Books for Role-players: Howard Andrew Jones – The Bones of the Old Ones

The Bones of the Old Ones
The Bones of the Old Ones is a fantasy novel written by Howard Andrew Jones and published by St. Martin’s Press.
By Cape Rust

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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.

This book was a breath of cold fresh air straight from the desert. This novel is most easily described as a Sword & Sorcery novel; however it takes place in 8th Mosul so you could call it historical fantasy, but no matter how what you call it, call it part of your must read books. Over the past few years I’ve reviewed a large number of books that fall into the Sword & Sorcery category and I must say that the lesser examples tend to melt into one lump of mediocre formulaic mush that has no taste.

Most of the Sword & Sorcery novels I’ve read have a distinctive western slant. Sure there have been a few visitors from the middle or Far East, but the western view seems to prevail. Jones did a wonderful job of capturing the feel, the myths and the culture of the Middle East. Having spent time in many predominantly Muslim countries, to me Jones really did his homework when it comes to Islam. Both Dabir and Asim are men who have faith and retain their faith even in great adversity. Nothing new there, but Jones took the time to give us a more than puddle deep view of their faith and the practices that are involved with it, without getting preachy or leaving the reader feeling like they just sat through a theology class.

Dabir and Asim are the classic buddy team with a few twists. Asim is the muscle and Dabir is the intellectual, noble wizard type. Where this dynamic duo departs from the norm is Dabir’s respect for Asim’s mental prowess as well as his physical prowess. Dabir actually often turns to Asim to get his less than conventional but still valuable insights. While Asim does not completely understand everything that Dabir does, magically speaking, his loyalty and friendship is without question during the entire story.

Any time the desert is covered in snow, something is wrong, and from a gaming standpoint there is no way this situation doesn’t make an awesome adventure. Yes it reeks of the good ole’ TSR Al-Qadim, but there are so few good examples of Arabian Nights type settings that when you find a story like this one, it begs to be made into an adventure. The mythology in this book is spot on. While I have never seen stats for Enkidu, he is an amazing character. While there are several plot twists and alliance changes, this book is still easy to follow and with very little work a GM could easily develop a series of encounters that would allow players to experience the same type of combat that Asim and Dibir do. The inclusion of ancient artifacts that require visiting old mystics and take time to figure out how to operate is a classic trope that is good for several game sessions alone.

While this book has real merit as a game setting, its real value lies in the story and writing. This book kept me turning pages long after I should have stopped and slept. Jones knows his craft and writes with quiet professionalism that would make any Green Beret proud. This is the second book about Asim and Dibir and I can’t wait to read the first story. I had no problem getting into the story even without reading the first story. Jones is one of those authors that needs to be read, his voice is loud and clear and speaks like the wind travels thru the desert.

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