The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones

I read this back in 2011. I just read the sequel and thought y’all would like to know about the first book before I told you about the second. 

The Desert of SoulsThe Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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.

This was an easy and exciting read and I finished it quickly, partially because I was flipping the pages so fast.

Asim and Dabir somewhat remind me of Number Ten Ox and Master Li from Barry Hughart’s stories of a China that never was. Asim is not as dim as Number Ten Ox and Dabir is not as wise (or old) as Master Li, but it is a classic pairing of brawn and brains, which can lead to misunderstandings that are sometimes comic but which can endanger everything if both do not learn to trust one another. By the end of the book we are fond of both characters, as, indeed, they are of each other.

The adventure itself is multi-faceted and highly inventive, while still remaining true to form in what feels like a factually based universe. In fact, Jones has taken great care to keep the historical facts true to form with Jaffar and the caliph being based on the actual historical people. In this, he must have been highly influenced by the stories of Harold Lamb, several volumes of which he collected into anthologies before writing his own novel.

Room was clearly left for more adventures and I hope that Jones is at work on the next. I can’t wait to see what Asim and Dabir must tangle with next.

Most of my reviews are posted on this Book Reviews page.

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9 Responses to The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones

  1. Don Mulcare says:

    Dear Julie,

    Since you introduced me to the work of Robert A. Heinlein, I’d like to comment on Stranger in a Strange Land (c. 1961) an introduction to Martian biology, psychic powers and natural immortality. Individuals in many earthly species, among them some fish and a few mollusks spend part of their life cycle as a male and then as a female. A few like the Martians do it the other way. Martians begin as eggs, develop into nymphs (females) which reproduce with adults (the male phase) to generate more eggs. The vast majority of nymphs fail to survive. Those that do survive and bear young may reach adulthood and maleness. The long term survivors within this male group (old ones) eventually shed their bodies (discorporate). Their bodies are used as food by the other Martians. The spirits (ghosts) of the discorporated live on in a secular immortality, communicating with the body-dwelling Martians, conversing with both the bodily and spiritual Martians on temporal rather than spiritual matters. Along the way the adult Martians practice teleportation, telekinesis, telepathy, “miracles,” remote destruction of other planets and grokking (the ability to drink in and completely understand physical and psychological phenomena). The old ones had already turned the 5th planet from sun into asteroid belt, and were thinking of doing same to Earth. It was suggested that they first send a spy to check us out.

    The title of this novel describes Valentine Michael Smith (a. k. a. Archangel Michael), a human adopted by Martians, an innocent who possesses all of the Martian powers, who travels to Earth. He trains others humans, suggesting they too can discorporate and enjoy secular immortality without need for God or religion. Michael and company greet each other with the words: “Thou art God.” They establish a Church without religion. Community rather than doctrine is the key to their system. A few, selected, young adults became ecstatically fulfilled practicing communal living, nudism, ritualistic orgies and occasional cannibalism. They befriended carnival folks; establish strong bonds among water-brothers. “Water sharing” has qualities of both baptism and communion within their cult. Michael endures martyrdom as his form of discorporation. He provides a soup for his water brothers, some of whom are female brothers.

    In opposition to the “Martian and earthly spiritual beliefs stands Jubal E. Harshaw, Doctor Lawyer and Indian Chief. He is a practicing medical doctor, a capable attorney, the descendent of some Native American ancestors and the leader of an extended household that eventually includes Mike (Valentine Michael Smith). Jubal embraces atheism, rationalism, humanism, libertarianism and objectivism. He agrees with Mike that his own happiness is the moral purpose of his life.

    Jubal keeps three full time secretaries who take dictation at a moment’s notice: usually short stories for popular magazines. The author uses a host of pen names to suit the stories. He rarely reads or proofs his works. They are simply pot boilers intended to support his life-style set in his estate in the Poconos.

    In a way, Stranger in a Strange Land is the mirror image of a book that you reviewed in which the author blogged in response to the writings of “Rand.” The readers never did see the writings of Rand. Stranger in a Strange Land would probably provide the content of Rand’s side of the blog. This is quite a feat in that Stranger in a Strange Land was written in 1961, when such thinking, before the age of the “Death of God” might have raised a few eyebrows. The salty language of 1961 (pooh, balderdash, piffle, shucks, faugh) might turn a smirk today.

    Well after you set me on the path to SCI-FI, I fell into the clutches of the local librarian who took me to a dark corner under the stairs where they stack the SCI-FI and fantasy literature. Indeed, sitting in a comfy chair I fond a zombie. A vampire hung from the chandelier and a gargoyle or two glared from the corners. The librarian introduced me to one of her favorite authors, Terry Pratchett who does monsters with a snicker. Just finished “Going Postal” and must face the dilemma that the library board limits my favorite librarian from buying too many Terry Pratchett books. I’ve a lot of catching up to do. And think; I’d never have gone down this dark path if it were not for your “influences.”

    God Bless,


  2. Julie Davis says:

    Don, you are completely cracking me up. And what a wonderful insight about Stranger in a Strange Land being like the other conversation in Save, Send, Delete! I love it!

    I also wish I had your library. Ours swept out the zombies and vampires to put in computers, which are much less atmospheric!

    I feel your librarian is our soul sister. If she has any of the Granny Weatherwax series by Terry Pratchett … then it will be a certain thing because that is my favorite of Pratchett’s works. Aside from Good Omens, which he cowrote with Neil Gaiman before they were both so famous they didn’t have time for that sort of thing anymore. If she’s got a copy, definitely try Good Omens next!

  3. Don Mulcare says:

    Hi Julie,

    Thank you for your guidance through the collected works of Terry Pratchett. I want to gobble all of them. Fortunately, in addition to the Millicent (our town of Fairhaven) Library with a very sympathetic librarian, we have SAILS which is a collective of Massachusetts libraries from which loans are fairly easy granted, especially if the work has some years on it. I once borrowed an excellent biography of St. Francis of Assisi that was over 100 years old.

    I owe you the inspiration that brought Stranger in a Strange Land together with Save, Send, Delete! Unlike the earlier Heinlein adventures, which I described to you as page turners, Stranger was a bit dense in the philosophical goo. It did show the amazing range of SCI-FI in representing the human condition and the extent of the human imagination.

    Before you reviewed Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky(?), I never read SCI-FI and avoided fantasy like the plague. I told you how vampires seemed like a passing fad. Now look what you did to me.

    Terry Pratchett certainly makes it all much more palatable. I’ve saved a few dozen of his figures of speech for future inspiration. It’s interesting how he’s been compared to Mark Twain. Oh, by the way, Mark Twain attended the grand opening of the very Millicent Library from which I borrowed these recent books.

    Julie, you do such important work. Please continue.


    God Bless,


    • Julie says:

      Hi Don … I am saddened to think that you had to wait this long to read any sci fi. However, I am greatly gladdened to have put some in your path. :-)

      I highly recommend Ray Bradbury … Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, or Something Wicked This Way Comes. His writing is lyrical, his focus is on what makes us human, and he is a much greater favorite for me than Heinlein. :-)

      What a joy to think of the hours of pleasure ahead of you in discovering these books. (Also, if you want vampires, I can do no better than in recommending the master … of course … Bram Stoker. You will find Dracula both exciting and very moral. It was not the first vampire novel but I feel it is the best of the very early ones.)

  4. Don Mulcare says:

    Hi Julie,

    Although I’ve not read much SCI-FI-Horror-Fantasy, I’ve see quite a bit in the video format. There also seems to be a merger between this genre and reality. The world gets weirder by the minute.

    Many folks are looking to fill a void in their lives. Fantasy fits more comfortably than either reality or traditional spirituality. You can also look at this genre as a parable for profoundly deeper truth.

    As for the Bram Stoker’s moral Dracula, the historical Vlad the Impaler, the original Count Dracula conjures nightmares. Speaking of Vlad and fantasy, I do have a manuscript in which there is a Vlad the Impala, a spokesperson at the Misfitzu. The human zoo keeper is a parolee from Cedar Junction Massachusetts Correctional Institution. Needless to say, he’s very sympathetic toward the caged animals. He actually sleeps with a cougar, an ostrich and Vlad. Does that sound like Fantasy to you?

    God Bless,


    • Julie Davis says:

      Dracula himself is pure evil in Bram Stoker’s tale. The tale itself is moral. Just wanted to be sure I made that part clear. :-)

      Your manuscript sounds like Horror. Which can be fantasy, as well, but usually is far over the edge. :-)

  5. Jeff Miller says:


    Love your comment relating to Stranger … and Save Send Delete. Funny and insightful. Julie also got me to read Save Send Delete which I also loved. I haven’t read Strange in a strange land since my teens, although it certainly pushed all my prejudices and my atheism at the time. I really have no desire to reread it.

    Sci Fi writer and Catholic convert from atheism recently said about that is ” a paean to terminal selfishness, yea, even unto claiming divinity for one’s own awesome self (one presumes for folks who own no looking glasses). This satire mocked monogamy and monotheism, and so many a Baby Boomer was mollified and amused.”

    I much prefer Heinlein’s so called Juveniles which were quite good books. Starship Troopers was also very good and the film of the same name was a great injustice deserving its own circle in hell. His later books just go weirder and tried to norm things like incest.

    Oh and as for Terry Pratchett his prolific writing career can be off putting but it is rather amazing just how many of his novels are worth reading. Luckily it is quite easy to skip around the vast corpus of Discworld just stepping in anywhere.

    • Julie Davis says:

      I have meant so many times to read Starship Troopers and your comment, Jeff, is finally spurring me to take action now! Off to the library site to request it! :-)

  6. Don Mulcare says:

    Hi Jeff and Julie,

    Jeff, thanks for the critique of the movie “Starship Troopers.” Your over all review of Robert Heinlein is much appreciated. There is only so much time for reading. It should be reserved for the best there is. Heinlein impresses me with his work ethic, but “Stranger,” although heavy did get into interesting territory. Martian normalcy translates into human “new age.” It does open the door to how our biology affects our spirituality. Ursala Le Guin also looks biological diversity in the form of hermaphrodite humanoids. We have hermaphrodites on this planets (earth worms, among others). Christian spirituality would need some adjustments to fit that model, especially if we released hundreds of our children to fend for themselves at birth.

    I like to take notes as I read. Almost every word penned by Terry Pratchett is noteworthy. He loves the oxymoron. He turns phrases inside out and backwards. He must have an extra large area of the brain to house his imagination. What a gift he is to us. I’ll follow his trail closely before going after most of the Sci-fi greats.

    Julie, you mentioned that my manuscript fits better in Horror than Fantasy. Note that there was a brief reference to Vlad the Impaler and a segue to Vlad the Impala. The latter is a talking herbivore with a persecution complex and a desire to found a dynasty. Other characters in this zoology include Guido, the mascot of the Great White Shark Loan Company, that charges an arm and a leg in interest and a host of other zoo dwellers with humans among them: undercover FBI agents and international terrorists.

    I’d love to find a crit group to look at this for me.

    Thanks for sharing the fun!

    God Bless,