The Bones of the Old Ones Hardcover – Dec 11 2012
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“The Bones of the Old Ones is a damn good tale that not only pays homage to the masters, but sets its own print on the genre.” ―SF Signal
“This rousing sequel to The Desert of Souls offers a mélange of ancient adventure myths populated by convincing, endearing characters… As intricately woven as the magic carpet of Greek sorceress Lydia, Jones's tale incorporates real historical personages and settings like Mosul of "haggard beauty" from the early days of Islam, and fills the pages with gallantry and glamour to provide a thrilling spectacle.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review
“By turns groundbreaking and classical, Howard Andrew Jones is a pure joy to read.” ―Nebula and Campbell Award finalist Saladin Ahmed
“A thumbs-up for series fans.” ―Kirkus
“Jones is a resurrector of unfairly forgotten tales and an illuminator of a neglected milieu. His love for the setting of the Dabir and Asim stories is as obvious as his grasp of classic sword-and-sorcery forms. The result is something rich and brisk at the same time, just as it ought to be.” ―Scott Lynch, author of Red Seas Under Red Skies
“The Bones of the Old Ones is one lovely fantastical adventure, blending mystery, romance and magic in such a way that I had to keep reading. There were moments of laughter, passion, and edge-of-my-seat surprises. A fabulous read!” ―Elizabeth Vaughan, USA Today bestselling author of the Chronicles of the Warlands series
“In the midst of a sea of Tolkein clones, Howard A. Jones stands out with his Arabian Nights inspired detective stories. Rollicking, and magical. What more could you want?” ―Mary Robinette Kowal, Hugo and Campbell Award Winner
About the Author
HOWARD ANDREW JONES is the acknowledged expert on fiction writer Harold Lamb. He is the Managing Editor of Black Gate magazine, and he blogs regularly at its website.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Dabir and Asim are fast friends - brothers - by the time this book takes place. Asim, the first person narrator, has grown more likable - probably due to Dabir's influence. He seems less of a lunkhead, less arrogant, more tender. Not any less a warrior but beginning to become a poet.
Dabir is, of course, pining for Sabirah from Book 1. But he's his usual competent and laconic self, and it's nice to see him reacting with friends he's had longer than Asim, and how his mysterious back story is shaping up.
The presence of women is hugely strong in this book (one of my plaintive outcries against the last was the usual 4 women versus 400 men complaint, though in most fantasy it's 1 to about 10,000), and they play every role from ghost-possessed seeress, to the blood witch Lydia, to a warrior sorceress, to an immortal chaos priestess, to a Frost Goddess Titan. It was just so jolly to see these girls out and about, up and doing, destroying worlds, that sort of thing, instead of behind walls and veils, kept in the kitchen... Although the one housekeeper who IS in the kitchen has a splendidly sour attitude, and I loved her for that.
The settings of each scene were fantastic (in all senses of the word): tombs, and mountains, and temples, and ruins, and cities, and magic carpets. The tenor of the book was as unabashedly romantic as it was heroic and sorcerous. The fight scenes were gorgeously executed and constantly interesting - and the pacing of the entire plot was smashing.
I can't wait for the third.
While you don't need to be immersed in the world of sword and sorcery to enjoy The Bones of the Old Ones, I would strongly suggest reading The Desert of Souls first. Although Bones IS a self-contained adventure, a few characters from the previous book make appearances (not necessarily as characters in this book, but as names dropped here and there, for example). Plus, the relationship between the two protagonists, Asim and Dabir, was developed primarily in the first novel. Asim, I thought, underwent a rather nice transformation in Desert from being a little bit of a stick in the mud to being someone who would actually be willing to break the rules to save a friend. (In Bones, as in Desert, events are related from Asim's point of view -- basically as an account he is writing years later -- so you get much more inside Asim's head than Dabir's.)
At any rate, I don't want to spend too long talking about the previous book. I just thought the characterization needed a little context. I, personally, am glad that the author didn't re-hash in great detail a bunch of the plot and/or character development from the previous book. At the same time, reading the previous book helps one to understand Asim and Dabir more fully.
Bones is not as heavy on the characterization as Desert was, but Dabir and Asim generally behave as we expect them to, based on what we know from the previous book. Asim seemed slightly less rigid with respect to remembering to pray five times a day. Sometimes he missed prayers; sometimes he remarked on that fact and sometimes he didn't. However, the action was pretty fast and furious (sorry for the cliche) for a lot of the book, which leads me to believe that not a lot of time passed in the world of the story, or that if time did pass, Asim was too busy fighting his way out of trouble to stop and pray. That might be a little of Dabir's more permissive attitude influencing the normally stolid Asim, as well. I also rather liked that Asim was again not just a bodyguard type, but actually figured out, on his own, some key information about the bone artifacts that gave the book its name.
One thing I really like about both books in the series is the setting. Bones is set primarily in Mosul (Iraq) and environs, shortly (a century or two) after the rise of Islam. This is a far cry from the pseudo-medieval-European world seen throughout much of the fantasy genre, and I appreciate that a great deal. I get rather tired of the standard tropes (e.g. farmboys with swords, tavern scenes, etc.) and so I enjoyed the Middle Eastern setting quite a bit. I am not a historian; however, the Afterword discusses sources (a list can be found in Desert) as well as certain liberties that were taken with historical facts. To me, at least, the day-to-day world felt realistic and well-researched, but the details were integrated in such a way as to add to the story without infodumping. I also like that Mr. Jones stayed true to the actual historical setting he chose. While there were female characters in this book, including some with a great deal of influence, they were well-integrated into the story. The book would've lacked authenticity if Jones had included female characters acting outside the typical roles expected of them at the time. Thus, one of the more powerful (human) women in the story, Lydia, is "Greek" rather than a Muslim woman.
Another thing I think is done well is the action. In the Afterword, Mr. Jones discusses how he studied Zelazny's fight scenes from the Amber books. I have to admit, I found the fight scenes in the Amber books to be somewhat tedious. I often skimmed them until I found out who won, then moved on. But there was no need to skim the fight scenes in The Bones of the Old Ones -- I read them straight through. I got a sense of what was going on -- could even picture it in my head, most of the time -- and sometimes wondered about the outcome. While I didn't expect either of Asim and Dabir to die (as I believe Mr. Jones has more adventures planned for the pair of them), I really didn't know how they were going to get out of certain situations. That made me want to continue reading!
Pacing was appropriate. While it took me a couple of weeks to read this book (I've had a lot of demands in my life lately that haven't left much time for reading), I don't remember any parts that dragged. Things were always moving, always advancing the story. There weren't a lot of unnecessary diversions.
The villains were a group of ancient sorcerers known as the Sebitti. Some of their names, you may recognize from history or literature (Enkidu, for example), but those were really just names and nothing more. I particularly liked that the Sebitti changed alliances from time to time, that even though their longevity somewhat removed them from having human concerns, that they still had humanlike motivations. They weren't totally alien and they weren't totally evil.
Another villain was a little more alien -- a frost demon who inhabited the body of Najya, a Persian woman who made the acquaintance of Asim and Dabir fairly early on in the book. As in other cases of demon possession in fantasy fiction, Najya's own soul retreats further and further back as the demon gains strength, but shines through every once in awhile. This aspect of the story was a little predictable, I'll admit. What made it work, I thought, were all the competing factions -- some Sebitti supported Najya's demon, some opposed the demon, some seemed to switch alliances, Lydia the Greek (you may remember her from Desert) was involved, etc. A demon possession on its own wouldn't have been very compelling, but mixed in with everything else, it was all right.
The magic system was standard fantasy fare. Incantations, power from blood, demon possession, carved symbols, magic circles for containment and/or protection, etc. Some of the effects were new and different -- for example, wooden figurines grown to large size and come to life -- and that kept my interest. I felt nearly as frustrated as Asim when he'd fight and fight against a giant wooden man and not get anywhere for a long while. I do wish there'd been a little deeper look at the issue of Islam versus magic, i.e., what was permitted or not, characters' internal conflicts, etc. (But then again, maybe that would've been out of place in an adventure story.) Asim protested a little in this regard -- and Dabir too, at one point -- but sometimes religion took a backseat to other elements needed to advance the story.
I will agree with some of the other reviewers that the ending was a little too "Hollywood-ish." However, considering the outcome for Dabir's love life in The Desert of Souls, I wasn't sure until very late in the book whether or not Asim would get his wish with respect to Najya. Jones easily could've made the two friends' fates in this area mirror each other.
And finally, putting on my editorial hat for just a moment: I found that there was a fair amount of "telling" instead of "showing." For example, Asim would say that Dabir told him something instead of having the conversation play out in a scene. To some extent, this can be explained away by the fact that Asim is supposedly writing down the story years later. Perhaps he doesn't remember their exact words, perhaps the entirety of the conversation would've been boring to reproduce -- we don't know. In some sense, this may be a stylistic choice. The prose was otherwise quite good -- much better writing than in the small amount of other sword and sorcery I've read. And other than this one issue, I thought the book was very well edited, both on a substantive level and on a proofreading/copy editing level.
Oh yes, and I loved the little teaser Asim dropped just at the end with respect to the next book in the series.
At any rate, I'd recommend The Bones of the Old Ones to anyone with an interest in fantasy who either already reads sword and sorcery or who is thinking about getting into some more sword and sorcery. I'd also recommend it to anyone who is getting tired of the trope-laden pseudo-medieval-European fantasy setting (not that there aren't tropes in Bones, mind you, but the alternative setting makes a difference).
Full disclosure: I received a free e-loan of this title from the publisher after a brief online discussion with Howard Andrew Jones. I do not know Mr. Jones and was not asked to write a review. I merely said some nice things about the previous book in the series on my blog, and Mr. Jones asked if I would like to read the sequel.
The lush Arabian Nights setting is as entrancing as before, but rendered fresh and strange as an unnatural chill shrouds the landscape with ice and snow. Asim el Abbas tells the tale and in doing so emerges as one of the most believable and compelling characters in modern fantasy. Honest to a fault, dedicated (and much-needed) bodyguard to the wise and valiant Dabir ibn Khalil, Asim comes into his own in this novel as he and his friend strive against a weird cabal of fearfully powerful beings who are in ruthless pursuit of some very dark goals.
Virtually every enjoyable aspect of The Desert of Souls is found here, and much of it is stronger, more emotional and more intense. Devotees of classic sword & sorcery will delight in rich scenes of ancient pageantry, eerie delving into forbidden places, weird and horrific magic, sweeping clashes of combat and ferocious duels to the death. Yet ultimately it is through character that the novel makes its deepest mark. These characters think and feel and bleed and strive. The novel's climax offers spectacular wide-screen thrills, but is also emotionally exhausting.
If you like adventure fantasy, this is the real deal. I can only hope for more.
This second novel of the series is even better than the first. While the first novel had some uneven pacing, this novel shows none of that. It pulls you through the book from beginning to end, nothing dragging and halting the pace.
But what I really liked the most were the characters. All of them, even the villains, have more than one dimension. Secondary characters weren't just plot points. The main characters were written in shades of gray. A times I wanted to shake the heroes for their foibles, and was in turn pleasantly surprised that the villains had reasons why they acted as they did, some even changing in the process.
And likewise, the action too was sometimes fun, sometimes harrowing, and not always ending well. I didn't know how the book would end until it did, and the ending was good and above all, earned.
I enjoyed the style too. As I mentioned, it reminded me of old tales of adventure with Middle Eastern flavor (though with none of the inherent racism of the times). The descriptions were very evocative of other places and times, and yet written in a way that I could relate to. Jones made me aware of how normal and like me these people in this tale were, which is quite an accomplishment considering the magic and difference in era and place, and so I was quite invested in their story.
I was really impressed with the writing, but want to stress how *fun* these books are. Sometimes when people say "good writing" it translates to convoluted artsy books that give me headaches. But sometimes it means it was written by an author who knows how to tell an incredible tale populated with real human beings, and it both touches you and leaves you breathless. This is one of the latter. I can't wait for the next book this man writes.
We get more of the swashbuckling, historical fantasy. Asim and Dabir begin their journey when Tajya, a Persian noblewoman, arrives. She is in distress, and she needs the help of Asim and Dabir, who take on the task. An ancient and powerful magic threatens them at every turn.
The setup is wonderful, and Jones loses no time in jeopardizing our heroes. We read, in Sherlock Holmes fashion, as Dabir and Asim unravel the mysteries of the forces at work.
In describing this book to several people as I was reading it, I used it's an Indiana Jones meets Sherlock Holmes with some magic set in the Abbasid Caliphate. This sequel is completely standalone, though the characters and settings grow from the first novel. We see Asim more accepting of some of the crazy things he's seeing as well as trusting Dabir more. We see Dabir as less "all-knowing"--yes, he still is quite wise, but here he seems to have to struggle more to get the answers. The background of the Caliphate is less touched on than in the first, but its presence still colors the narrative, especially when the Greeks arrive.
This is a definite must-read.