My last post mentioned a book called Desert Of Souls by Howard A. Jones. Thanks to eCLP, I was able to read Mr. Jones’ book shortly after that post went live, and I was not disappointed! Ostensibly historical fiction, if Desert Of Souls were ever made into a big-budget action movie, it would fall into the “buddy picture” category. Set in 8th century Baghdad, lead characters Asim and Dabir are devout Muslims in the employ of Jaffar, an important judge and close friend of the Caliph. As captain of Jaffar’s guard, Asim knows few equals when it comes to wielding a blade, and his companion Dabir possesses an unmatched level of scholarship and a perceptive eye Sherlock Holmes might envy. Together this formidable pair faces threats both mundane and magical–yes, Desert Of Souls includes supernatural elements that takes it out of the realm of pure historical fiction and into some nether region between it and pure fantasy.
Mr. Jones’ treatment of his Muslim protagonists offers a wonderfully full, real, and nuanced picture of Islamic culture and society in the 8th century, and his protagonists remain devout Muslims while also suffering the normal human foibles that make characters great. He even works in Sabirah, a strong female character who struggles with her role as a privileged royal daughter destined for a political marriage. Having devoured this tale in the span of less than a week (good time for a slow reader like me), I could not help comparing it to Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen Of The Road: A Tale Of Adventure, another “buddy-picture” historical fiction novel I wrote about a while back in this space. While Mr. Chabon’s novel is set in the 10th century and heels closer to pure historical fiction, it compares favorably to Desert Of Souls. Mr. Chabon is fond of calling the book “Jews With Swords,” and his lead characters, Amram and Zelikman, share similar traits of camaraderie won through action that Asim and Dabir possess.
While not historical fiction, if you try the two titles listed above and find “buddy picture” stories to your liking, you might also try some Fritz Leiber, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. If you want a print book for this CLP’s best option is Thieves’ House : Tales Of Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser.
If you just want some more sword-swinging historical action written in a classic pulp style, you can’t go far wrong reading Robert E. Howard’s amazing Gates Of Empire And Other Tales Of The Crusades. This phenomenal collection of pulp historical tales fails only in one capacity–it does not include a story entitled “Road of Azrael.” This tale would fit nicely into our newly coined “buddy picture” fiction category, as it pairs the Turkish sell-sword Kosru Malik and the Frankish knight Eric de Cogran in a desperate attempt to rescue a Frankish princess from slavery. This story directly influenced Mr. Jones, and he writes eloquently about it and his other sources of inspiration and research for Desert Of Souls here.
Reading this and the titles above has made me hungry for his second Asim and Dabir book, The Bones Of The Old Ones, a short story collection. Once I’ve knocked that one off, I will try one of Mr. Jones’ other inspirations, Howard Lamb’s Wolf Of The Steppes and Warriors Of The Steppes, a bit of Cossack historical fiction!
In addition to the links above, you can click on any of the covers below to check out the library catalog record for that item!