Monday, 23 December 2013

'The Desert of Souls' - Howard Andrew Jones (Head of Zeus)

'The Desert of Souls' was one of those books that never made it past the burn out that led to the end of my old blog. Seriously, there were times where I literally couldn't look at this book (amongst others) without getting a headache and there's no point in reading if you're not enjoying it, don't even try.
This was all the more a huge shame as, at the time, 'The Desert of Souls' was having a lot of good things said about it by all the people whose 'book opinions' matter to me. I guess I subconsciously filed this one under 'must read when the headaches stop' as when I saw that Head of Zeus were publishing 'Desert' in the UK my curiosity was piqued all over again and requested a review copy.
I'm really glad I did, I've been lost in 'The Desert of Souls' for the last few days and didn't really want to find my way back out again. Thankfully there are more books in the series to look forward to. Please excuse the copy and pasted blurb, it’s Monday morning and I’m tired…

THE CHRONICLE OF SWORD & SAND: Baghdad, AD 790. Caliph Harun al-Rashid presides over the greatest metropolis on Earth, ruler of an empire stretches from China to Byzantium. His exploits will be recorded in Alf Layla or, as we know it, The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.
But The Thousand and One Nights are silent on the deeds and adventures that befell two of the Caliph's subjects: the renowned scholar Dabir ibn Kahlil, and his shield and right hand, Asim el Abbas. For their story, we must turn to the Chronicle of Sand and Sword...
THE DESERT OF SOULS: Amid the trackless sands of ancient Arabia, two companions - a swordsman and a scholar - search for the ruins of the lost city of Ubar. Before their quest is over, they will battle necromancers and animated corpses, they will confront a creature that has traded wisdom for the souls of men since the dawn of time and they will fight to save a city's soul.

Before I start on the tale itself, I just want to get a little nostalgic and say how much I like the book as, erm… a book :o) When I was little you used to be able to get hard back books where the cover art was part of the book rather than just on the dust jacket (I’m thinking of my ‘Dalek Omnibus’ in particular here) I haven’t seen that for a long time so it was really cool to see it here. Took me right back…

But anyway, the actual plot. ‘The Desert of Souls’ has a little something for everyone whether you’re into the action and excitement of Sword and Sorcery (there is loads of this by the way, absolutely brilliant stuff) or a really thoughtful plot that takes in the politics of a nation at the same time as the delicate (and sometimes tragic) interactions of the main players. It’s just like all those ‘Sinbad the Sailor’/’Thief of Baghdad’ films you used to watch as a kid. There are even some vicious little undead monkey thieves that had me wishing that Ray Harryhausen was still around for if this book makes it to the screen. There’s a lot to enjoy then and Jones’ skilful handling of his plot and characters makes the book fly by, almost with you realising it.

How could a plot to destroy Baghdad possibly be discovered through the death of a pet parrot? You wouldn’t have thought it possible but Jones unfolds the plot so carefully (tying everything together so neatly) that it all makes perfect sense. As things become more clear the stakes are raised appropriately (through a series of clever twists and cliff-hangers), building swiftly to a real crescendo just at the right time. At no point does Jones not appear in control of the plot; he displays a fine touch, in this regard, but there’s no doubt that he’s in charge.
The other compelling element of the book (and one that really bodes well for books to come) is the growing friendship between Asim and Dabir; two men from very different backgrounds who forge a real bond in the face of dark magic, Djinns, and running battles through cities and the desert. It’s a pleasure to see this friendship grow from polite association to something far deeper where each man trusts the other with his life. That’s not to say there aren’t a few bumps along the way but it all seems to tie together and make their friendship even stronger.

I want to read more of these books and there is no way I’ll be waiting so long to read the next one. ‘The Desert of Souls’ really is like all those Harryhausen films you used to watch, as a kid, but with a real air of thoughtfulness behind it that you don’t normally see. If you haven’t read ‘The Desert of Souls’ already then I wouldn’t leave it any longer if I were you. Highly recommended.


  1. Another one that was on my Must Read in 2013 list, and got completely forgotten about. Now on my Must Read in 2014 list.

  2. I already had this on my to-be-read list, but Sword and Sorcery, Sinbad the Sailor, and Ray Harryhausen are sure to kick it up a few notches in the pile. Great review!