The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones

The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew JonesSome stories can seem refreshing just by taking a familiar idea and showing it to us in a new way.

Howard Andrew Jones has taken the Sword and Sorcery adventures of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber and dropped them into the middle of eight century Middle East.

What comes out is a cross between a Sherlock Holmes mystery and the Prince of Persia.

Asim is the captain of the guard for Jaffar — friend and confidant of the Caliph. When two priceless door pulls are stolen from Jaffar Asim is sent along with his friend Dabir, the scholar, to find them and bring them back.

Asim is not simple but he is not complicated either. He does not understand subtlety and rarely thinks things through logically. Dabir on the other hand is the story’s detective. He puzzles through the problems, formulates plans and acts on them. The two of them work together like a well-oiled machine. Dabir plots and Asim fights and between the two of them there is little that they can’t overcome.

The result is one of the most delightful tales that I have read in a long time. Asim isn’t stupid (though he isn’t particularly smart, either) and many of his insights are genuinely thought provoking. His story unfolds so smoothly and with such practiced skill that I have a hard time believing this is the author’s first published novel.

The action scenes are done just right, with the perfect amount of detail to imagine the fights and leave some up to the imagination. The slow parts come in the perfect places, allowing the characters and reader to rest for short periods before diving back into the plot of intrigue and sorcery.

Mostly, however, what sells this book is Asim. He is an outstanding character. Devoted to Allah, devoted to his oaths and his friends and willing to admit when he is wrong. He is also one of the most honest and believable heroes in fiction.

I’m already looking for the next one.

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