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The Desert of Souls Hardcover – February 15, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As richly textured as an antique rug, this fantasy-mystery sweeps readers into ancient Baghdad. Asim, captain of Master Jaffar's guard, and the wily scholar Dabir, who is hopelessly in love with Jaffar's niece Sabirah, track stolen golden artifacts into the shifting sands that hide the ruins of legendary Ubar, entry to the land of the djinn. Asim's dazzling swordplay, his Muslim piety, and his unwavering loyalty to his friend balance Dabir's bittersweet devotion to Sabirah as the pair battle forbidden magic that forces them to slice away layers of their own spirits. Their antagonist, evil Zarathustrian sorcerer Firouz, poses moral questions that deepen this multicolored Arabian-nights tale, as does the plight of pretty, quick-witted Sabirah, who prizes scholarship and lives for the moment while facing the fate of a political marriage. A captivating setting and well-realized characters make this a splendid flying-carpet ride. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

Baghdad in the eighth century: a mysterious object comes into the possession of the royal Jaffar. He instructs Asim, captain of the royal guard, and Dabir, a scholar, to solve the mystery of the object’s inscription. The object is stolen, but not before Asim and Dabir have uncovered tantalizing clues to its history: it appears that it may have come from Ubar, a lost city that was, or so the legend goes, destroyed by God. But can Asim and Dabir uncover the secrets of the lost city before their own lives are lost, too? This is an exciting, colorfully written novel with engaging characters and a story that mixes fantasy and real-world elements. It should appeal to readers of fast-paced historical mysteries (or, perhaps, fans of the recent movie The Prince of Persia, which has some thematic similarities to the book). --David Pitt
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Product Details

  • Series: Desert of Souls (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 309 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (February 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312646747
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312646745
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,509,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. M. Harvey on April 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I used to really enjoy reading fantasy. I grew up reading Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and books like the Riftwar Saga. I enjoyed being immersed in a world that wasn't this one, and felt disappointed when the story ended. Unfortunately, fantasy took a turn for the worse. Endless doorstop sagas were churned out by the ton: huge books with flaccid prose, endlessly vacillating characters, pages of pointless description, and stories that never went anywhere or finished anything. If you read modern fantasy, you'll know what I mean.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
It started with a dead parrot.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Howard Andrew Jones has achieved something that's rare today. A compulsively readable, first-person, essentially swords and sorcery fantasy adventure novel. Moreover, he's done so not in the usual clichéd pseudo-medieval English or European milieu, which is what almost every single other high fantasy or swords and sorcery low fantasy novelist has been doing for the last fifty years, but he is gone back to fantasy's early roots – and the Near Orient. The world of ancient Arabia, the High Abbasid caliphate of Harun al-Rashid, the world of the 1001 Arabian nights, the world that entranced HP Lovecraft, and Edgar Allan Poe, and countless other fantasy writers.

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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Many of the blurbs for Howard Andrew Jones debut novel, The Desert of Souls compare it to, among other things, Sherlock Holmes, The Arabian Nights, and the works of Robert E. Howard. Having just finished the book I can see where those comparisons come from. The scholar Dabir is somewhat like Holmes in his ability to discern information from physical evidence. Obviously the setting, 8th Century Baghdad, is going to bring to mind the Arabian Nights, what with all the Viziers and Caliphs and such. And certainly there is quite a bit of the sort of sword swinging action that we expect from Robert E. Howard, not only the father of sword & sorcery, but also quite the teller of historical adventures.
However to call Desert of Souls a mish mash of other authors or other genres is to do the book a disservice. Souls is a very original book, a tale of historical sword & sorcery with a setting very different from the quasi-European background so prevalent in today’s fantasy novels and a narrative viewpoint unlike any other in current fantasy fiction. What struck me about the protagonists of Desert of Souls, Dabir the wise man and Asim the soldier is how likable they are. How real. These are characters you’d like to hang out with. (I should also point out that despite the above descriptions, the pair is not neatly divided into brains and brawn. Asim is quite clever and capable, and Dabir will wade in with a blade when he needs to.)
The plot gets rolling with “whickering blades” as Dabir and Asim attempt to rescue a man pursued by a group of armed attackers. The man dies but not before leaving the pair with a cryptic dying message and a strange artifact, a golden door pull inscribed with weird markings.
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