REVIEW: The Bones of the Old Ones by Howard Andrew Jones
As a snowfall blankets 8th century Mosul, a Persian noblewoman arrives at the home of the scholar Dabir and his friend the swordsman Captain Asim. Najya has escaped from a dangerous cabal that has ensorcelled her to track down ancient magical tools of tremendous power, the bones of the old ones.
To stop the cabal and save Najya, Dabir and Asim venture into the worst winter in human memory, hunted by a shape-changing assassin. The stalwart Asim is drawn irresistibly toward the beautiful Persian even as Dabir realizes she may be far more dangerous a threat than anyone who pursues them, for her enchantment worsens with the winter. As their opposition grows, Dabir and Asim have no choice but to ally with their deadliest enemy, the treacherous Greek necromancer, Lydia. But even if they can trust one another long enough to escape their foes, it may be too late for Najya, whose soul is bound up with a vengeful spirit intent on sheathing the world in ice for a thousand years…
Dear Mr. Jones,
Sadly, this seems to (currently) be the end of the journey for Asim and Dabir. To enjoy an old fashioned “sword and sorcery” story complete with a wonderful friendship, settle in for one of their out of this world, my gosh what will happen next adventures. Readers are advised that this book can be read alone but I would suggest for greater understanding of Asim and Dabir’s friendship, to look into the other two books.
We start with a normal day in the life of Captain Asim and his friend, the educated scholar Dabir – Asim is dodging “enemies” while Dabir casually ignores having any armed escort follow him around. Soon though they’re off on another “we don’t know what is this, exactly” but “we must save the world or die trying” escapade.
It’s kind of hard to explain what’s going on as there were plenty of times I just followed along and hoped that Dabir and his mentor would throw us, via Asim, a bone of information. I didn’t mind so much that this began to sound a bit “telling” rather than “showing” as I think that would have added a few hundred pages to the word count. And at least there weren’t any “as you know, Kaseem” moments.
The blend of action and scholarly attempts to elucidate exactly what they were up against was done fairly well although there were a few sections that dragged just a touch as Dabir and Jibril dove into their cuneiform tablets and dusty parchments seeking the wisdom and knowledge of the ages. Then the villains would appear and unleash yet more villainy leading to some nifty sword fighting sequences. It was like a mix of “Indiana Jones” and “The Mummy,” especially when a certain famous mythical (or was he?) hero’s tomb had to be navigated with cunning and a bit of common sense.
As in “The Desert of Souls,” there weren’t many female characters here. Also in a repeat of that book, the main heroic woman is painted as intelligent, brave, and this one has fighting skills yet ultimately, she became mainly an offstage tool to be fought over, against, and saved by the men. I also wasn’t totally convinced of their fairly quick love. Though Najya is beautiful and knows her sword stances (something that impresses soldier Asim) it is Lydia the Greek sorceress I enjoyed reading about more. Lydia has more depth, layers, and flaws thus allowing her a greater character arc.
The Muslim rep could probably have been stronger though I did like that Asim feels the need to keep up with his prayers and believes that this steadies him and brings him inner peace. The notes at the end of the book regarding 8th century Mosul and other areas of the Caliphate were also interesting. As in both previous books with Dabir and Asim, their deep friendship is front and center and central to the plot. They are two very different people with different outlooks and strengths but steadfast trust in each other.
Sadly, I felt the plot veers out of control a bit at the end. It’s not that anything came out of the blue, in fact there was a great deal of foreshadowing, but I grew mentally weary as thing after thing after thing gets hurled together and tossed around before Stuff Happens and we reach The End of the adventure. You have Asim mention that he and Dabir have had subsequent adventures and I hope that one day we can read them. B-