Book Review – “The Desert of Souls”

Regular reader erf read a book he enjoyed so much he felt compelled to write and submit a review. He says, “The Desert of Souls is a fast-paced adventure tale, full of swords and magic and heroism, set in the world of One Thousand and One Nights.” More below.

General Information

Title: The Desert of Souls
Author: Howard Andrew Jones
Original Publication Date: 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-64674-5
Cover Price: $24.99 US / $28.99 CAN (hardcover)
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An evil sorcerer plots to destroy the caliphate and all its people. Court scholar Dabir ibn Khalil and guard captain Asim el Abbas travel from Baghdad to Basra and beyond, to the lost, cursed city of Ubar, to stop him. High adventure follows them.

High Point

The Keeper of Secrets. It would be very easy (and legitimate) to say simply that it is a force of nature and leave it at that, but the Keeper of Secrets has interesting complexity.

Low Point

There are no interesting female characters to speak of. I can think of only two females with speaking roles, and only one of them is around for more than a scene. She’s very intelligent, and treated with respect by both the characters and the author, but ultimately she’s a two-dimensional prop (like the other secondary characters). I admit that given the setting and the nature of the story it would be very difficult to work in more significant female characters in a realistic way, but it’s still missing.

The Scores

The originality isn’t amazing. It’s a classic buddy adventure tale, complete with classic villains. The story itself takes some creative directions and twists. 4/6

The imagery is vivid. In every scene the writing really places you there — and there are some spectacular settings brimming with sensawunda. The action is fast-paced (something I’ve always found hard to pull off in text) and easy to follow. 6/6

The story is well developed and well told. Everything about this book is designed to be a tale. The plot carries our heroes in an internally-consistent way from adventure to adventure, and the interrelationships between the characters are satisfying as they develop. There are several stand-up-and-cheer moments. 6/6

The characterization of the point-of-view character, Asim, is excellent. He is a complex man, and as the book proceeds we really come to know him well. Interestingly, he’s also not that bright, without being at all stupid or dull, which can be a very difficult balance to write; he’s excellent at what he does, but often doesn’t think things through as much as another hero might. The other main character, Dabir, is reasonably well developed, but we don’t get to know him in nearly as much depth. He’s clearly brilliant, and that again is displayed very believably. Other characters are mostly stock, though in a story like this that isn’t really a problem as long as they aren’t cliche (they aren’t), and they’re always consistent. 5/6, mainly thanks to Asim.

The emotional response is great. I came to care about the main characters, and to care about what they care about, and that pulled me along with them through the story’s ups and downs. 5/6

The editing is very well done; kudos to editor Pete Wolverton et al. The story hangs together perfectly, and the pacing has just the right ebb and flow. Everything here adds to the story. 6/6

Overall, I highly recommend this to anybody who likes fun adventure tales made of awesome. 6/6

In total, The Desert of Souls receives 38/42.

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