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The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones
Cover Artist: Charles Keegan
Review by Meagen Voss
Thomas Dunne Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312646745
Date: 15 February 2011 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Howard Andrew Jones' The Desert of Souls would give Scheherazade a run for her money. Of course, Jones didn't have a sultan holding an ax over his head as motivation for him to tell his tale, but this Arabian Nights-inspired adventure has the spirit of an epic myth that has been passed down through the ages.

As with most epic tales, this story begins with a single--seemingly harmless--event. Asim, who is Captain of the palace guard, and Dabir, the palace scholar, take their master Jaffar on a trip to the marketplace after his prized parrot passed away. The outing goes horribly wrong when a bleeding man crosses their path. They chase off the crooks who were trying to kill the stranger, but the man dies before he can explain the golden door pull he was carrying in his bag. Dabir soon realizes that the pull was connected to Ubar, a lost city that had been destroyed by none other than God himself. Before they can solve the mystery, the pull is stolen by a wily Greek spy and a vengeful wizard who seeks to use the pull to destroy Baghdad. Dabir and Asim set out to stop the wizard and retrieve the pull. Together, they contend with dark magic, ancient creatures, and the unforgiving desert on a quest to save the homeland they love.

The story has a definite momentum to it and a sense of urgency that drives the plot, but Jones took just enough time to flesh out the details. He expertly mixed backstory and foreshadowing with action and dialog to create a blend that made his characters, and the world they inhabited, as vivid in the mind as a fresh painting. There is a story within the story where Jones seems to indulge a bit too much, but because there is ultimately a purpose to it, most readers will probably forgive this diversion. Many aspects of Jones’ setting are historically accurate, and even though he fully admits to taking some liberties with history (a prime example is Jaffar's niece Sabirah, who was a bit too independent for a woman living in that time), his changes are barely noticeable as you are transported to the eighth century through his prose.

Asim and Dabir have appeared in print before. They have been staples of Jones’ magazine Black Gate for years, and it is only fitting that Jones’ debut novel would feature an adventure that no short story could contain.

This tale would appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, fans of ancient myths, and fantasy readers looking for an adventure that is not centered around a war. It is a testament to Jones’ skill that The Desert of Souls could easily stand alongside “Aladdin” as well as “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” as the 1,002nd story in Scheherazade’s repertoire, and the good news is that he’s not done with Dabir and Asim yet.

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