"The glittering tradition of sword-and-sorcery sweeps into the sands of ancient Arabia with the heart-stopping speed of a whirling dervish in this thrilling debut novel from new talent Howard Andrew Jones
In 8th century Baghdad, a stranger pleads with the vizier to safeguard the bejeweled tablet he carries, but he is murdered before he can explain. Charged with solving the puzzle, the scholar Dabir soon realizes that the tablet may unlock secrets hidden within the lost city of Ubar, the Atlantis of the sands. When the tablet is stolen from his care, Dabir and Captain Asim are sent after it, and into a life and death chase through the ancient Middle East.
Stopping the thieves—a cunning Greek spy and a fire wizard of the Magi—requires a desperate journey into the desert, but first Dabir and Asim must find the lost ruins of Ubar and contend with a mythic, sorcerous being that has traded wisdom for the souls of men since the dawn of time. But against all these hazards there is one more that may be too great even for Dabir to overcome..."
I really enjoyed The Desert of Souls. It's a solid sword & sorcery quest story, but the Middle Eastern setting makes it feel fresh, the characters are likable, and the setting is believable.
The story builds slowly at first, but is never boring, and I loved the growth of the friendship between the two main characters, Dabir the scholar and Asim the swordsman, as they race to save the city of Baghdad from destruction. Complete with evil magicians, Djinn, and strange creatures, this fantasy tale has all the required elements and delivers a top-notch story.
There is one small issue, which I've seen others mention, and that is the first person point of view, which detracts from some of the tension that could have made the story more of a nail biter. But as Asim is telling the story from the future, and references things that happen after this particular tale takes place, the reader reasonably believes that Dabir and Asim will survive to go on to those future adventures. This is a minor issue though, in my opinion, as the story is so well crafted, and so enjoyable.
I highly recommend The Desert of Souls to anyone who likes fantasy in general, but the Middle Eastern setting really does makes this novel special, and I hope that the author returns to these characters in the future! I think these two have many more adventures ahead of them, and I want to read them!
A quick word on the covers - I don't usually post multiple cover photos in a review, but these are both so fantastic I felt the need to feature them both. The first is from the hardcover, and I think it conveys a wonderful sense of mystery and magic, but the second cover, from the paperback and e-book, feels more realistic as far as the actual story itself.
Have you read The Desert of Souls? Leave a comment and let me know what YOU think! Which cover do YOU like better?