The Bones of the Old Ones by Howard Andrew Jones

The Chronicles of Sword and Sand, Volume 2
Hardcover, December 2012    
Thomas Dunne Books
ISBN 9780312646752        
Review copy (e-Arc) courtesy of the publisher / author


Sword and Sorcery is alive and kicking with great fervor if Howard Andrew Jones’s The Bones of the Old Ones is any indication. This is Jones’s second novel in The Chronicles of Sword and Sand featuring swordsman Asim and Dabir, a scholar (of arcane and magical arts).  Set in a fantasized 8th Century Arabia with an extremely authentic feel, the nation of Mosul is experiencing strangely cold and snowy weather. When a beautiful, frazzled women named Najya shows up after having escaped a dark cabal, the action begins and doesn’t relent until the final words of the novel.

Soon after Najya’s arrival a main claiming to be her father arrives, requesting to see her. Asim smartly spots the attempted ruse and with the help of Dabir dispatches the wizard and his cronies. Not completely sure of what to do, for Najya’s bearing is that of an influential woman, Asim and Dabir bring the young woman to the governor’s residence where they realize the governor is in possession of some very interesting objects.  These objects throw Najya into a trance of sorts when she leaps to grab them, for they are the titular Bones of the Old Ones, ancient magical weapons. Soon enough, it comes to light that Najya is possessed and curing her of that possession is the driving force of Asim’s narrative.

Although the story is told from Asim’s point of view and in his voice, the hero of the novel may be Dabir.  In one respect this is not unlike many of the stories of Sherlock Holmes whereby the hero is viewed through the prism of his sidekick. As Holmes is the great detective, Dabir is the great scholar and would-be mage.

Over the course of the novel, Asim and Dabir meet a Greek sorceress, ride a flying carpet (!!!), and Asim wields a weapon that none other than the legendary Hercules himself used in battle. With the Greek flavors added, Jones has opened up the historical vault and in doing so, made the feel of the novel (for lack of a better word) a more credible novel in terms of the historical accuracy and historical bent he is lending to the tale.

Let me get it out of the way, this book is one helluva an adventure. Flying carpets figure prominently in the novel, so what more do I need to mention? O.K. how about a possessed woman, a sorceress who seemingly does a turn of character, thrilling sword fights, giant bear-monsters, spirits and echoes of ancient heroes.  Jones does a near pitch-perfect balancing act between character, action, backstory, and narrative flow.

I can’t say that I’m the most well-read in terms of the stories of Arabian Nights and the legends of the Middle East, but from what I’ve gleaned in other stories and representations of such stories, fortunately for the reader Mr. Jones is indeed well-versed.  The story comes across as authentic as any fantasy I’ve ever read and that’s thanks in no small part to Asim’s incredibly engaging voice. Told in the first person voice of Asim, Jones’s prose is elegant and makes for a pleasurable reading experience. At all times, Asim comes across as a well-mannered, reasoned, and learned man who finds himself falling for Najya.  Little hints that Dabir and Asim have a long history are peppered throughout Asim’s narrative, lending both an authenticity and sincerity to the current tale being told. More importantly, I would hope this bodes for more novels about these two characters.

There’s been quite a spate of Middle-Eastern flavored fantasy/Sword and Sorcery in recent times, from Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon to James L. Sutter’s Death’s Heretic to Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts.  As I began reading the novel, I learned that a film option was put into place for The Chronicles of Sword and Sand.  In many ways, sword and sorcery can be seen as the fantasy literature equivalent to the buddy film (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Lethal Weapon, etc) so it is pretty logical that Howard’s books have been picked up.

I came to The Bones of the Old Ones not having read the first installment of this series, The Desert of Souls, but knowing of Jones’s work for Black Gate magazine and his efforts to raise readers’ awareness of sword and sorcery in general, and the author Harold Lamb in particular.  I’ll have to remedy my oversight of The Desert of Souls and wait eagerly to see where next Mr. Jones takes the duo of Asim and Dabir. I’ll also say that the title is very evocative and resonant.

I give The Bones of the Old Ones the highest recommendation; the novel should appeal to readers who enjoy Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser tales, Robert E. Howard, Paul S. Kemp’s The Hammer and the Blade and Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon.

© 2012 Rob H. Bedford

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