces and and temples of a long-lost age.