Howard Andrew Jones, until now best known as the editor of
Black Gate, a magazine dedicated to sword and sorcery
tales, has written his debut novel, a rollicking adventure
that takes place in 8th century Baghdad. During a trip to
the marketplace to distract Jaffar from the death of his
beloved parrot, an unusual encounter results in the death
of a stranger and a jeweled tablet for the scholar Dabir
to research. It turns out the tablet is a doorpull that,
along with magic, will open the way to the ancient city of
Ubar, a sort of Atlantis of the desert. The adventure
really begins when the doorpull is stolen from Jaffar's
house and Asim, the captain of his guard, and Dabir set
out to retrieve it, a trip with danger at every step
including undead creatures brought to life, magical fire,
and sword battles.
Howard Andrew Jones has created a masterpiece of
entertainment in this journey back in time. Jones's
writing style makes one feel as if they're listening to
someone with incredible narrative talent telling a story
as Asim and Dabir go from hurdle to hurdle, barely making
it out alive from some. In Jones's hands, the characters
come to vivid life, including the evil wizard, and it's
easy to feel as if you've been transported back to early
Baghdad as well. The dialogue, and especially the
interplay between Asim & Dabir, rings true and speaks to a
closeness only seen in strong teams like Sherlock Holmes
and Watson. Jones incorporates forbidden romance and other
intrigues in this tale and as with all good storytellers,
slowly builds up the suspense. Once you get to a certain
point, you'll just have to finish this one as there's no
setting it down. I've heard rumors that there is a sequel
to come, and I hope they're true. For fans of sword and
sorcery adventure, this is a don't miss.
A thrilling, inventive cross between One Thousand and One
Nights and Sherlock Holmes In 8th century Baghdad, a
stranger pleads with the vizier to safeguard the bejeweled
tablet he carries, but he is murdered before he can
Charged with solving the puzzle, the scholar Dabir soon
realizes that the tablet may unlock secrets hidden within
the lost city of Ubar, the Atlantis of the sands. When the
tablet is stolen from his care, Dabir and Captain Asim are
sent after it, and into a life and death chase through the
ancient Middle East. Stopping the thieves—a cunning Greek
spy and a fire wizard of the Magi—requires a desperate
journey into the desert, but first Dabir and Asim must
find the lost ruins of Ubar and contend with a mythic,
sorcerous being that has traded wisdom for the souls of
men since the dawn of time.
Debut author Howard Jones
breathes new life into the glittering tradition of sword-
and-sorcery, combining the masterful fantasy of Robert E.
Howard with the high-speed action of Bernard Cornwell.
The parrot lay on the floor of his cage, one claw thrust
stiffly toward the tiny wooden swing suspended above him.
The black olive clenched in his beak was the definitive
sign that Pago was a corpse, for while he had fooled us
all by playing dead in the past, he had never failed to
consume an olive. To be sure, I nudged the cage. It shook,
the swing wobbled, and the bird slid minutely but did not
move a single feather of his own accord.
“He is dead,” Jaffar said simply behind me; simply, but
with the weight of the universe hung upon the final word.
I turned to my master, who sat with his back to me upon
the stone bench of his courtyard. The second-story
balcony, from which the cage hung, draped Jaffar in
shadow. Beyond him, sunlight played in the rippling water
that danced from a fountain. Flowers blossomed upon the
courtyard plants and wild birds warbled gaily. Another
parrot, in a cage upon the far wall, even called out that
it was time for a treat, as he was wont to do. But my
master paid no heed to any of this.
I stepped into the sunlight so that I might face him. Upon
another bench, nearby, the poet Hamil sat with stylus and
paper. There was no love in the look he bestowed me, and
he returned to his scribblings with the air of a showman.
“Master,” I said, “I am sorry. I, too, was fond of Pago.”
“Who could not be?” Jaffar asked wearily. He was but a few
years younger than my twenty-five, but due to time indoors
looked younger still, no matter his full beard. His face
was wan, from a winter illness that had also shed some of
“He was the brightest bird here,” Jaffar continued in that
same miserable tone.
“Brighter than many in your employ,” Hamil said without
“Too true,” Jaffar agreed.
“Is there some way that I can help, Master?” I was the
captain of Jaffar’s guard and sometimes his confidant; the
matter of bird death, however, was outside the field of my
knowledge, and I did not understand why he had summoned
me. It is true that I had found Pago entertaining, for in
addition to playing dead, he could mimic the master and
his chief eunuch, and even sometimes answered the call to
prayer by bowing thrice. He did this only when it pleased
him to do so, which, as my nephew Mahmoud once noted, was
far too much like many men he knew. Also Pago had once
perched upon the poet’s chest when Hamil had passed out
from consuming the fruit of the grape, and pinched his
long thin nose heartily. That had pleased me so that I
brought Pago the choicest of olives whenever I knew I
would pass by his cage.
“Do you suspect he has been killed?” Jaffar asked.