BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Dabir and Asim return, and face an ancient sorcery that threatens to unleash a new Ice Age upon the world.
PROS: Strong characters, excellent sword and sorcery action. Always entertaining. Characters grow and develop.
CONS A couple of sequences are a bit unclear.
BOTTOM LINE: A marriage of strong characters and stronger action and adventure that rarely flags or goes below 50 miles per hour.
In The Desert of Souls, Howard Andrew Jones introduced us to an 8th Century Baghdad of Arabian Days and Nights. In the personages of Dabir, a scholar not unfamiliar with a blade, and Asim, a guard captain who is much more than muscle, we were given a glimpse into a mostly historical Middle East. Mostly, if you don’t count animated monkeys, dark sorcerers and strange magical cities in an alternate world desert realm. The successful defeat of the forces of evil left Dabir and Asim high in the esteem of the Caliph, with the blessing to go on to the scholarly city of Mosul in the north.
The follow up, The Bones of the Old Ones, continues the story of Dabir and Asim, and we find the pair dealing with an unnaturally cold winter that has brought snow to Mosul. Magnets for trouble that they are, Dabir and Asim go in short order from aiding a Persian noblewoman to dealing with something much bigger than a threat to the Caliph, or even the Caliphate; a possible new Ice Age.
The relationship between Dabir and Asim, the action sequences, and the evocation of time and place are the strongest areas of this novel. Add to that Jones knowing what he likes in action and adventure; exciting sequences, dazzlingly told, and, in the spirit of Raymond Chandler, never let the action or narrative flag or falter, and the result is a seriously fun Sword and Sorcery adventure that flows off the pages. Dabir and Asim are forced to deal with automations, creatures of ice and snow, the desperate creation of a spell to save the day, and a duel with a hero thousands of years old.
What’s more, there is a clear evolution to these characters, a growth and development both within themselves and in Dabir and Asim’s relationship. As The Desert of Souls is in a real sense the story that “is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, The Bones of the Old Ones shows the pair as a more developed duo. I appreciate that Jones remembers that some of his forebears, like Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and Conan, were not static, one-note characters who were always the same from story to story. Those characters have arcs and development over their books, and Jones has taken that template for his own characters. By the time The Bones of the Old Ones is complete, the characters have undergone further social development and growth.
That does mean that the book is best appreciated as a sequel to the previous work. While the events of the first novel, or at least the relevant ones, are explained in sufficient detail, the real joy here is to watch the development of this pair of heroes, and to start here is a bit of a cheat. There is also an additional returning character from the first novel whose impact is best appreciated when first encountered in the first novel, rather than here.
The only real weakness is a couple of small patches of less-than-clear writing that necessitated a re-read for me to understand completely what was really going on and why.
The Bones of the Old Ones does feel more like Sword and Sorcery than Historical Fantasy (as opposed to a more even mix in The Desert of Souls). However, this is first class New School Sword and Sorcery, and anyone with the remotest interest in Sword and Sorcery would be cheating themselves if they did not avail themselves to try the work of Howard Andrew Jones. The end of this novel leaves clear implications and the promise from our narrator of an untold tale for the third volume. I already know I want to read it, and after reading this volume and its predecessor, I’d be willing to wager you will, too.