Sophomore fantasy maintains magic of debut
Howard Andrew Jones’ debut novel was an impressive achievement. An exquisite distillation made from only the finest pulp ingredients, The Desert of Souls introduced readers to Captain Asim and the scholar, Dabir, a potent Watson/Holmes pairing placed in a realm flavored by Arabian Nights rather than Victorian London. (Thank goodness . . . have you tasted Victorian London lately?!) With writing both crisp and evocative and characters both familiar in template yet fresh in execution, The Desert of Souls provided readers with the next best thing to reading the works of Howard, Doyle or Lovecraft for the first time.
But with every sensational freshman effort, there are nearly as many sophomore slumps—could Jones carry over the magic of his debut into the sequel?
Yes. (We’ll forego the suspense.)
The Bones of the Old Ones finds our heroes a little wealthier and a good deal more renowned, thanks to their adventures in The Desert of Souls. Asim and Dabir have mostly adjusted to their new higher-profile circumstances when, as is the case in so many other pieces of good pulp fiction, a mysterious, troubled woman arrives on their doorstep in need of help.
The young woman, Najya, claims to have escaped from a group whose name and description match the members of an ancient cabal of powerful sorcerers. Too ancient to be the same beings, surely, but perhaps of the same origin? Soon enough, Asim and Dabir find themselves facing new foes and relying on old friends (and enemies) in an attempt to stave off an apocalyptic, wintery doom.
Along with the strength of Jones’ storytelling, The Bones of the Old Ones also brings with it what any good sequel must—further exploration of the world at hand that both enriches and expands upon the material introduced in its predecessor. Jones interweaves somewhat obscure figures of myth and legend with arguably the most famous of such heroes, in the process managing to open up a heretofore undiscovered perspective on the latter. As a result, The Bones of the Old Ones is just as satisfying as The Desert of Souls—which leads to the one drawback to the thrill of early discovery: the frustration of having to wait for the next book.