The Desert of Souls is the first published novel by Howard Andrew Jones, a tale of Dabir and Asim. Over the years these characters have appeared in a series of short stories. However, this novel takes us to their beginnings, before they became inseparable friends. I originally read of Asim el Abbas and Dair ibn Khalil in Servant of Iblis, a short story from the pages of the late and lamented Paradox: The Magazine of Historical and Speculative Fiction. The idea of a fantasy set in historical Baghdad during the time of the 8th century Abbasid Caliphate proved both bold and refreshing, an era seldom explored these days, and harkening back to the age of pulp writers Robert E. Howard and Harold Lamb, authors who routinely entertained readers with their tales of adventure set in the Middle East and beyond. So, when I heard an Asim and Dabir novel was forthcoming, I knew it was a book begging to be read. The Desert of Souls begins with the death of a parrot. Asim, Captain of the Guard to Jaffar, the Vizier of Baghdad, and owner of the parrot, and Dabir, resident scholar and tutor to Jaffar’s niece Sabirah, take a trip through the streets of Baghdad in an effort to cheer the grieving Jaffar. The trip, however, takes an unexpected turn when Asim, Dabir and a disguised Jaffar encounter a fortune teller. They are told a series of confusing (to them) predictions, predications that lead to a puzzle involving a murdered stranger and a ‘gold door pull set in the mouth of an exquisitely rendered roaring lion’. When the ‘gold door pull’ is stolen, Asim and Dabir are dispatched to recover it, leading them on a fantastic journey through the Middle East in search of the lost city of Ubar. Among the strengths of Howard’s writing is his keen sense of characterization. The Desert of Souls is told in first person from the point of view of Asim. Now, let’s be clear, Asim is an accomplished swordsman, an honorable and loyal companion, but is far from the brightest bulb in the display case. That distinction belongs to the scholar Dabir, thus making the duo an unlikely combination of Holmes and Watson meets Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
Book Review The Desert of Souls Howard Andrew Jones